22 industry innovators who push our profession forward

June 29, 2015

Who are the planners, suppliers and educators who are helping move the meetings industry into the future? We tapped the 2014 Meetings Trendsetters, polled our readers and reached out to some key contacts to develop our 2015 list of people who are among the leading lights of our industry.



Ray Bloom
Chairman & Founder, IMEX Group
Specialties: Leader of the leading meetings industry exhibitions in the U.S. and Europe

Since 2011, IMEX America has become the “it” show for the meetings and conventions industry, basically consolidating many of the various North American tradeshows, partnering with associations such as MPI, PCMA and SITE, and pioneering the large hosted buyer appointment concept in the U.S. The original, and still larger, version, IMEX Frankfurt, has been packing Messe Frankfurt for 13 years now.


Greg DeShields
Executive Director, Multicultural Affairs Congress (PHLDiversity), a division of the Philadelphia CVB
Specialties: Diversity in meeting planning; creating a career pipeline for minorities in hospitality fields

Across industries, the idea of “diversity and inclusion” is defined in many ways. Under DeShields’ leadership, PHLDiversity positions Philadelphia as a leader amongst U.S. cities in ensuring that its meetings and hospitality industry accurately reflects the shifting, diverse economic and cultural climate of our country.


Aoife Delaney
Director of Global Sales, Ovation Global DMC
Specialties: International DMC sales; industry association leader

Leading Ovation’s global sales activity, Delaney is also an emerging leader on the international meetings scene,as evidenced by her work on the SITE Global Board of Directors and as vice president of finance for the incentive travel executives society, in addition to chairing the SITE International Conference in Las Vegas and leading the SITE Young Leaders committee in 2011.


Michael Owen
Managing Partner, EventGenuity
Specialties: Industry advocate; events producer; educator

A tireless meetings industry “activist” who says even though he has no issue with saying “no,” it’s always saying “yes” that’s his problem, Owen, a frequent industry speaker, has served on myriad industry boards, task forces and the like, and is currently chair of the CIC’s APEX Standards Committee.


Cleo Battle
Executive Vice President, Louisville CVB
Specialties: Destination marketing; industry mentoring

A nearly 30-year meetings industry veteran, Battle is the consummate advocate for destination promotion through his varied committee work at DMAI, as well as a committed mentor to those just getting their feet wet as they begin, and continue, their careers as a meeting professional.


Karen Kotowski
CEO, Convention Industry Council
Specialties: Industry association leader; industry advocate

As head of the CIC, Kotowski is one of the most visible industry advocates, playing an instrumental role in efforts such as the Meetings Mean Business Coalition and supporting industry accreditation programs and initiatives. But her most recent role was helping to lead the charge for the first annual North American Meetings Industry Day, held April 16.


Steven N. Rudner
Managing Partner, Rudner Law Offices
Specialties: Industry educator; civil rights advocate

Mainly known as a top attorney representing the hotel side on contract issues, Rudner has recently taken a leading role advocating for LGBT rights as president of the Equality Texas Foundation. Through the Texas Competes effort he helped pull together the business community—including Marriott, Hilton, Starwood, La Quinta, the Texas Hotel and Lodging Association, the Dallas CVB and the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee—to prevent a major negative impact to the state’s convention business by lobbying against what many considered anti-LGBT legislation.




James Spellos
President, Meeting U.
Specialties: Meetings technology; speaker, author and blogger

One of the most in-demand speakers on the meetings circuit, Spellos delivers some 150 courses and seminars annually, and has also been adjunct faculty in the hospitality program at New York University for more than 25 years. His latest claim to fame is being the co-creator of the Whole Earth Calculator app for anti-hunger think tank Rock and Wrap It Up, which helps organizations identify the number of meals donated from leftover food and the carbon footprint reduced from food, paper and plastic recovered from meetings and events.


Corbin Ball
President, Corbin Ball Associates
Specialties: Meetings technology; author, blogger and speaker

A former meeting planner, Ball speaks, consults and writes about using technology to improve meetings and tradeshows. Sometimes called the “godfather of events technology,” he has an informative website and an enviable track record of tech predictions.


Dr. Swathi Ravichandran
Specialties: Hospitality school professor; F&B; lodging management

An associate professor and coordinator of the Hospitality Management program at Kent State University, Ravichandran was awarded PCMA’s 2014 Distinguished Educator of the Year Award at its Convening Leaders conference in Chicago last January. Educating and sending out the next generation of meeting professionals into the world, Ravichandran is a tireless advocate for her students as they begin their careers.


Krzysztof Celuch
Specialties: Educator; industry advocate; speaker; CVB leader

Much like that somewhat rare breed of “supplanner” (a cross between supplier and planner), Celuch wears both the hats of supplier and educator, for his work promoting the meetings industry in Poland and as vice-rector at the Warsaw School of Tourism & Hospitality Management, head of the Poland Convention Bureau and as adjunct professor at San Diego State University and University of Warsaw. He has won MPI’s RISE Award and the CIC’s Pacesetter, and was named a future leader by DMAI’s 30 Under 30 program.


Janine Driver
President & Lead Instructor, The Body Language Institute
Specialties: Business consulting; keynote speaker

The Washington Post dubbed Janine Driver “A part of a thriving industry of consultants helping people to climb their career ladder.” As a New York Times best-selling author and the body language expert for NBC’s TODAY Show and HLN’s Dr. Drew Show, former ATF agent Driver is known as “the human lie detector” and is currently taking her myriad talents to the stage as a keynote speaker at meetings and conventions.


Bonnie Wallsh
Chief Strategist, Bonnie Wallsh Associates
Specialties: Industry educator and advocate

Wallsh has worked in the meetings industry for more than 30 years and served as an instructor at seven universities. Other accolades include being a contributing author of the Financial Management section for the 9th edition of the Convention Industry Council Manual and frequent speaking and webinar appearances. This year, she fulfilled her dream of volunteering on an Israel Defense Forces base.


Kristen McCosh
Disability Commissioner, City of Boston
Specialties: ADA compliance; advocate for disabled

As the Disability Commissioner for the City of Boston, McCosh helps ensure all public buildings, streets, sidewalks, parks and open spaces are accessible, with a lot of effort dedicated to the local meetings industry. She also gives speeches about her experience in disability advocacy, empowerment and civil rights for people with disabilities. An advocate for more than 30 years, she served as Ms. Wheelchair Massachusetts 2007 and Ms. Wheelchair America 2008, as well as taking national advocacy roles for empowerment and inclusion.




Robyn Mietkiewicz
Director, Global Meeting Management, Meeting Sites Resource
Specialties: Contract negotiation and site selection; industry education

Wearing the hats of planner, educator and supplier, Mietkiewicz is a walking repository of meetings industry know-how, delivering webinars and other presentations on a gamut of topics. She received the 2014 MPI RISE Award for Member of the Year and a 2013 Pacesetters Award from the CIC.


Stuart Ruff
Director, Meetings, Exhibitions and Events, RIMS, the risk management society
Specialties: Industry associations; industry advocacy

In addition to serving on advisory boards for New Orleans, San Francisco, Denver, Calgary and Philadelphia, Ruff serves on the PCMA Board of Directors. He is a past president of the New York chapter of PCMA and the CIC APEX Committee, a founding member of PCMA’s Advocacy Committee, and has recently partnered with DMAI on its Meeting Professionals Advisory Board.


MaryAnne Bobrow
President, Bobrow Associates, Inc.
Specialties: Industry advocacy and issues; meeting planning

Whether it’s connectivity, cybersecurity, contracts, hotel piracy or a host of other issues confronting the industry, Bobrow is on it. Her volunteer participation includes ASAE’s Professional Development Council, CIC’s APEX Standards Committee and its connectivity and hotel piracy workgroups, PCMA’s Education Task Force, and chapter author/collaborator for CIC Manual 9th edition, IAEE’s Art of the Show 3rd and 4th editions, and PCMA’s Professional Meetings Management 5th and 6th editions. To sum it all up, Bobrow says she’s probably as curious as her feline, Buddy the Cat, in her quest for knowledge.


Nancy J. Zavada
Principal, MeetGreen
Specialties: Sustainable meetings; author, speaker and blogger

Internationally recognized as a trailblazer in the environmentally responsible event management field, Zavada is principal/founder of MeetGreen, a full-service sustainable event planning and consulting firm she founded in 1994. A decade later, Nancy co-founded the Green Meeting Industry Council. Because meeting organizers keep asking for an “easy list” of green meeting initiatives, Nancy recently co-authored Meet Better: 167 Easy Ways to Make Your Events More Environmentally and Socially Responsible.


Kenneth Kristoffersen
President/Chief Strategy Officer, POP Kollaborative
Specialties: Event planning and marketing; speaker

As evidenced by his company’s tagline, “A Life Experience Agency,” Kristoffersen has parlayed his previous history as a corporate strategist to provide brand-centric experiences with plenty of “pop,” and is considered an events industry leader in Canada because of his efforts collaborating with competitors to develop industry standards in the world of special event planning and execution.


Janiece J. Sneegas
Director of General Assembly and Conference Services, Unitarian Universalist Association
Specialties: Sustainable meetings

Since 2004 Sneegas has worked to “green” UUA’s General Assembly, and has served on the board of the Green Meeting Industry Council and participated as a member of the Green Meetings and Events Practice Panel for the APEX/ASTM Standards for Environmentally Sustainable Meetings.

Joost de Meyer
Chairman & CEO, First Incentive Travel
Specialties: International incentive programs; industry thought-leader

Long a fixture in the international meetings community, Joost is a “go-to guy” when it comes to examining the issues impacting the global meetings market. Having just won the Master Motivator Award from SITE, the organization recognized this 35-year industry veteran as “an ambassador for our industry who maintains the drive to keep the incentive travel industry vibrant and growing around the world.”

Vivian Leabhart
Manager, Convention Services & Meetings Logistics. Lions Clubs International
Specialties: Sustainable meetings

Leabhart contracted with tech firm ViridiSTOR to make Lions Clubs International's annual events, which attract up to 20,000 attendees, paperless. Sustainability is only growing as a force in the meetings industry, and Leabhart is one of the trendsetters who identified the value of green meetings ahead of the curve.

Check out the July 2015 digital edition of Meetings Focus to see the Trendsetters cover and more.