How's this for win-win: A new healthcare company, with a new healthcare company's budget (small), manages to associate itself with a big celebrity golf tournament that comes attached to one of the biggest sports celebrity names: Michael Jordan. The company gets to hold a very special incentive trip for its top salespeople, who get to rub shoulders with the likes of Julius Erving, Aidan Quinn, Wayne Gretzky, Chris Tucker, Boris Becker, and Meat Loaf. And the tournament gets a free closing dinner extravaganza using the themes and many of the props from the previous evening's incentive awards dinner.

That healthcare company is Philadelphia-based Viasys Healthcare, a medical device company that was recently spun off from Thermo Electron Corp., and the trick was pulled off at Atlantis Paradise Island in the Bahamas in mid-September.

How It Worked

Crystal Award-winner Harith Wickrema, president of Philadelphia-based Harith Productions, was responsible for making it happen, thanks to a relationship with Randy Thurman, CEO of Viasys Healthcare, that goes back 15 years. Harith's relationship with Howard Karawan, chief marketing officer, and Herman Russell, senior director of catering/convention services at Atlantis, also goes back many years — it's so tight that one Atlantis public relations staffer thought Wickrema was a hotel employee.

“The objective Viasys set out for me was to create an event that would exhilarate and motivate its employees to such an extent that they would go back to their counterparts in the company and motivate them,” Wickrema says. “Our goal was to give them something that money can't buy.”

At first, he thought about doing a dine-around and a dinner on the beach. But that wasn't special enough. That's when he decided to hook up with the Michael Jordan Celebrity Invitational Golf Tournament. “We knew that capitalizing on the situation could provide Viasys attendees with an incredible opportunity. My challenge was to make it win-win for Viasys and Atlantis.”

Wickrema did that by working with the resort to re-fit his group's gala event for the tournament's closing event. He created a special die-cut event menu for Viasys and used the same design for the following night's golf tournament dinner; developed a special theme menu, then served five courses for the incentive group and three of the same courses for the tournament dinner; and used much of the same decor for both events.

Viasys CEO Thurman says he admires Harith's “willingness to work with senior management to deliver the highest quality services within a budget.

“The take-away from the event was that each of our award recipients felt it was the finest recognition award they had ever participated in. Our very best performers now know how much we value them. It's hard to put a price on that.”

The GRAND FINALE

It begins with cocktails in one of Atlantis' more unusual venues: The Navigation Room, a circular underground cavern with glass walls that show off the resident sharks, groupers, rays, parrotfish, etc. Outside the glass is a prop: a yellow treasure chest. On cue, a pair of divers appears and opens the chest. Inside are “mystic crystals” and a banner that the divers unfurl, revealing the company name and slogan, accompanied by a voice-over narrative with music. Then an actor dressed as Poseidon enters and leads the group (all in evening attire) upstairs to dinner.

As the group of 36 enters the Atlantis Grand Ballroom, guests are greeted by a dozen actors in Atlantean garb (Atlanteans appear to take their fashion cues from Spartacus) who form a living tableau. In what turns out to be typical attention to detail, the treasure chest from the cocktail reception reappears, and the Atlanteans bring the mystic crystals to the guests once they're seated.

And what seating! Event planner Harith Wickrema's team has created table dressings with the themes of earth, air, fire, and water. Every inch of furniture has been swathed in fancy fabrics. Even the food matches the theme, with courses such as Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Sea. Atlantis even invented a special cocktail for the occasion.

The entertainment includes a singer who emerges from what looks like a 7-foot-diameter, Temple of the Moon ball, plus a dance troupe brought in from Florida.

Throughout, the four elements theme is scrupulously adhered to and tied to the client's theme: Mystic Powers of Atlantis.

Harith's team

As Harith Wickrema never tires of saying, “Planning is a team sport.” He even printed a special playbill for the Viasys and Michael Jordan event specifically for giving his vendors and the Atlantis management team recognition. In this case, they included Howard Callahan, Dottie McGowan, and old friend Herman Russell from Atlantis, plus Sean Defratus of Designs By Sean (decor), Andy Gardner (lighting and sound), Angela Radno of Absolute Amusements, Paul Creighton, Falcon Watson, Alexandra Silva (entertainment), and Bill Pry (linens). Because the event was held on Paradise Island in the Bahamas, another central player — not much would have happened without him — was Santi Gabino, of Miami-based Laser International Freight Transport. Gabino was able to do things such as bring in a leaf-blower (which was needed to inflate a ball from which a dancer emerged during the final event) at the last minute.