director, Destinations (an affiliate of the Alfa Companies)
In 1979, David Smart walked into the sales office at the Hyatt Birmingham and found four co-workers booking programs, each paying a different rate, none working together. “I talked to my boss, he talked to the president, and that began the process of convincing them of the need for a full-time meeting planner,” says Smart.
Once he made his case for boosting efficiency, quality, and negotiating leverage by consolidating meeting planning, the next question was how to pay for the planning function. At the time, Alfa Insurance had an in-house ad agency, and within that incorporation was existing paperwork for “d.b.a. Destinations”—a company set up for managing travel. “I said, ‘Let’s resurrect that and I will do meetings on a commission and fee basis so we will pay for ourselves.’”
That was 1982. Now, as director of Destinations, an affiliate company, Smart leads a team of three meeting planners in handling all meetings, incentives, and travel for Alfa Insurance and for the Alabama Farmers Federation, the association from which Alfa Insurance evolved.
“What interests me about meeting planning is putting the puzzle together, preparing the budget, and having a successful financial outcome,” says Smart, who manages 45 programs including 11 incentives annually. While delivering value and showing savings are continual goals, Smart is never trying to book “the cheapest meeting.” Rather, “we are looking at a total quality product to meet corporate strategic objectives. I see the power of meetings and incentives to achieve the goals of the corporation.” With incentives, he adds, “we provide the hook that hooks the attendee to keep winning.” It works. Now, he says, attendees “don’t worry about where we’re going, they just don’t want to be left at home.” —Alison Hall