Anyone with a Delorean or more than 20 years industry experience can tell you the event planner role looked very different in the ‘80s. This is true for everyone, but especially Koleen Roach, director of meetings and conference management at St. Paul-based Securian Financial Group, who fell into the industry.
Her first job at Dayton-Hudson Corporation was not in event planning. “I was working in the human resources department running all their training and development—basically running all of the programs logistically,” she says.
Roach’s supervisors quickly recognized her knack for organizing and offered her the opportunity to take on more meeting planning responsibilities. The go-getter embraced her new obligations with aplomb. “They didn’t really have an official meeting planner position at that time,” Roach says, “and so I was sort of doing a lot of the stuff in a bubble without an accurate title.”
When she asked her then supervisor, now seasoned mentor, his expectations, she was given only one: remain unflappable at all times. This precious advice saw her through the evolution of the developing industry. “As the meeting planning industry sort of became more refined, I was able to create the position for the first time in the history of the company,” Roach explains.
Eventually, Roach moved on to Securian, which has a corporate culture that includes an emphasis on community involvement. “It’s very important to Securian that we give back to the communities, not only in which we serve, but in which we bring our events,” Roach says.
In 2009, Securian hosted an incentive program in South Africa. Roach arranged for each attendee to be given a backpack, which they filled with school supplies over the course of the trip. Then the group went to Livingston, Zambia to deliver the backpacks. “It was really a beautiful and emotional time,” Roach says.
While her start in corporate event planning may have been ambiguous, she’s here to stay. “It’s an incredible job that is fascinating … I feel incredibly blessed to have this company that I work for,” she says. “It’s an amazing company.”