They’ve orchestrated jaw-dropping gatherings, hosted religious leaders, booked big-name entertainment and kept cool under pressure. Meetings and events professionals are known for fulfilling all their clients’ wishes while staying behind the scenes. Now it’s time for our state’s finest planners, suppliers and unstoppable magic-makers to step up and receive accolades for their roles in Minnesota’s most memorable meetings and events. These seven winners espouse the dedication, imagination and sense of humor necessary to succeed in the industry.
DAN YOUNG, CMP
Director of Event Planning and Recreation
Dan Young, CMP, started planning events back in 1983 as a sales trainer at Thrivent Financial, running 25 events a year—years before the meetings and events industry was regarded as a profession. Thirty-three years later, Young is firmly established in his career at Thrivent and three years out from retirement. “These days longevity in a company is not held up to be very important, but I don’t get that,” Young says. “I would not have been able to build a career like this jumping jobs every three years.”
Moving his way up through Thrivent, Young was asked to put together a plan for a company-wide event planning department in light of a merger, and has been leading the event planning and recognition department since 2002.
Young and his team of 12 create 150 events a year, including corporate events, development events, management conferences and three sales incentive trips. About six years ago the department began offering an alternative service trip to the incentive conference qualifiers, and this year Thrivent is sponsoring three group Habitat for Humanity service trips to Macedonia, Malawi and Dominican Republic for sales incentive qualifiers. “It’s a small part of what we do, but a very unique part of what we do,” he says.
Involvement in industry associations—namely MPI and FICP (Financial & Insurance Conference Planners)—was an important facet in furthering Young’s career in the burgeoning industry. Young served on the board of FICP from 2007-11 and as president from 2009-10, and expects his employees to be involved as well. “It’s not only an expectation in the department because we consider ourselves to be professionals, but they also really enjoy the relationships that they build.”
Recently, Young received an award from his staff for “supporting his team and creating a great work environment,” a recognition that Young holds as one of his greatest accomplishments. “It’s always been my goal to make sure that the environment here is supportive of [the team] and their families,” Young says, noting the job of an event planner is a stressful one. “We support each other, we care about each other, and you have to have that kind of environment to do this kind of work.”
While Young admits to having a countdown clock to his retirement in March 2019, he also says that it will be hard to leave the career he’s built from the ground up. Young plans to continue raising money for charities and living in places around the world for months at a time when he retires. Yet, he says: “We have a lot to do before then. I am not gonna quit on the job.” —MH
Best Meeting Professional
KOLEEN ROACH DIRECTOR
Meetings & Conference Management
“I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie,” admits Koleen Roach, director of meetings and conference management at Securian Financial. “There’s an amazing sense of accomplishment that you feel on a regular basis. You know immediately if you’ve succeeded or failed at the end of an event—sometimes even halfway through.”
Roach didn’t set out to become an event planner. Early on, she auditioned careers as a travel agent, social services agency fundraiser and word processor. It wasn’t until trying her hand as a trade show manager at DynaMark that she truly found her groove in the meetings and events industry. After paying her dues “in the bowels of every convention hall of this country” for 18 months, she landed a senior meeting planner position at Securian (then Minnesota Life Insurance Company). “It was like breathing the air I was most familiar with,” she says of the company’s culture. “It felt like home.”
Roach, now in her 18th year at Securian, praises the engaging, enthusiastic team with which she works. Thoughtful recruiting, nurturing of talent, and a flat management structure make the company a perfect fit for her.
Planning events everywhere from Barcelona and Australia to Scotland and Ireland, Roach thrives on making new connections abroad. “I’ve met so many amazing people,” she says. “How many jobs afford you the opportunity to meet people of all walks of life, everywhere around the world?” A recent incentive program took her all the way to French Polynesia for the first time. “It’s one of those bucket-list destinations,” she says. “It was one of the most smoothly run events that I’ve ever done. It was a wonderful way for our people who met their goals to celebrate their success. It inspired.”
Roach credits her own success and longevity in the industry to an elevated energy level, strong communication skills, organization, enthusiasm and flexibility. When she’s not working her tail off, she loves nothing more than relaxing at her Stillwater home. “I’m lucky to travel all over the world and see beautiful places, but I always love coming home to Stillwater, a little storybook town,” she says. “It’s like living inside a Normal Rockwell painting. Staycations for me are a joy.” —ER
Up-and-Coming Meeting Professional
Meetings and Events Operations Coordinator
Holly Bowman will never forget the date she started her “dream job” as meetings and events operations coordinator at Land O’ Lakes. It was Sept. 14, 2015—her oneyear wedding anniversary. Since then, she’s been involved in the execution of all kinds of events, from a 15-person board meeting to an after-hours soiree to a 3,000-person incentive. “The opportunities here are endless and every event is different,” she says.
This Up-and-Coming Meeting Professional award recipient initially got “hooked” on the industry after joining the MPI Minnesota Chapter. “I love planning and everything that goes into it,” she says. “While it can be a challenge, it is so rewarding.”
Driven and energetic, she provides her clients with an outstanding experience by taking the time to listen and understand their goals fully before taking action. “You have to know what you want and have an end result pictured before you can build the other pieces of the event,” she says. “Everything should flow towards that.”
Bowman, who grew up in North Branch and graduated from the University of Northwestern – St. Paul, is eager to explore her potential and accumulate more knowledge from fellow planners. “I’m still learning,” she says, “but I’m surrounded by a community of amazing meeting professionals in the Twin Cities. It’s that community that inspires me.” —ER
Best Special Events Planner
JODI COLLEN, CSEP
Director of Event and Conference Planning
From a small farming community with a graduating high school class of 35 people to hosting back-to-back events for His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Jodi Collen, CSEP, director of event and conference planning for Augsburg College, has come a long way.
“Being a successful event professional means you use both sides of your brain effectively,” she says. “I get to use the creative side in the design, but I also get to use the analytic side to figure out how to take that vision and make it into something.”
The winner of our Best Special Events Planner award is using those same skills as the International President of the International Special Events Society (ISES), an organization with 5,000 members and chapters as far away as London, Hong Kong and Nigeria. Currently, she’s working to address the PR issue of the organization’s name, given current world events. “If you asked me what I thought I might be dealing with as the president of a global association, having the same name as a terrorist organization wouldn’t have made the list,” she says.
No doubt, she will find an effective solution, as she did in 2014 when His Holiness came to Augsburg to speak at a forum for 3,500 people. That event coincided with the Tibetan New Year, and the Tibetan American community wanted to celebrate with him in town the day afterwards. Collen was able to arrange a fete for 3,500 members on short notice. The event sold out in a matter of hours.
“It was a life-changing, total transformational experience to be involved in. It was phenomenal,” she says. “There were chanting monks and our gym looked like it had been transformed into a Tibetan worship space. I was standing in the back of the room, tears rolling down my face, like, ‘How is this my life right now?’” —ER
Up-and-Coming Special Events Planner
Special Events Planner
Cassie McIvor, special events planner for Essentia Health, knew she had found her place in the meetings and events industry after putting on a Hollywoodthemed employee recognition banquet for 1,200 guests that included performances by aerialists and fire dancers. It was the largest and most complex fete of her career. “The energy at that event really solidified it for me,” she says. “I knew that this is what I was meant to do. It was really gratifying.”
Cloquet-raised McIvor, who learned the ropes of event planning as event manager at Best Western Edgewater in Duluth, is motivated to find creative solutions to clients’ needs and takes every event personally. “At the end of the day, my name is on that event,” she says. “I work hard to come up with ideas that surprise and delight them and take the event to the next level.”
From planning a cancer survivor celebration for 400 at the Fargo Air Museum to a Great Gatsby-themed celebration for the centennial of the Duluth Clinic, our Up-and-Coming Special Events Planner award winner goes all in. Her favorite part of her job is “the energy of the events and the joy that it brings to people,” she says. “Getting to see them laughing and connecting with each other is very meaningful. I get to see the people whose lives we touch as an organization every day.” —ER
STEPH PFEILSTICKER CMP, CMM, DES, MBA
Chief Hybrid Strategist
Hybrid Events Authority
Best Supplier award winner Steph Pfeilsticker never considered herself a “techie” in the past, but that didn’t stop her from starting a business based on providing hybrid strategy and planning to the meetings and events industry.
“This is a unique part of our industry and it’s one that’s burgeoning,” says the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, native. “I don’t have a fear of failure. That’s part of the process. I think that helps tremendously with what I’m doing.”
Pfeilsticker, who has 17 years of experience in the industry, was blown away by hybrid technology and its capabilities to connect a live speaker, event, or meeting with a virtual audience in 2010 while working at Thrivent. She left her position there in 2014 to found Hybrid Events Authority, LLC, and has been brainstorming new ways to meet her clients’ needs and solve their technology conundrums ever since.
“It is the future,” Pfeilsticker says. “I believe everything can be better and we don’t know unless we try. In terms of technology, we can use that to make our world easier and our industry more successful.”
As president of MPI Minnesota for 2016-17, Pfeilsticker looks forward to bringing her tech expertise to the association. She has already begun by championing the streaming of the Minnesota chapter’s monthly meetings. “We have excellent content that shouldn’t be restricted to those who can be in the room,” she explains. “Allowing our members to see our content when they are traveling is an excellent member benefit. Additionally, we can reach nonmembers unfamiliar with the value of membership in MPI.” The Minnesota chapter is the first MPI chapter in the world to regularly stream its monthly meetings.
When she takes her tech hat off for the day, Pfeilsticker cherishes quality time with her husband and their 7-year-old twins. She’s also devoted to the arts, and is currently perfecting her technique in pottery building, creating mosaics and painting silk scarves. “Creating is good for the soul,” she says. —ER
MARY ELLEN REIHSEN
Owner and Managing Attorney
Reihsen Law, LLC & Minnesota Wedding Lawyers
Lifelong Minnesotan Mary Ellen Reihsen had her first taste of the meetings and events industry while working as a high-end caterer to support herself during law school. After a seven-year stint as a business attorney, she struck out on her own, focusing her services on the untapped market of weddings and special events.
For the past three years, Reihsen has prided herself on anticipating and diffusing issues before they snowball. Whether dealing with client contracts, business formation, employment law, small mergers and acquisitions, membership and purchase agreements, or sales, she tailors small business law to the nuances of weddings and events.
How, then, did she win the Up-and-Coming Supplier award? Because her latest endeavor involves co-founding tech start-up Rentivist, a national platform for wedding and event rentals. “The premise is: There’s so much stuff out there that people can make money off of and that people need but do not want to own,” explains Reihsen, who teamed up with meetings and events professionals Alyson Newquist and Gretchen Culver to launch the business. “We are making it possible for people to create new revenue streams and to have access to beautiful things all over the country.”
From a twig stool to hobnail vases to industrial cage string lighting, Rentivist is poised to be a crucial link in the sharing economy. “There’s nothing else out there like it, so we’re hopeful that it will be a big deal and an industrychanger,” she says.
When it’s Reihsen’s turn to party, she prefers awards ceremonies and holiday parties. “There is no better group of people to hang out with than event planners,” she says. We couldn’t agree more! —ER