Lynn Ridzon's “aha” moment came in the early 1990s. She was working as a planner in the marketing and communications department of Princeton, N.J.-based Squibb Corp. The company had just gone through a merger with Bristol-Myers Co., and things were a bit chaotic.
“I was in my office, and a colleague came in and said, ‘I think you need to know something,’” recalls Ridzon. Her friend informed her that at a recent meeting, someone had inquired about what the meetings group at Squibb actually did. The answer from Ridzon's supervisor: “They go to meetings and hold hands.”
“I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we're in trouble,’” says Ridzon. “If that's all they think we do, then either we're doing something wrong, or we are not getting the message across.”
Convinced it was the latter, Ridzon began thinking about the perception of her department. “It occurred to me that we needed to be able to react and communicate in such a way that executives of the company would understand there is a core value to the meeting-planning function. That is when I came up with the idea of meetings consolidation and a strategy for managing meeting expenses.”
The company already had mandated processes for managing individual travel and the expense side of the business, but meetings were largely an ad hoc function, with various people booking meeting space and signing off onwithout authority. Ridzon put a business plan together and filtered it through the executive ranks until it eventually reached the president of Squibb, who was intrigued by the idea.
With his buy-in, Ridzon began building the model for meetings consolidation, implementing the process first for meetings within the Squibb Pharma Group. After the merger with Bristol-Myers, she expanded the program to include all U.S.-based meeting requests within the company for all business units.
Ridzon and her team at BMS were writing the book on meetings consolidation at a time when the meetings category had yet to cross the radar of most corporate execs. “It just made sense,” recalls Ridzon. “I never had anyone say to me that they thought this was a crazy idea.”
After 21 years at BMS, Ridzon is taking her expertise to a new level. A known expert in the field ofand a speaker at many industry events, Ridzon was recently scouted by Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based Amgen to join their team as director of strategic sourcing and procurement. We caught up with her to find out why she made the move and to get her take on what the future holds for the meetings industry.
Corporate Meetings & Incentives: About a year ago, you made the transition from director of global meetings management at Bristol-Myers Squibb to director of strategic sourcing and procurement at Amgen. What prompted you to make this change?
Lynn Ridzon: Well, I spent 21 years at BMS and was very happy there. I had an incredible group of people who worked with me, and we pretty much had things nailed down. It was sad to leave, but to be honest, the opportunity [with Amgen] came out of the blue. They contacted me, and I questioned them about the position because I wasn't interested in taking on an operational role. At this point in my life, I enjoy the strategic aspect of the profession. They explained that they were building the strategic sourcing and procurement area and were looking for someone to come in and manage the meetings and events category. One of the biggest factors in accepting the position was that my husband and I had been planning to move to California within the next few years, and with the offer everything sort of came together. As they say, the stars aligned.
CMI: How have your responsibilities changed?
Ridzon: At BMS I was responsible for tactical operations, sourcing, and strategic management of meeting expenses. Amgen has some really good best practices for meetings, but in a siloed environment, supporting marketing and sales in North America. My responsibility is to help develop a strategy in which we take the best practices already in place as well as other best practices and broaden the scope, creating an enterprisewide, global strategy for meetings management. We are also looking at [implementing] a more formalized preferred-supplier program and all that goes with a robust meeting expense management program.
CMI: You are a widely recognized leader in the industry. What enabled you to get to this level in your career?
Ridzon: I think a lot of it was just being at the right place at the right time. [While working at Bristol-Myers Squibb,] I had the opportunity to get to the right people and make a good business case. I think it was timely, and I was very fortunate in that I was given the opportunity to implement change and was recognized as someone who was doing something that was a little different, but something that was right for the company.
At that time, there weren't many people consolidating the meetings function, and as our program became more mature, it became important to me to get out there and help my colleagues. I have always been happy to share experiences and information and say, “Here is what we are doing, and here are some things you might think about doing in your company.”
CMI: You are so passionate when you speak about SMMP at industry meetings. Why are you so dedicated to this issue?
Ridzon: Well, it's been my life, (laughs) and I enjoy it. I enjoy talking about it and doing it, strange as that may sound, but I think that's because I've been able to grow up in the industry, and I feel passionately about it. I think there are a lot of people out there who are desperately trying to put some sort of [strategic meetings management] program in place. I know that a lot of companies are looking to their corporate travel managers to lead that effort because, in many cases, it is the travel managers who have successfully consolidated individual business travel. But you need to be careful and understand that meetings are a whole different model.
CMI: What do you think our industry needs to do to develop more leaders?
Ridzon: I think the strategic work that a number of us in the industry are doing needs to be better communicated and understood. If you are asked to participate in an advisory board or council, do it if you possibly can. I know it's hard to make the time, but I would strongly urge people to participate in these types of activities outside their companies. Getting together and networking with people is a great way to get your ideas out there, learn from others, and develop your reputation.
CMI: What do you see as potential growth paths for planners?
Ridzon: Because meeting planning provides an opportunity to work cross-functionally and enterprisewide, planners are able to gain a perspective on many areas of a company, which is a great benefit.
A good meeting manager has the skill set to move into a variety of other areas within a company, especially in marketing and sales.
CMI: Have you felt that being a woman either helped or hindered your career?
Ridzon: I don't think being a woman has had an effect one way or the other on my career. To me, the value of what you can bring to the table is what is important — not gender.
CMI: What is the biggest positive change you've seen in the meetings industry during your career?
Ridzon: I would say it is the formalization and recognition of the [meeting planning] profession in a company. Meeting planning has grown up, and it is recognized as a very valid career path.
I think the recognition of the fact that meetings represent a huge area of spend, and the increased professionalism of those managing that spend, have grown substantially over the years, and that is a very positive change.
CMI: What is your forecast for our industry in the year ahead in this difficult economy?
Ridzon: I see meeting managers being asked to do more with less — keeping up the quality level of meetings while reducing costs. I also see companies that do not have a strategic meetings management program accelerating plans to get more transparency around meeting spend. They're also introducing leveraged buying, and implementing a demand-management process. In other words, companies are asking the hard questions around why a meeting is being held, identifying the objective of the meeting, and determining how to measure the results.