Jennie Campbell, CMP, CMM, PMP, chief administrative officer, marketing and business development for Stewart Capital LLC, Metairie, La., lost everything she owned in Hurricane Katrina — including her coveted 1998 Tomorrow's Leader award from Meeting Professionals International. So when MPI met in New Orleans in January, they chose the occasion to replace the award, which was met with cheers and tears from the audience.
“It was an award I was always proud of,” she told Corporate Meetings & Incentives in an interview in which she recounted the events of the past year and a half. Not only did she lose her home to the storm, but her office was damaged as well. “The water was up to the attic of my house,” she says. “It's hard to put into words what that looked like. We'd never seen anything like it.”
What remained of the house was torn down two weeks before the MPI conference in January. “Now all I own is an empty lot with a gazebo and a pool,” she jokes. She has bought a new house in nearby Metairie and is waiting to see what happens in her old neighborhood before she rebuilds.
Her story doesn't end there: At her high-rise office building, the windows were blown out and there was significant damage. But because she had moved the office just two years ago and decided at that time to go totally paperless, she was able to continue business by working virtually.
“You can't change what has happened to you, but you have to accept it and move on,” Campbell says. She considers herself fortunate because she didn't lose her family or her pets — or her job. “Many people out there have lost their homes and their livelihoods,” she says. “How do you keep going when something like that happens?”
Many friends ask her if she plans to move back to Dallas, where she had been until 18 months before Katrina. Her answer: She's originally from New Orleans, and she plans to stay. “I believe in this community, and I need to be here for my colleagues and the other businesses here.”
Campbell is a believer that out of adversity comes opportunity — and she is living that belief. “If I hadn't made that move toward paperless, I would be out of a job and everything else.” Instead, she moved back into her office in March 2006, and she is now selling the Web-based solution that she created for managing meetings, which used to be available only to her clients. For more information, visit www.marketsmaster.com