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ELLEN CONNOLLY

After graduating from college, Connolly moved to Idaho and taught art to high-school kids who were ranchers and cowboys. “Not one of them had ever met a New Yorker. I was as exotic a creature to them as they were to me.” Six years later, she moved to Eugene, Ore., and when she couldn’t find an art teaching position, she began working in sales for a large travel company. Moving back to New York, she continued in travel sales, then eventually became a partner in a travel agency on Long Island, which she grew into a corporate travel and meetings company, and then later sold to the agency that serviced Cablevision. “I was on my way back to the art world when Cablevision hired me to help set up a meetings department,” she recalls. That part-time position became full time and she has been the head of the meetings department for 14 years.
“It has been a wonderful opportunity to work for an innovative company that is all about customer service and creative thinking,” she says. She didn’t let go of her passion for art either; she finishes her master’s degree early next year.

EVOLUTION Connolly has been the driving force behind her company’s SMM efforts, which have captured 85 percent of Cablevision’s meeting spend. Most recently, the company merged travel and meetings, and she is now in charge of both. Since she had managed Siemens’ corporate travel in her agency days, she also brought that experience to the mix.

GIVING BACK Connolly spent three years on GBTA’s (Global Business Travel Association) Groups and Meetings Committee, which she likens to “taking a master’s class in the meetings industry. We all came together to share our best practices and to figure out how to teach and standardize what we knew worked.”

ADVICE “Be a proponent of change, stay ahead of the trends through education and exchange with your colleagues. Learn the art of negotiation—you will spend a lot of time negotiating favorable terms in contracts, rates, waivers, and favors. Build relationships with your colleagues, your suppliers, your clients. That’s what this business is built on. It’s fun—and how can they say no to a friend?!”
Lastly, she says: “Have a sense of humor. This can be a stressful job, but humor will get you through it every time.”

AHA! MOMENT “I remember being at an industry seminar in 2007 when I met the wonderful Deb Scholar and we just clicked. She was incredibly generous in sharing her successful approach to meetings management. It was then that I learned there was a name for what we had implemented at our companies—strategic meetings management—and that there was a lot of help available to develop it further.” - Barbara Scofidio