“Many more women are holding key executive positions in this industry than they were five to ten years ago,” says Maritz Travel's Christine Duffy. As president and CEO of the Fenton, Mo.-based company, Duffy can give herself a bit of the credit, for being a role model and a leader. During her term as chairwoman of the board of Meeting Professionals International in 2005, she founded its Women's Leadership Initiative, focused on benchmarking the growth of women in senior-level positions in the meetings and incentive industry.
Duffy, whose organization posts $650 million in annual revenue and employs about 800 people, credits her rise to old-fashioned hard work and dedication. “When I started [at McGettigan,], it had just 25 employees. Twenty years later, we had 500 and were being acquired by Maritz.” Just three years after the acquisition, Duffy was named president and CEO of Maritz Travel. “To become the first woman to take on that role in a company that is over 100 years old was a big highlight of my career,” she says.
“Am I often still the only female at the boardroom table? Yes. And do I hope that will continue to change? Yes.” Women executives, she says, “have different business styles and a different approach to leadership than men do, and I think that brings about a more balanced and diverse workplace.”
It's that diversity and adaptability that Mimi Almeida and Donna Riser credit with the success and longevity of their business, R/A Performance Group. As president and CEO, respectively, of the San Francisco-based company, the women have worked together since 1986. “We have always been willing to take a hard look at our business and be flexible to change as our clients needed us to change and as the industry has evolved,” says Riser.
The two are also conscious of the need for their staff to have a healthy work/life balance. “In this industry it's easy to have your business life overwhelm your personal life,” says Riser. “We really support our people in giving them time to take care of personal needs like caring for [an elderly] parent or raising children.”
Developing the company's most important assets is an approach Mary Sue Leathers also firmly believes in. Leathers founded Savage, Minn.-based Advantage Performance Network in 1995 and attributes her success to dedicated employees. “I have some of the best employees you could ever imagine, and we have worked together as a team to build this company.”
She is focused on developing leaders from within the company. It's a philosophy that has, in turn, allowed her to expand her role. Most recently, she was named secretary of the board of directors for the National Association of Women Business Owners.
Leathers has seen many more women take on leadership roles in the industry over the years. “I think women are more willing to take chances today. They are standing up and driving ahead with a higher level of confidence and determination than in the past.” Her advice to future women leaders: “Decide what's really important and then don't be afraid to take the steps toward achieving it. Our worst enemy is our own fear.
Women Leaders of the CMI 25
Mary Sue Leathers, president & CEO, Advantage Travel & Incentives, Inc.
Pirjo Niemi, executive vice president, Ambassadors, LLC
Darlene B. Krammer, president, Bucom International Inc.
Fay Beauchine, executive vice president, global engagement & events, Carlson Marketing Worldwide
Kathleen A. Murphy, president, Gray Consulting International Meetings & Incentives
Christine Duffy, president & CEO, Maritz Travel Co.
Barbara Jackson, managing partner, Meeting Alliance
Marlyn Sjaarda, CFO, MotivAction, LLC
Donna Riser, CEO, and Mimi Almeida, president, R/A Performance Group
Amy Michel, vice president, SDI Travel and Incentives