The 2016 Hall of Fame inductees are leaders, influencers and out-of-the-box thinkers, creating new benchmarks for how we measure excellence. As such, the state’s entire meetings and events industry stands to benefit. We’re proud to call them ours.
PRESIDENT & CEO
Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau
Larry Alexander has spent nearly 18 years honing metro Detroit’s image as a convention, sports and leisure tourism destination for worldwide audiences.
Yet he says his greatest achievement lies much closer to home: “Truly the best part of what I do is giving people the opportunity to shine,” says Alexander, who strives to create an environment where professionals can learn, prosper and take on new responsibilities. “All I can do is provide direction and be sure that we’ve got the right people in the right positions to take that direction and move forward to make things happen.”
And things certainly are happening: The city is hosting blockbuster events like the American Society of Association Executives conference last August (as one MIM+E board member says, “ASAE would not have happened without Larry”). The bureau’s “America’s Great Comeback City” ad campaign is resonating across the globe; in January, NBC’s “Today” and ABC’s “Good Morning America” named Detroit a top place to visit in 2016.
“I think that’s a major, major accomplishment that we can look back on and say all the work has been worth it,” says the 40-year hospitality veteran, who also chairs the Detroit Regional Convention Facility Authority overseeing Cobo Center and its stellar, on-time, on-budget $279 million renovation.
Alexander credits “a great team of people” at the DMCVB and its fully engaged industry and community partners and board members.
“This will always be a people industry,” Alexander says. “So we must go the extra mile to exceed expectations and deliver every single day.”
MIM+E: What’s ahead for the industry?
LA: The metro area’s meetings and events industry only will grow stronger; we see this happening now in marketing, hotel development and attractions. Still, we need a comprehensive transportation system so visitors can more easily experience the region’s pockets of brilliance.
Fun Fact: Alexander hoped to become an obstetrician. When that plan changed, a University of Houston dean introduced him to the field of hospitality.
Best Meeting Professional
Michigan State Police, Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, Lansing
Joyce McCarthy has played key roles in countless meeting and training events in her 29 years with the Michigan State Police.
And because it’s the MSP, the events include those like the annual Great Lakes Homeland Security Training Conference and Expo, which draws up to 1,700 attendees, to the Statewide Interoperable Communications Training Conference, which McCarthy has led for three years.
With such a long history planning meetings, McCarthy has faced her share of trials, including what she calls “logistical nightmares” like road-closing blizzards and extensive spring floods that delayed speakers and guests. “[But] my division is Emergency Management and Homeland Security, so we’re up on that stuff,” she says, smiling.
McCarthy takes pride in working with peers to elevate the agency’s reputation for event excellence. “We all pull together [and] learn from each other,” she says. “It’s a team effort and it’s great.
“I’ve enjoyed something about every conference I’ve participated in,” she adds. She especially likes interacting with the registrants and helping them have positive learning experiences. That even includes grumpy attendees—turning a disgruntled registrant around takes patience, but it’s a challenge McCarthy embraces.
“It’s going to be a long conference, so you’d better enjoy being there,” she says.
MIM+E: How can hospitality pros help meeting planners achieve excellence?
JM: By providing immediate and consistent communication. It’s frustrating when it takes a day or two to get a response to a request. We need constant feedback, so acknowledge emails promptly with the promise that you’ll get back with details.
Fun Fact: McCarthy retires in June. She plans to volunteer at some of the conferences she once organized, spend time with her three granddaughters and a new granddaughter, due in July, and visit Hawaii with her husband.
Up-And-Coming Meeting Professional
STEPHANIE WOHLFERT, CMP, CTA
Michigan Society of Association Executives, East Lansing
When Stephanie Wohlfert recently called a hotel with speaker requests the night before a big conference, she sympathized with the staff that had to meet the demands.
“I know what it’s like to be on that other side,” she says.
This up-and-coming meeting professional, who’s been with MSAE for a year and a half, worked in the hospitality industry for 13 years, starting at a hotel’s front desk as a college student and working her way up to catering and sales management positions at various properties. Most recently, she was special events manager for the Lansing Lugnuts, the minor league baseball team of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Having a background in hospitality “definitely makes me pay attention to what and how I communicate” she says.
Making the leap to event planning was something Wohlfert considered for years.
“To actually pull the trigger and do that was huge for me,” she says. So, too, was earning her CMP designation in May 2015—something she yearned to achieve right out of college and finally accomplished with support from MSAE.
“It was a lot of blood, sweat and tears, for sure, but I’m glad that I did it, and it was worth every minute,” she says.
Wohlfert’s goal now is creating educational experiences that impart a higher level of learning to help attendees in their careers.
“That, to me, is when we’ve had a really successful program,” she says.
MIM+E: What do you love about meeting planning?
SW: No day and no meeting is ever the same. I’m constantly working with people in different fields and creating programs for professionals, from CEOs to meeting planners to IT and finance experts, as well as fun networking events like golf outings.
Fun Fact: Wohlfert is a triedand- true Hoosier who graduated from Indiana University. “I wear my red proudly and amongst all this Spartan green,” she says, smiling.
SHANA KILLIPS CTA, CMP
DIRECTOR OF SALES
Henry Center for Executive Development and the Management Education Center, Broad College of Business, Michigan State University, East Lansing
Shana Killips was the Henry Center for Executive Development’s first employee.
Fourteen years later, the facility, part of Michigan State University, has evolved into a highly regarded conference center.
Putting clients’ interests first is Killips’ top priority. Getting to know clients and what’s important to them is the part of the job she says she enjoys the most.
Still, Killips says she’s most proud of her work as facilitator for the Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) Prep Course. Killips earned her CMP in 2006, began volunteering soon after, and now teaches site management, audio-visual and marketing domains.
“I’ve watched so many people earn their CMP designation,” she says. “I’m proud of that work. I’m proud of all of those CMPs.”
Killips, who also manages sales for MSU’s Management Education Center in Troy, has big goals for her own organization, too. She intends to centralize and standardize event planning resources for college employees and eventually for all of MSU.
“There’s a lot of siloed work being done,” she says. The result is people without CMP training spending a lot time recreating the wheel to make their own check lists, RFPs and BEOs. So Killips and others are launching an educational program this fall for university employees who plan meetings. Eventually, it may include a path to certification, which isn’t surprising considering the source.
MIM+E: What advice would you give to up-and-coming event professionals?
SK: A great way to develop new skills like leadership and public speaking is by volunteering at professional organizations. Plus, it benefits your employer because you’re out in the industry making connections.
Fun Fact: Killips is a working parent in a commuter marriage; her husband lives in southern Ohio. “I am tightly scheduled,” she says of her busy life with two young children.
Jeffrey Floral Architecture, Troy
Jeffrey Jucewicz never aspired to be a floral designer; instead, flowers “sort of found me,” he says.
The former interior designer always enjoyed playing around with flowers and creating arrangements for his own parties. So when his partner, who worked at a corporate events company, had a floral dilemma, Jucewicz agreed to help.
“[The company] went crazy over my centerpieces and the next thing I knew, I was doing a huge job for Lear Corp., producing 65 centerpieces,” he says.
Soon Jucewicz decided to open his own company. He started with a tiny storage unit and some vases and survived the recession by keeping overhead low and landing high-end jobs on referral.
Today, he designs arrangements for social and corporate events, the luxury Townsend Hotel in Birmingham and various boutiques, and creates seasonal outdoor planters for retailers and properties like Orchard Mall in West Bloomfield.
His designs incorporate clean lines and feel balanced, he says, probably due in part to a background in design. “I always look at the room and take into account the space and the different shapes and how they’re going to work together to give you a total look,” he says.
Jucewicz prefers working with clients who involve him in the design process early on, where he can contribute to the overall feel of an event and work from image boards. “Ultimately the whole look is better,” he says. “Flowers and décor are an essential part of the experience.”
MIM+E: Where do you get your inspiration?
JJ: I travel to New York City every fall to see what’s happening in the world of design. You can’t limit yourself to what’s going on locally. Always be doing your homework because what’s in today is not going to be in tomorrow.
Fun Fact: Jucewicz was a successful hairdresser for 30 years. He did makeovers on WXYZ’s “Kelly & Company” morning show and was featured in Allure magazine.
Best Special Events Professional
DEE DEE HOFFMAN
Dee Dee Hoffman Party Design, West Bloomfield Township
In 33 years of creating visually stunning events, Dee Dee Hoffman has followed one guiding principle: reflect the personalities of the people who hire you.
That means paying particular attention to the details, which make for a much more personal experience. That could entail passing trays of peanuts, popcorn and Cracker Jacks for a groom who loves baseball to arranging a wall of succulents into a couple’s wedding logo. “[It’s] the little nuances that make some parties more outstanding than others and some party planners more successful than others,” Hoffman says.
Stellar execution is her other priority. Hoffman and her employees are highly organized, hands-on project managers with deep practical knowledge—a trait she’d like to see more young event planners gain through internships and volunteering. From linens to place cards, “we do a lot of the detail work ourselves,” she says. She also surrounds herself with topnotch suppliers who are best in their craft.
Hoffman’s modern, less-is-more design aesthetic is inspired by nature, antiques, architecture and the work of other planners. “One thing always inspires you to do something else if you have a creative bend,” says Hoffman, who has degrees in art education and counseling. “In order to really succeed in this business, you have to have a good design sense and you have to know how to deal with people.”
MIM+E: How do you make each event better than the last?
DH: After every event, I meet with key vendors to discuss what could have been done differently or improved, what worked well and what didn’t. To do this, you need to develop good relationships with people.
Fun Fact: Hoffman says while she loves the process of creating something that looks outstanding, she doesn’t like attending parties or being in crowds.
Up-And-Coming Special Events Professional
The Bash Events, Birmingham
It took Carlyn Roth 11 years to realize the career she wanted was right in front of her.
Roth began working part-time for Dee Dee Hoffman (this year’s inductee for Best Special Events Professional) while attending the University of Michigan. At the time, though, she didn’t think events were her destiny. Instead, she graduated with a psychology degree, moved to Chicago, worked for a French beauty products retailer, and then returned to Michigan to earn a Master of Interior Design degree from Lawrence Tech while working for Hoffman.
At the prompting of a professor, the idea of making events her career finally sunk in, Roth says. However, her interior design and psychology degrees have not gone to waste.
“I really use them every single day of my life in my job,” she says.
Roth especially loves the artistic expression her career allows. “I try to find inspiration in things you wouldn’t necessarily think of,” she says. That includes residential and corporate interiors and the colors, patterns and textures of fine art.
Four years ago, she started The Bash, a boutique agency specializing in private social events. “Obviously, I had learned so much from working with Dee Dee,” she says. “[But] there’s always something inside of you that wants to do things your way.”
MIM+E: What do you look for in a client?
CR: Someone who is a good fit for me, where I can stay true to my artistic voice while achieving what the client wants. I try to steer people in directions that are more on trend or work best in a space, but sometimes another planner is better suited to a client’s style.
Fun Fact: Through middle and high school, Roth worked as a butcher at her family’s shop in West Bloomfield.