Women have contributed influential chapters of the Texas story since day one, from 19th century leaders like Jane Long, the “Mother of Texas,” and Susana Dickinson, “The Lady of the Alamo,” to Carrie Marcus, the dynamic young saleswoman who married Abraham Lincoln Neiman in 1905. Marcus later became the face and style—and chairman of the board—for the legendary Neiman Marcus store. Their prominence reaches across all industries—including meetings and events.
Here, five women share what it means to lead the way in Texas.
Nicki Keenan, Senior Vice President of Sales
Landry’s Inc., Houston, www.landrysinc.com
What leadership strengths do you bring to your role?
During my 13-year tenure at Landry’s I have always stressed to my team to embrace change and a critical mindset based on the number of acquisitions and new openings at the company. While often challenging, change paves the way for new opportunities and growth. We remain an industry leader because we are willing to take educated risks in acquiring the right assets to enhance our overall portfolio. I constantly remind myself to lead by example and communicate clearly. Assume nothing. Clear lines of communication lead to successful execution and the most important part of the sales process—active listening.
What trends are Landry’s embracing for the Texas group market?
Today, groups are looking for memorable experiences with impactful results. Interactive teambuilding is a key driver for this. For example, we offer teambuilding enhancements at The San Luis Resort in Galveston, such as group rates at our Pleasure Pier destination, beach volleyball and fishing tournaments and mixology classes, to name a few. State-of-the-art conference facilities are another driver. Our Galveston hotels and newest property, The Post Oak Hotel at Uptown Houston, offer the latest in communication technology, ergonomic seating, executive meeting sets, action stations and more.
How does The Post Oak project embody Landry’s spirit of innovation?
The property is a vibrant, cosmopolitan destination with an unmistakable energy offering a singular multidimensional experience for leisure, business travel, conferences and events. And this is only the beginning. We are actively reinventing our product and services to meet ever-changing customer needs and differentiate ourselves in the market. The personalized experiences offered at The Post Oak Hotel are unparalleled and we work tirelessly to keep it this way.
Casandra Matej, President/CEO, Visit San Antonio,
What leadership qualities do you bring to your role?
Having previously served in a variety of industry roles, including administration, sales and services, I try to tap into my own personal and professional experiences to guide how I manage others. It’s my responsibility to be a good leader so I frequently take an honest assessment of my own performance but also seek out feedback from all levels of my team, our clients and community stakeholders. My approach to leadership is not stagnant—I’m constantly working to evolve and improve.
How do you approach setting a strategic vision for the bureau and dealing with challenges along the way?
I rely on the expertise of my dynamic team paired with informative data to guide the strategy at Visit San Antonio. We’re currently seeking input from our board of directors as we craft the three-year strategic plan for our organization, and we work closely with our client advisory board, made up of recent customers, to stay on top of industry trends. We’ve also started innovative new research programs to guide our decision-making and prepare for market shifts, allowing us to move with the tide when needed.
What accomplishments are you most proud of to date, and what can San Antonio planners and groups expect in the future?
I’m proud of our evolution from the former CVB to Visit San Antonio, a public-private nonprofit. We are more streamlined and can serve our customers in a more efficient and impactful manner. In concert with our transformation, we’ve made major upgrades to the convention center and Alamodome, formed more meaningful relationships with community partners and launched the customer service-oriented Certified Tourism Ambassador (CTA) program. All are designed to enhance the client experience. I also am proud to have served on the bid and planning team for the 2018 NCAA Men’s Final Four, and the successful bid team for the 2025 NCAA Men’s Final Four.
Marla Roe, Executive Director, Frisco CVB,
What does leadership mean to you?
Leading by example is a quality I cherish and strive to remember and practice every day. I also highly value transparency and honesty in all that I do, and I push the team to bring those same values and principles to the workplace. My checkpoints come from my executive team and staff, mentors and industry peers, along with my direct supervisor, our deputy city manager.
How do you approach setting the strategic direction for the bureau?
The first step for Visit Frisco is understanding the needs of our city leaders, community stakeholders, customers and partners. By layering those needs over short- and long-term strategies, we can then apply our talent to develop and implement programs that will positively impact all stakeholders.
We are mindful that the dynamics of today’s world have vastly changed, and that at every turn, working to benefit our many customers can be a challenge. Gone are the days where a three-year program of work is still valid at the end of those three years. Accordingly, it’s critical that we stay fluid and adaptable in our daily activities. Flexibility, talent and collaboration all combine to ensure our strategies and tactics remain relevant.
What is most satisfying about your work?
As a native Texan, I am so proud of the way that Texans do business. Our state is friendly and such a great place for commerce. Promoting the community in which you live only adds to that pride. Being in Frisco, one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S., for almost a decade is exciting. The most satisfying part? The sense of teamwork and camaraderie that exists in every facet of doing business in Frisco.
Cindy Lo, Owner & Event Strategist, Red Velvet Events
A Global DMC Partner, Austin, www.redvelvetevents.com
What was your inspiration for founding the company?
Texas born and raised, I grew up in suburban Houston before moving to Austin in 1994 to earn my business degree at The University of Texas at Austin. After starting out in technology I wanted to pivot into meeting planning. Lacking the “right” degree and work experience, I was rejected by three hospitality companies. So, I resolved to start my own company, gain client experience and then reapply for a job. That was nearly 16 years ago and I’ve never looked back.
What essential qualities do you bring to growing the company?
Having developed a more global vision of the industry, strategy and long-term growth are my primary leadership strengths. I enjoy training new team members, to help them become successful in their hospitality career. And, I always challenge myself to learn new technology and processes, and spot trends before they happen. The excitement of constant learning gets me up and ready to tackle each new day.
How have you positioned Red Velvet Events for success in the competitive Texas group market?
I cultivate a strong company culture centered around constant learning and a creative, service-oriented mindset. This goes far in setting us apart from our local competition. We have a very strong team that loves to be challenged with creative event solutions and it shows with every event we touch, no matter the size. And I continually motivate the team to think more strategically for our clients and fearlessly share off-the-cuff ideas that align with the client’s business goals.
Ale Ochoa, Whiskey Scientist,
Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co., Fort Worth, www.frdistilling.com
What inspired your career?
Learning about Scottish whiskies in an undergraduate history class at Texas A&M, where I also earned my masters in flavor chemistry and sensory science. I was fascinated by the science, especially as it relates to flavor. Much can influence the final outcome when making whiskey, which makes it exciting to play around with developing the flavor. Firestone & Robertson is where I began drinking and exploring whiskey, which has only enhanced my love of the product and science behind it.
Is this a rising profession for women?
While male-dominated now, women were historically the original distillers. With groups dedicated to teaching women about whiskey and bourbon, interest is strong and growing these days.
Seeing women stepping into impressive roles normally held by men or that didn’t exist before is inspiring. My aim is to encourage more women to participate in the industry.
What experiences await at the Whiskey Ranch?
More destination than distillery, Whiskey Ranch offers a different feel of Texas. Our passion for what we do is reflected throughout.
The event spaces, the senses and the whiskey all combine to create a singular experience that draws from both Texas and Fort Worth ambience.
You don’t celebrate milestones with just anything—you celebrate with whiskey.