FICP President-Elect Cindy Wheaton, CMP, is manager, group meetings and incentives, at Nationwide Financial Network in Columbus, Ohio. She joined FICP in 2000 and was nominated to the board of directors in 2005. She takes over the gavel as president at the 2008 annual conference in November.

Fill us in on your meeting planning background and how you came to your present position at Nationwide.

A: I have been in the business since 1991. I was working as an executive assistant and I volunteered to plan an incentive trip for my boss. After Nationwide developed a centralized meeting services department, I applied for one of the meeting planner positions, making it a full-time job. A few years later, Nationwide decided they did not want a centralized meeting services area and I went the Property/Casualty side of the company, planning meetings for their Awards & Recognitions department. Four years ago, a friend of mine who had been promoted to president of one of our divisions within Nationwide Financial called me to ask if I would be interested in working for him and planning the meetings for his division. It had been a one-person department until just recently, when I was able to hire a junior planner to help out. We manage approximately five to six incentive conferences and 30 to 40 other types of meetings yearly.

What are the biggest changes you've seen in the industry in the past five years?

One of the biggest changes I have seen is with environmental awareness. Having green meetings is becoming more common. Meeting planners and hoteliers have begun to understand how important it is to become more aware of the environment as we are planning our meetings.

What are the greatest challenges for financial and insurance meeting managers today?

The ups and downs of the current market have everyone holding their breath. Even though it is happening right now, we don't see the impact right away. The challenge is anticipating the results of the financial crisis and determining for the short term what meetings we need to have and the ones we can do without.

What has membership in FICP meant to you?

It has given me a whole new world. I remember when I first started in this business and how naïve I was about what it took to plan a meeting. FICP has given me a large network of planners and hospitality partners to go to and ask questions and bounce ideas off of. I impress my boss every day when he asks, “I wonder what so and so company is doing with this kind of meeting,” and I already know the answer because of the relationships I have through FICP — or, if not, I'm able to tell him that I can find out.

Where do you believe FICP should put its focus going forward? What would you like to have accomplished during your term as president?

I believe FICP should focus on maintaining and improving the value it brings to our planners and hospitality community through networking, education, and resources. Specifically, one of my goals for 2009 is to have the FICP Web site up and running at its full potential, for both planners and hospitality partners.

I would also like to see FICP bring more financial meeting planners on board. It sounds so easy — but you have to bring value to them, which means different educational workshops at our meetings, perhaps a different sales representative from our hospitality partners, and so on.