One of the most visible meeting managers in the industry, George Odom was responsible for the creation of Eli Lilly’s strategic meetings management program. He’s been a force behind the Global Business Travel Association’s Groups and Meetings Committee and a popular speaker at industry events. After 29 years at Lilly and then five as an industry consultant with Advito and on his own, you would think he would be setting his sights on a more relaxed pace—maybe some lazy days fishing, a little golf … but not George.

So after a consulting stint with Hewlett-Packard last year, he was so inspired by the work they were doing that when they offered him a full-time role as global meetings manager, he took it. Editor Barbara Scofidio caught up with George just two months into his new job.

Corporate Meetings & Incentives: Some of us were surprised to see you move back into full-time work after so many years as a consultant. What was it that hooked you?

George Odom: For one, they’re looking at their program and trying to make it world-class and do things that have never been done before. At this stage in my life, I wanted to do something that was fun, challenging, and could have an impact. When it was posed to me, it had all three of those things. And I liked the people I would be working with.

CMI: Tell me about the global nature of HP’s program.

Odom: Everyone says they have a global program, but this really is. The person who is responsible for global procurement for travel and meetings is in Australia; the person who is overseeing finance is in Guadalajara. We have regional leads in EMEA and the Asia-Pacific region, and we all report into Sandy Prosser then Maria Chevalier for travel and meetings. And I’m here in my home office in Indianapolis with six clocks on my wall so I can quickly see what time it is in the different parts of the world.

CMI: How do you all communicate?

Odom: We all have to be flexible because we do a lot of scheduled conference calls, and sometimes they’re early morning or in the evenings. We use MS Office Communicator, which enables us to contact anyone in the company, IM, and share desktops. We also utilize HP’s “Virtual Room” technology to share documents and collaborate real-time

CMI: Tell me about the size of the program.

Odom: It’s huge. HP has over 300,000 employees and approximately 100,000 travelers, with a travel spend of over $1 billion.

You start thinking about their size, buying power, and ability to leverage and it’s exciting. But it’s not just about savings. Our focus is on diversity, sustainability, and innovation. The HP focus is about cost and impact on the world, and the decisions we make can have a huge impact on the environment. For example, instead of upgrading our travelers to bigger cars, we upgrade them to something more fuel-efficient. Our department, led by Maria Chevalier, has chosen to support the charity Clean the World, where hotels donate soap to people in need.

CMI: What is the meetings and travel structure in the company?

Odom: We’re a StarCite shop. We use it across the company, and Carlson Wagonlit Travel is our agency across the globe. It’s a little different because travel and meetings purchasing goes through procurement, but the actual on-site management and logistics fall under our trade show and event division. We use a number of approved meeting planning companies, big and small, and the meeting owners choose from those suppliers.

CMI: Is your meetings program mandated?

Odom: There are policies in place and requirements for payment. We have a global meeting card program but what we’re finding is that it’s challenging because of the sheer scope of HP. You can say everyone needs to do their payment in a specific way, but there just isn’t a single solution that works in all countries. For example, meetings cards work great in Europe and the Americas, but don’t always work so well within China, India, and parts of Asia. You have to apply for each meeting, and sometimes the person who applies for the card is in a different country than the person who needs to use it, so you have to get it to them. It’s not always as easy as you would think.

CMI: What are some of the goals you have for your program?

Odom: They did a survey before I came on board of all the meeting owners throughout HP, whether they were admins or meeting planners or whoever, and they got 10,000 responses! We’re using those to help guide us. We want to be able to supply the right services at the right cost at the right time. To help guide us through this process and make sure we are meeting the internal customer needs, we plan to create regional councils and then take folks from each region and create more of a global council. It costs money to bring all the people who plan meetings across the company together, but we could do it with technology, or a combination of virtual and live. It’s one of the things on our to-do list—which is getting pretty big!

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