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head of conferences and events,
The Guardian Life Insurance Co., New York

Wayne Robinson is going to take care of you. “The core of this business is making sure people have what they need,” he says. Sure, you need to be detail-oriented, tech savvy, and strategic—all of which Robinson is—“but you must also love people.”

Early in his career, Robinson managed internal meetings for AT&T/Bell Labs in Holmdel, N.J., near where he’d grown up. In addition to handling programs in the company’s 25 conference rooms and two auditoriums, he helped out when account execs had clients in for product demos. “I knew the local hotels and restaurants, so I would recommend where to stay and eat.”

From that basic training (along with being the guy replacing 35mm bulbs in projectors), Robinson moved on to high-end meetings. “I fell in love with it,” he says. He even loved the pressure and stress—and working with upper management. “A lot of my peers don’t have a comfort level with senior management and therefore become reactionary,” he says. “But sometimes we need to raise an issue to show that we have the solution. It’s not easy to get a seat at the table. But it comes back to developing relationships. Planners have that skill set.”

Robinson joined Guardian Life in 1999, after 20 years with AT&T. In 2009, he was promoted to head of conferences and events, and given the task of consolidating meetings. “The first thing I did was get all the planners together to share best practices,” says Robinson, who oversees a department of 10, including seven planners. His next big step is to put technology in place for online registration, tracking, and reporting.

And even with that “seat at the table,” he says, here’s his secret to success: “Be a good listener—and not just to the higher pay grade.”—Alison Hall