"On the plane, I ordered a vodka tonic. The guy next to me said, 'Gosh, that's a man's drink,'" recalls Mickey Schaefer, CAE, vice president, membership, meetings and conventions, and administration, for the American Academy of Family Physicians, Kansas City, Mo.
Depending on your age, that incident will either strike a chord or sound surreal. It occurred in the mid-1970s, when, Schaefer says, "You had to fight to have people look at you as more than a secretary."
Twenty years later, at the pinnacle of her career, when asked what career accomplishment she is most proud of, Schaefer answers without hesitation, "How I've mentored other women. I see it as my obligation. I'd be letting myself and my gender down if I didn't." Schaefer puts those principles into action. When she was promoted to vice president at the AAFP in 1996, she lobbied to get five other women promoted to management positions within the organization.
Do Unto Others Schaefer credits one of her early mentors, her mother, for inspiring her empathy. "She instilled 'do unto others' in me."
Raised in Memphis, Mo., "a little bitty town of 2,000 people," Schaefer has been dealing in a people industry since she was nine years old, when she began helping out at her parents' bowling alley. She learned how to handle conflict, she says, from watching her parents.
Due to financial constraints, Schaefer attended business school instead of college. (She has since earned a master's degree in.) Her first position was administrative assistant with the Missouri Academy of Family Physicians. Three years later, she was promoted to executive director. She was 23 years old.
They risked putting such a young person in charge, Schaefer says, because of her skill at initiating change, her attention to detail, and, because "I put my all into it."
Good thing, because she had only one staff person to help her run the 1,000-member association. "I was the public relations person, bookkeeper, lobbyist," she recalls, laughing. She also organized the 600-attendee annual convention. Working with theboard, Schaefer learned how to balance personalities and keep people motivated.
After ten years, she moved to the Convention and Visitors Bureau of Greater Kansas City as national sales manager. The change was drastic. She was no longer her own boss, and had to field political pressure. Working from 7 a.m. to 1:30 at night during the week, she spent her Saturdays catching up with paperwork. Without pausing, she says, "I loved it."
She joined the AAFP two years later, starting as director of membership. Although she had been promised fewer working hours, she was soon busier than ever. "I realized that no matter what job I had, I would work of lot of hours," she says. "I won't settle for having something be just OK. I want it to be the best it can be."
After eight years, she moved to the meetings and convention division, managing 100 meetings a year. Now, as vice president, she oversees the meetings division, along with the membership and administration divisions, and organizational marketing department. She also supervises the management of the association's $8 million, 19,000-attendee annual convention.
As 1998 president of the Professional Convention Management Association, she has spearheaded a drive for industry standards and collaboration. Calling APEX (Accepted Practices for Excellence Exchange) her passion, Schaefer stresses that meeting industry organizations must learn to work together. "We need to keep the ultimate goal in mind and not care who gets the credit," she says. "I hope before I die we will have accomplished total industry collaboration."
Family Ties Schaefer has never lost her tie to family. She and her husband Mark were high school sweethearts, and they celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary in June. Calling him her best friend, she says, "I rush home from meetings to spend more time with him."
As for children, Schaefer says, "When I was 32, I started clipping diaper coupons. That's how close I was. Then I got busy and all of a sudden I was 36 and hadn't done anything about it."
Underscoring that she is not criticizing women who combine careers and child-raising, Schaefer says she realized she would be a "traditional mom. I would want to take them to Little League, to be there for their first word." She opted not to have children; instead, she gets her "baby fix" from her close relationships with her three sisters' eight children, and their children.
When she was installed as president of PCMA at the January annual meeting, her husband, father, sisters, and niece shared the occasion with her. Her mother died several years ago, but her spirit and influence is very much alive.
When her mother was dying of cancer, she helped her children write her obituary, because her accomplishments-- ranging from writing poetry to doing radio shows to volunteering with the local cancer society--were so extensive.
"People say, 'You do a lot, Mickey,'" Schaefer reflects. "But I'm not doing one third of what my mom did. She is a lot of the reason I'm the woman I am."