They come from different backgrounds and different schools and had very different reasons for wanting to get into the meetings and events industry. Yet, all seven of our 2015 Hall of Fame inductees share a common determination and drive that has allowed them to stand out in an industry that expects game changers.
DIRECTOR OF EVENT OPERATIONS
Lincolnshire Marriott Resort
She married her high school sweetheart. She has worked for the same company for more than 40 years. She has children who love her and grandchildren who love her more, and in the grand scheme of things, she has had a personal and professional life that others would envy. There has always been just one problem.
“My biggest regret has always been that I never became a teacher,” admits Patsy Gnadt, director of event operations at the Lincolnshire Marriott Resort and 2015’s esteemed Lifetime Achievement honoree.
Instead, Gnadt followed where life lead her, straight through the doors of the Lincolnshire Marriott Resort in 1975 where, as a teenager, she received her first job as a general cashier. “When the resort was first built, there was just not that much around,” she says. “Growing up in Lincolnshire, the resort was in our backyard and, at one time, myself and my four sisters all worked here.” Though it’s rare nowadays for most people to stay with one company for four decades, Gnadt had her reasons. “My husband served 30 years on the local fire department so moving to another area was always out of the question. Plus, the hotel became my second home. My senior banquet captain and I have been together for 36 years taking care of our wonderful guests. I just love this place.”
Through the years, Gnadt has steadily climbed the corporate ladder, from cashier to banquet server to banquet captain to event manager to the current director of event operations, which is heavily involved in other happy unions. “The hotel is known for weddings,” she says. “We host around 80 a year with as many as four weddings a night. In recent years, we have even transformed our tennis building [for] formal dinners and utilized our 2-acre farm to do farm-to-table dinners.”
In that time, “I have worked and have done my best to mentor as many young people as I can coming up in the hospitality world,” she says. “I have told them to take the time to listen and treat people like they would want to be treated.”
On second thought, it looks like she became a teacher after all.
Best Meeting Professional
CORY FRANSWAY CMP, CMM
DIRECTOR, STRATEGIC ACCOUNTS
Experient, A Maritz Travel Company
As director, strategic accounts at Experient, Cory Fransway, CMP, CMM, loves studying data to understand the answers hidden in numbers, and also finding out how things work—particularly ways technology continues to change the way we live, work and play.
Maybe that’s why they call him “Curious Cory.”
“I’ve always been that way,” explains Fransway, 2015’s Best Meeting Professional. “I was always the organizer and the leader. Even in college, I was the student association president. I’m always thinking [about] the next, best idea.”
After attending Oral Roberts University, Fransway embarked on a career path that gave him experience in both the hotel business and convention services before landing at Experient. The global meeting planning and event management company has a long list of impressive clients, several of which Fransway has worked with for many years.
Of course, that keeps Fransway traveling around the country and world most of the year. “Business travel is a doubleedged sword,” he says. “I have always loved the adventure of travel, but when you are on a plane in the middle of November for the fifth trip to the same city, it can be a challenge. But it’s all worth it.”
Best Special Events Professional
DIRECTOR OF HOTEL OPERATIONS, BEVERAGE AND FOOD
Renaissance Chicago Downtown Hotel
Jeanique Felix-Kulpit admits she is never satisfied. The former New Yorker used to fill her time as a child planning scavenger hunts for the kids in her neighborhood and admits that, nowadays, “I have changed the colors in my home six times in 12 years.”
Yet it’s this drive for perfection that has made her one of Marriott’s brightest talents and 2015’s Hall of Fame inductee for Best Special Events Professional. “I love this industry because it is constantly evolving and changing, which keeps things interesting,” says Felix-Kulpit, who came to Chicago for a meeting 16 years ago and ended up making it her permanent home. Now, she oversees a staff of more than 100 people as director of hotel operations, beverage and food at the newly renovated Renaissance Chicago Downtown Hotel.
Over the past year, Felix-Kulpit has had a hand in hosting Renaissance’s Global Day of Discovery, featuring Robin Thicke and Natalie La Rose, along with the filming and premier party for Renaissance Hotels’ original comedy short, “Business Unusual.”
And while she may like to feed her shopping habit when away from the office, FelixKulpit never has to worry about the team she leaves in charge in her absence. “I am able to shut work off because I know that I have the right people,” she says. “Knowing I have put together this exceptional team is truly one of the most satisfying feelings in the world.”
Travis Reedy Audio Visual Industrial Staging Inc.
It was 2009, and Travis Reedy was scared. Everyone around him was.
The economic downturn had hit a lot of people in one way or another, and no one quite knew what the future held. And even worse, as president of his eponymous A/V company, Reedy had a team looking to him for guidance.
“The future looked stormy, and I needed to focus on keeping my team employed through this rough time,” recalls Reedy, who first opened TRAVIS Inc. in March of 1997. “Knowing that there wasn’t anywhere for them to go based on the economy, we made some financial adjustments in order keep payroll going for our entire staff. The gamble was that when the economy rebounded, if we survived, we’d be in a great position to assist our clients as our business is focused on service. Not having to train new people was a huge advantage coming out of the recession, as well as having the most loyal team possible.”
And evolve they did, as the homegrown TRAVIS Inc. has developed into one of the leaders in the event design category, with a dedicated staff constantly working to draw up various plans for events. As a full-service technical production company, the staff takes clients such as Walmart, Heineken and Harley-Davidson from the event design to the execution stage.
While helping his clients reach their goals doesn’t come without its challenges, especially when budgets don’t align with big picture ideas, 2015’s Best Supplier knows exactly how to keep it in perspective.
“I coach both of my sons’ hockey teams,” he chuckles. “Working with children is by far the most rewarding thing I’ve ever been a part of,” and no doubt it has helped him sink a few goals himself.
Up-and-Coming Meeting Professional
COURTNEY M. ANDERSON CMP
EVENTS MANAGEMENT DIRECTOR
Steppenwolf Theatre Company
There was something about her grandpa that made Courtney M. Anderson, CMP, know that she wanted to grow up to be just like him.
“I was bit by the hospitality bug early,” she says, remembering watching her grandfather, Joe K. Anderson, run Colonial Ice Cream (now Colonial Cafés) in the western suburbs of Chicago.
For the younger Anderson, her niche was the arts, and in August 2014 she married her love for hospitality and stage management at Steppenwolf Theatre Company, where she has worked as the events management director, leading a team that produces more than 100 events each year.
That includes the Steppenwolf for Young Adults program and the annual Women in the Arts Luncheon and Gala, each boasting 400-600 attendees and raising $1.4 million for theater programs. Having such a successful run so early is one of the reasons she now enjoys the title of Up-and-Coming Meeting Professional in 2015’s Hall of Fame.
“When I see our parking lot transformed into an amazing gala experience for our artists, supporters, staff and community,” Anderson says, “all aspects of my work and our mission as a nonprofit arts organization comes together.”
Up-and-Coming Special Events Professional
Chicago Travel Consultants
Two years of planning for a two-day event is something Shannon Wilkins is used to by now.
“It’s those sorts of events where it seems like my anticipation level will go right through the roof,” laughs the 2015 Up-and-Coming Special Events Professional inductee. The account executive at Chicago Travel Consultants, Inc. (CTC) has worked on prestigious events for several large corporate direct and third-party meeting planning clients. “I always have this internal checklist running though my head, and sometimes it’s just nice to see the event finally come to fruition.”
A lover of spreadsheets, travel and good food, Wilkins graduated from the University of Iowa and came to Chicago’s CTC office three years ago, eager to work alongside reputable pharmaceutical and automotive clients to help manage their event planning needs. “The thing about working in Chicago is that you are always trying to keep up with trends,” she says. “You think you always know what to expect, but there are so many moments where you end up having to relearn everything.”
It’s a pace she says she absolutely loves, though, in both her personal and professional life: “Trust me … I have a spreadsheet for everything.”
JESSICA SHANK SALES
Windy City Limousine
Windy City Limousine Sales Manager Jessica Shank spent the majority of her childhood in the backseat of a car, watching the world go by as her family traveled to the next place or adventure.
“We were constantly on the go,” says Shank, named Up-and-Coming Supplier in 2015—and mostly it was to get to the next game. “I was always playing a sport, or cheering my family on or just watching a game.” That competitive spirit has helped her along the way in her career, too.
After briefly considering roles in healthcare, Shank discovered Windy City Limousine. While she had virtually no experience in the industry, Shank says she was intrigued by the family-like atmosphere along with the challenges that the job would set in front of her.
“When I started in [WCL’s] meetings and events department, I knew absolutely nothing about transportation logistics or operations,” she recalls. “Luckily, my manager took me under his wing, and I found myself surrounded by the most knowledgeable and experienced mentors in the game.”
But outside of the office, there are other teams on her mind.
“I love to love the Chicago Blackhawks and hate to love the Chicago Bears,” she remarks. “And I still absolutely love an adventure.”