MacKey is the conference and exposition manager for HR Southwest, a Dallas-based regional association for human resources professionals. In four years, she has built the group's annual show into the second-largest human resources convention and exposition in the country with the help of one full-time assistant and a legion of volunteers. She traces her success in the meeting industry back to her training as a mathematician and computer scientist. A native of Kansas City, Mo., she earned a master's degree in mathematics and computer science at the University of Texas at Dallas.
"I'm very logical, so we just really went together," she says of her affinity for computers. But she didn't like the solitary lifestyle of computer programmers, and she began seeking a more people-oriented profession. She found what she was looking for in 1985 at the Council on Career Development for Minorities, Inc. The Dallas-based association paid for a portion of her tuition in exchange for her maintaining their computer systems.
When the group's meeting manager retired, MacKey stepped in to take over his job organizing college recruiting conferences. For her, it was a logical step, because the position tapped into her flair for details, problem-solving, and interest in working with people. When she finished college in 1991, she left the council to start her own meeting planning business, RGM MicroSolutions, in her Irving, Texas, home.
She became one of the few African-American meeting planners in the industry, but she says she has never been treated differently because of her race. "I find if you treat people with respect, they tend to bend over backwards for you regardless of your skin color."
Four years ago, she started working for HR Southwest on abasis, and eventually the group offered her a full-time job. In 1996, she reluctantly gave up her independence and dedicated herself to organizing the association's annual conference and held in October at the Fort Worth/Tarrant County Convention Center.
Homemaker Too MacKey bought a home outside Dallas and planned to have it decorated by professionals, but decided to do it herself to save money. "I just took to it," she says of interior design. "Now, I can do just about anything." MacKey is a seamstress, like her mother, and a gourmet cook. "I'm a wild woman in the kitchen," she says. But she has little time for her hobbies until the winter. The rest of the year, planning the HR Southwest convention takes most of her energy.
When MacKey started working for the association, there were no records of exhibitors and no marketing campaign to promote the convention. The one thing HR Southwest did have was a group of enthusiastic members, mostly women. Each year, more than 100 of them attend monthly planning meetings andduring the three-day show. "They line up by the droves," MacKey says in wonderment.
Her full-time assistant, Aimee LaFleur, says people want to work with MacKey because she makes everyone feel like they are part of a team. "She's independent, but if she needs help she always asks for it," LaFleur observes. "And she doesn't look over your shoulder. It's wonderful."
MacKey's first step at HR Southwest was to create a database of potential exhibitors, which includes everything from insurance companies to food services to recruitment agencies. Then she developed a five-year marketing plan to lure buyers and sellers from beyond the region. She began advertising the event in national trade magazines and local media.
Her work paid off with a 33 percent increase in attendance in the past four years. This year's event included 1,900 people from 25 states and one attendee from Brazil--making the annual show bigger than all other HR events except for that of its parent organization, the National Society for Human Resources Managers. The national convention averages 6,000 to 8,000 attendees.
MacKey could expand the show by another third next year if she were to let in more sellers, but she wants to maintain the eight-to-one buyer-to-seller ratio. "If it's too big, it's overwhelming for the attendees," she says.
HR Southwest uses the entire 90,000-square-foot hall at the Fort Worth/Tarrant County Convention Center, and MacKey predicts the show will have to move into the larger Dallas Convention Center once attendance passes 2,500. At the current growth pace, that could happen in 2000. "If you have a good product, it will sell itself," she says. *