“I wasn't looking for a career move,” says Deborah Sexton, who in February left the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau to become the new president and CEO of the Professional Convention Management Association. “The job of president of the Chicago bureau was perfect for me. I had the opportunity to build the best sales team in the country. But when the search committee told me where they wanted the organization to go, it became a logical career move. I couldn't say no to such an exciting opportunity.”

Speculation had swirled for months as to whether David Kushner's three-year contract as PCMA's president and CEO, expiring in July, would be renewed. But Kushner's departure and Sexton's arrival came as a surprise to all but the PCMA board. PCMA membership had not been informed of the changes until the board's announcement in February.

PCMA chairman Gregg Talley would not say when the decision to hire Sexton was made. “I am just not going to answer that,” he says. PCMA is embarking on a new strategic plan, he stresses, and it made sense to bring in new leadership sooner rather than later.

“David helped us fulfill our previous strategic plan, and guided us through the planning process for our new one,” Talley says. “The association is in a strong financial position, and we've rolled out many successful programs in the last three years. We thank David for that.”

He adds that Sexton matched the criteria the board was looking for. “We wanted someone who could hit the ground running, who had great leadership skills, both internally and externally, who had integrity and knowledge of the industry, and who could help PCMA achieve its strategic objectives. We're thrilled to have Deborah on board.”

Moving Down the Hall

The logistics of the move couldn't be easier for Sexton: The Chicago CTB office is down the hall from the PCMA office in McCormick Place.

Sexton joined the Chicago bureau in 1994 as vice president of sales and services. She was promoted to executive vice president in 2000 and became president in 2002. Her background prior to the bureau was in hospitality sales and marketing. She is a longtime PCMA member and was serving on the board of its education foundation at the time of her appointment.

Sexton will be the first female CEO for PCMA, whose 5,500 members are predominately women. How does she feel about that? “It will mean extra pressure to be successful, beyond my own need to be successful,” she says. It's possible that she will bring more awareness to issues facing female planners, but it's not a major priority, she says.

“One of my biggest priorities will be spending time with our staff, supporting them so they can be successful. I think that teambuilding is one of my strengths,” she says. There has been quite a bit of staff turnover at PCMA in the last four years, not to mention turnover at the top. Sexton will also be PCMA's third CEO since Roy Evans left the organization in 2000 after a 17-year tenure.

“I don't look at this as a two- or three-year assignment,” she says. “My work history doesn't indicate that I jump around. I plan to be here for a long time.”