AS WE GO TO PRESS with this issue in late February, one thought keeps replaying over and over in my mind: When you read these words, the United States may be a nation at war.

It's difficult to be upbeat in the face of that frightening scenario, not to mention the lousy economy that's still wreaking havoc with the meetings industry. But, fresh from a weekend in New York City, I feel inspired by the perseverance of ordinary people in extraordinary times.

New York State of Mind

One week after the U.S. State Department terrorism alert spiked to code orange, the atmosphere in Manhattan was bustling, but tense. A New York — based therapist friend said that she was getting more calls than ever before, except for the week after 9/11. But people in the city didn't let anxiety stop them from going about their business as usual. Restaurants, theaters, and subways were packed. The bar at the Four Seasons New York, where I stayed, resonated with the buzz of wall-to-wall people chilling out from the work week on Friday night. On Saturday night, outside the tourist zone on the Upper West Side, the sidewalks were filled with pedestrians.

It strikes me that we can learn a lesson from these intrepid New Yorkers. We're all living with post — 9/11 anxiety and the fear of terrorism, but it is more intense for those who were assaulted in their own backyard. Much like the citizens of Europe and Israel, New Yorkers aren't changing their lives to accommodate terrorists. We shouldn't either.

The Best and Brightest

On another level, I'm also inspired by our 2003 “Rising Stars,” who we've picked as the best and the brightest in this issue's cover story. These five insurance industry planners range in age from 28 to 42 and in title from marketing services coordinator to vice president, corporate relations and events. What they all have in common is efficiency, adaptability, and creativity — and a genuine love for what they do.

Each of our rising stars has faced the extraordinary challenges of the last few years with ingenuity and determination:

  • Janie Prevost, Phoenix Cos. Inc., devised a series of meeting planning activity re-ports that prove her department's return on investment to senior management.

  • Mark Mosely, at the Texas regional office of Allstate Insurance Co., started a little tech revolution in his department by using a PDA — instead of a weighty manual — to communicate meeting planning information.

  • Todd Zint, MetLife Investors Group, measures the ROI of broker sales meetings by tracking the sales production of each attendee for 150 days after a meeting, comparing that to their pre-meeting production.

  • From day one on the job at Guy Carpenter and Co., Judith Ackerman transformed corporate parties into themed events with clearly defined goals and objectives.

  • When called upon by her new CEO to help implement his corporate vision, Laura Baukol of Allianz Insurance Co. changed tack on a dime, with as little as two-weeks' lead time for some meetings.

Turn to page 24 to find out what makes this year's rising stars tick. And e-mail me your recommendations for next year's candidates!