When Jean O'Donnell petitioned members of the Professional Convention Management Association to add her name to the slate for the chairman-elect position last September, it wasn't the first time she had challenged the status quo at PCMA. She had made a similar bid about three years ago for her seat as secretary/treasurer of PCMA's board of directors when she initiated a drive to win that position.

But this time was different--and it was bigger. This time, O'Donnell, director of convention and meeting services for the 110,000-member American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine in Philadelphia, had the solid backing of the membership for her election to the chairmanship for 2000--the first time such a process was used for PCMA's top post.

Traditionally, a nominating committee selects a slate of officers, but as O'Donnell points out, the association's bylaws have always provided for another method. It was the perception of what she calls the "clubbiness" of the board of directors that propelled her to break with custom.

"I never saw petitioning to be added to the slate as an issue," O'Donnell remarks. "It was my right to do it and my right to serve . . . I knew it would be risky." The reaction to her initial announcement was that "many people in high places dared to question my need to challenge the status quo--which is a small group of people electing a small group of people," she says.

A Good Organization O'Donnell may have challenged the status quo at PCMA, but she says she owes much of her success to the 3,000-member organization.

"PCMA has been so wonderful in educating me," she says. Making an indirect reference to the inaccessibility of the board, she continues, "I didn't want members to think they were limited [or] to hit their head on the ceiling there."

O'Donnell's election to the chairman-elect post came at a time whenPCMA was embroiled in a sexual harassment suit filed by two former employees. COO William J. Myers, CAE, CMP, was terminated from his post late last year after being named a defendant in the suit. The suit has since been settled out of court.

But O'Donnell is emphatic when she says her bid for the chairmanship had nothing to do with the lawsuit or the upheaval. In fact, she began her petition process months before the lawsuit emerged.

A Mission of Unity A new millennium will be the backdrop when O'Donnell officially begins her duties after the PCMA annual meeting next month. And her personal goals as chairman for the new era are holistic-- "unity" will be her calling card. One way she hopes to accomplish her vision is to solidify the committee process and strengthen relationships between the committees and board of directors, which she admits, has not been ideal.

"There was a feeling at one time that the board of directors was on one level, and the committees and chapters were not considered [as much] as they should have been," O'Donnell says.

But in the end, it is something close to home that pushes O'Donnell to keep PCMA and the industry moving forward--her oldest daughter recently joined the profession, working registration for an association management company.

"I owed it to my daughter to keep things moving forward," O'Donnell says. "In today's world, the industry really no longer can go along with the status quo. It has to rise above and look at the big picture."