Volunteering for an industry committee is one thing, but volunteering to chair the National Business Travel Association’s Groups & Meetings Committee is quite another. It publishes at least a couple of white papers a year, develops seminar content for the association’s huge annual convention, and is the industry’s go-to source when it comes to SMM.
But Tamara Gordon didn’t blink when she was offered the helm this summer—even as she was transitioning from her job at UnitedHealth Group to take a new post (with more staff and responsibility) as director–travel, meetings, and fleet, with Boston Scientific.
Clearly, Gordon thrives on challenges. Editor Barbara Scofidio sat down with her at the NBTA convention in San Diego in August and found her calm and confident.
Corporate Meetings & Incentives: You just joined the Groups & Meetings Committee last year. What made you step up to a leadership role so quickly?
Tamara Gordon: When I had to put a strategic meetings management program in place, I turned to NBTA. It gave me a chance to build relationships with people who were in the same place as I was. I got to meet people from large companies who were managing SMMPs. I could never have found that through an association at a local level. As for the Groups & Meetings Committee, I am very proud of what they have built. And they keep evolving, creating the new SMMC [Strategic Meetings Management Certification] program, writing new white papers, revising old ones. They don’t just roll things out and sit back, they continue to evolve.
CMI: What are your first plans as chairwoman of the Groups & Meetings Committee?
Gordon: I think the committee needs to continue to help with the integration of travel, meetings, and procurement. They need to better understand what value they bring to each other. We also need to help members find a way to get travel and meetings working more closely together. In almost every company, they are still separate. But that’s changing. NBTA has many travel managers who are now being asked to manage meetings, too. We could pull those people together and have them share their experiences.
CMI: Tell me a bit about your background in the meetings and travel industry.
Gordon: I started at Northwest Airlines as a travel reservationist, then went to work for Worldspan, which Northwest bought into. After that, I spent four years at National Car Rental as its corporate travel manager, then moved to Carlson Marketing for eight years, where I managed meeting and event planners and what was then referred to as “meeting consolidation” efforts, working with Fortune 500 corporate customers.
CMI: Tell me about your role at UnitedHealth Group over the past two and half years.
Gordon: I was responsible for meetings and travel. I outsourced the travel management to American Express and had a team of 10 AmEx meeting planners. Our T&E budget was approximately $150 million, and we operated 600 to 800 meetings annually. The company worked with three meeting and event management companies, which planned the high-end customer and incentive programs. I also put its SMMP in place—the only piece I didn’t get a chance to complete was to find a great tech solution.
CMI: What were the highlights of your time at UnitedHealth?
Gordon: I updated the and was very involved with the AmEx meeting planning team and meetings management. I refreshed how we work with vendors and negotiated service-level agreements with all the approved meetings management suppliers. I implemented an RFP process for larger events that required a proposal from at least two meeting and event management companies for any event with costs over $250,000, and this reduced our costs. I also wrote a business case to support the SMMP and received executive sponsorship for the program with our EVP, corporate executive administration, who reports directly to our CEO.
CMI: OK, now onto your new position as director–travel, meetings, and fleet, at Boston Scientific.
Gordon: Well, the good news is I have been able to stay in the Twin Cities, and I travel to the Natick, Mass., headquarters once a month. It’s exciting for me because it’s a promotion. It’s a much more global company, and half of its travel is international. A meetings program was recently rolled out, and the company doesn’t have an SMMP in place.—Barbara Scofidio