Our 2008 Hall of Famers--nominated by our Editorial Advisory Board--walk the walk and share their insights on the state of the industry and how they got where they are today.
Photos by Kendall Karmanian
by Lauren K. Hurley
What makes someone worthy of the title "Hall of Famer?"
For our first official Hall of Fame awards, we looked to our Editorial Advisory Board to nominate the leaders of our industry who best exemplify what it means to be an expert, a valuable resource and an integral member of our community.
For these inaugural Hall of Fame awards, we organized inductees into the following six titles: Best Meeting Planner, Best Special Event Planner, Best Supplier, Up-and- Coming Meeting Planner, Up-and-Coming Supplier and Lifetime Achievement Award. I had the pleasure of interviewing each of our inductees to learn more about them—from the professional to the somewhat personal.
Lifetime Achievement Award
Partner, BBJ Linen
Few would have guessed that 30 years ago, a CPA and corporate credit manager would wind up renting table linens, but it seems Bill Pry was destined to work in a more creative field. “I was about to complete my MBA and I told my parents I was quitting school to sell tablecloths,” remembers Pry. His first venture was called “Covered Affairs,” which he ran for several years before moving on. “In 1993, I met Bonnie [Dannen] and Judy [Goldberg] and now we’re on our 26th year as partners.” Now in 24 U.S. cities, with approximately 200 employees, BBJ Linen has become the event industry’s premier linen rental company. After all, says Pry, “A tablecloth goes on every surface. There have always been pieces of fabric on tables and that will continue.”
Always on the look-out for ways to improve BBJ’s offerings, Pry draws on inspiration from many places, including celebrity culture. Pry is especially inspired by the high-end looks at lavish social events. “My job is to interpret and reinvent these looks into something the average person can use and offer different levels of it. I’m inspired by creating useful products.” Most of all, Pry says, “I’m still motivated by happy clients—a nice job.”
Best Special Event Planner
President and Principal, In The Loop
With an extensive background in hotel operations, banquet management and sales, Andrew Schorr was ready to take on the responsibility of businessowner. Schorr and his partner Bart Louhi purchased In The Loop in December of 2007. “We’re treating the company as if it was the first day it opened—focusing on the sales and marketing efforts and spending a lot of time visiting customers—really getting out there and thanking our customers for staying with us.”
This type of approach has been successful for Schorr who goes above the call of duty and is always looking for creative new ways to garner business. “We’re really getting creative with our proposal packaging,” says Schorr. “We’re packaging [them] in boxes from The Container Store that look like tires. We’re always thinking, ‘what’s really going to make us stand out?’” Moving forward, Schorr says he’ll be focusing on advertising, marketing and redeveloping the company’s website. Schorr knows how to promote his business, but the truth to his success lies in client relationships. “We want to make the planner or the guest experience something they’ve never experienced before. That’s what motivates me.”
If there ever was a professional Renaissance man, Jim Grillo is it. “I’m the kind of person that always has three jobs,” says Grillo. From DJ to dinner theatre salesman to line cook at Sizzler, Grillo has literally tried it all during his diverse career. Once, Jim even worked as a wedding singer, “a la Adam Sandler,” he recalls with a sense of humor.
Prior to starting up hereschicago.com, Grillo ran the local DMC, On The Scene, for five years, and he still works on a volunteer basis for the NBC 5 street team. The team’s work covering “Looptopia Live,” Chicago’s arts celebration, with live blogging and streaming video won an Emmy last fall for “Outstanding Achievement for Alternate Media/New Media Interactivity.” But what Jim really finds most rewarding is his work for hereschicago.com—the website that lets meeting and event planners connect directly with suppliers. With the abundance of networking websites, Grillo sees more opportunity than ever to build relationships online. “We try to take the best of Chicago, place it online, and let planners be connected directly with suppliers with no middleman—focusing on bringing the industry together,” says Grillo.
Best Meeting Professional
President, Apex Management & Special Events Inc.
Don’t mess with Kim LaBounty. Most people wouldn’t expect it, but boxing is one of her favorite hobbies. So when she needs to relieve the stress of running her own business, she hits the boxing bag for a little high-impact cardio. It takes a tough constitution to power through the daily responsibilities of being a business owner and starting Apex almost seven years ago was no easy decision.
LaBounty started Apex on a parttime basis with no clients and a noncompete. Since then, Apex has built an impressive roster of clients, specializing in organization management, marketing development and event planning. “There was once a sense of ‘if you build it, they will come,’ but that’s no longer valid,” says LaBounty. “You need to prove to them that they should come. There is such competition for time and dollars.” Another strategy to her success: Seeing a client’s bigger picture. “You have to understand what the organization is trying to accomplish. Then [you can] show how you can provide value and be a part of that team to make what you’re doing just as valuable as every other aspect of the organization.”
Event Producer, Kehoe Designs
With a diverse background in a variety of creative fields, Renee Barricklow knows how to approach different types of events, but her specialty at Kehoe is corporate events. Barricklow worked as a florist growing up and she got her start at Kehoe by freelancing on the weekends. After working for several years in the hotel industry, Barricklow wanted something creative to do on the weekends. She is now approaching her five-year anniversary with the company.
A few things have changed during her time with Kehoe, including the specialization of corporate events. “Corporate events are going to continue to happen,” says Barricklow, “but I think they’re getting smaller—and more powerful because of that. They’re maybe not huge groups of people, but smaller groups where you can make the event extra special.”
One of the best pieces of advice that Renee can offer to other up-and-comers is to constantly work on developing a diverse skill set. “So often people say they want to be an event planner. Find jobs along the way that can translate to event planning,” says Barricklow. “There are so many different aspects that go into this job. No experience is wasted.”
Up-and-Coming Meeting Professional
Associate, Corporate Events for Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL)
When he’s not out playing flag football or working with JLL’s chief diversity officer to start a LGBT diversity group, Justin Rhodes is handling all logistics for the company’s meetings and events, from cocktail receptions to multiday conferences. Balancing the diverse interests of “a lot of internal stakeholders versus just one client,” is one of Rhodes’ greatest challenges that he faces on the job. That, and spontaneous requests. “With the current economy, I’ve definitely seen a lot more pop-up meetings compared to contracting meetings six months out.” Rhodes has also seen cut backs in meeting frequency, size and budget.
But on the brighter side, this up-and-comer is also seeing progressive changes in corporate planning. Around the JLL office, “We’re asking ourselves, what can we do to be sustainable?” says Rhodes. But one of the most important pieces of advice he offers to colleagues is to speak out on the things you feel strongly about. “Don’t be afraid to speak your opinion to your supervisor,” says Rhodes. “If you think there is a better way of doing something, suggest it.”