Leave it to the professionals to get the job done right—every time. All of these forward-thinking colleagues have put their unique spin on meetings and events in 2016, and continue to elevate the industry to reach new heights. Whether they are involved in design, rentals or the infinite work of planning, their work has not gone unnoticed. This year we celebrate the seven brand-new inductees into the Illinois Meetings + Events esteemed Hall of Fame.
Ivan Carlson & Associates
Keeping track of lessons learned has become an important routine for Tina Carlson. The president of the local event design and production company Ivan Carlson & Associates for the last 30 years, Carlson started journaling halfway into her career. She now has a minicollection of notebooks with anecdotes about lessons in the industry she can look back upon.
Whether it’s the easy lesson learned or the hard lesson learned, take note of everything as you go along so you don’t make the same mistake again,” she advises to others coming up in the ranks.
Carlson was there once, too. Though she originally studied film, theater and entertainment management in college, one of her earliest jobs was as a catering manager. Soon after she joined the family business—a company started by her father Ivan Carlson, a former stagehand that had a vision to build stage sets for corporate shows.
At that time, just six people worked in the company’s shop. But within a few years, as her father retired, Tina took over the role as president and currently leads 22 full-time employees. Her brother, Scott Carlson, also works as the company’s vice president and partner.
Tina says she’s most proud that her company has survived through the decades, despite challenging economic circumstances. To do so, the company has diversified its client base and worked on building legacy accounts, like the Winter Wonderfest at Navy Pier, ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo and the Firefly Music Festival in Dover, Delaware. Design has matured from “decorating a room with backdrops and ball lights to creating complete, high-style environments,” she says.
“One of things I’m most proud of is working with my family members,” she adds. “The team we have here, including clients, are people who have taken the good with the bad and stuck it out. We’d be nowhere without our people. They are our greatest asset.”
BEST MEETING PROFESSIONAL
VP, Industry Relations & Special Events
In her 16 years of promoting the city of Chicago, Lori Adlesick has seen the city—and her department— transform.
Adlesick moved to Chicago in 1996 after completing school in Virginia and took a job with the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau. Though she left briefly to work for a trade show floral company (the now-defunct Showtime Florists), Adlesick returned to the organization in 2000. She has since held a variety of positions at the Bureau, which merged with the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture in 2012 and became Choose Chicago.
“(The merger) really changed the whole face of the organization, from the marketing we’ve done to ramping up efforts in the group and leisure market,” she says.
As vice president of industry relations and special events, Adlesick works on events for Choose Chicago’s members/partners, clients, industry organizations and Board of Directors, such as Chicago Restaurant Week’s annual preview event, the First Bites Bash. She also helped organize the PCMA Convening Leaders Conference in Chicago in 2015. Adlesick is also a part of the PCMA Education Conference Content Committee and taught a class in special event management at the College of DuPage in the fall semester.
Although Adlesick didn’t grow up in Chicago, the city still has a special place in her heart. “I very much consider [Chicago] my home now,” she says. “I love what I do and love representing the city.”
BEST SPECIAL EVENT PROFESSIONAL
Chef/Owner & Culinary Style Director
After working in fine dining restaurants for a number of years, Elaina Vazquez started her catering company, Boutique Bites, in 2008. Her goal: to bring restaurantstyle food and service to catering. Becoming a chef was a dream she’s had since she was 5 years old living in Chicago. “I grew up in a big family,” she says. “I saw very early on how food could bring people together.”
In the early years of Boutique Bites, Vazquez handled everything, from generating proposals and booking events to cooking and loading and unloading the food. “I really held every single position in my company,” Vazquez recalls.
With the assistance of a current lineup of nine full-time employees, Vazquez has now shifted her attention to growth and business development. About three years ago, Boutique Bites moved from a 1,100-square-foot space to an 8,000-square-foot venue in the West Loop. The new spot includes a 4,000-square-foot commercial kitchen and room to host events up to 200 guests cocktail-style.
“It has brick walls and exposed beams, and we also built this cool show kitchen that is the focal point,” Vazquez says. “It’s like Napa Valley meets Nantucket. When you walk in, it doesn’t feel like a big empty venue you have to fill up, but rather like you’re throwing an event in someone’s home.”
Boutique Bites has since hosted Facebook, Google, Courvoisier, Patron, Nestle, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Moët.
In particular, Vazquez enjoys customizing food for events, a natural part of developing close relationships with her clients. “You can do a really cool New Orleans-themed baby shower or a sevencourse white truffle dinner for another client,” she says of just some examples. “[It’s fun] to mix it up and be creative constantly.”
Customer Service Representative
Missy Luft grew up around the event industry. Her grandfather started Hall’s Rental with a business partner in the late 1950s, and Luft herself has worked for the Niles-based company since she graduated from the University of Michigan in 2003.
In the beginning, Luft helped out between working on political campaigns around the country. In 2008, she decided to move back to Chicago permanently and work at Hall’s full-time.
Since then, she says she’s enjoyed taking part in “some of the most amazing events Chicago has ever produced. … It’s amazing to see a client’s vision come to life before your eyes and have it happen almost every weekend.”
Luft, however, is most proud of being a part of the staff at Hall’s. “We’ve been lucky to retain the same drivers, helpers, warehouse workers and customer service representatives for years. There are employees that have worked here longer than I’ve been alive,” she says. “Having such an experienced staff allows Hall’s to really get to know our clients and venues, and meet their personal demands.”
UP-AND-COMING MEETING PROFESSIONAL
J.P. Morgan Private Bank, U.S. Events
Meghan Palm started planning events at her residence hall at Indiana University. Though she was initially a journalism major, she decided to design her own career path through the school’s individualized major program, taking classes in hospitality, entrepreneurship, business and stage management.
While still enrolled, Palm worked with the university to open and manage The Hoosier Den, a dry, late-night entertainment space run by students. Since her 2008 graduation, Palm has continued that trajectory, working in corporate meeting and event planning, mostly in the pharmaceutical sector and in destination management.
Through her work, Palm has traveled throughout Europe, the Caribbean and South America. “I’ve definitely been a bit of a road warrior over the past eight years,” says Palm, who cites human interaction and tailoring meetings and events to people and locales as two of the key reasons she’s passionate about the industry. “That’s part of the reason I love what I do,” she says.
Palm recently decided to take her talents to J.P. Morgan Private Bank. Based in Chicago, she now focuses on the strategy and implementation of high-impact events and sponsorships to benefit the Private Bank throughout the city as well as Chicago North, Michigan and Minnesota.
In addition to planning, Palm is involved with the Chicago area chapter of MPI and has been published in MPI’s magazine, The Meeting Professional, and also writes for some online forums. Being able to use her creative writing background to share knowledge in the events industry is a validating aspect of her decision to change majors back in college. “It’s been cool to come full circle,” Palm says. “To share industry expertise is a fun outlet for me.”
UP-AND-COMING SPECIAL EVENT PROFESSIONAL
Senior Event Producer
After focusing her studies in fine art and art history at the University of Michigan, Tori Terzakis became interested in museum and exhibition design. “I was really interested in large-scale installations and how people interact in the environment around them, and with other people,” Terzakis recalls.
At first, her interests did not extend to event producing. “I definitely had no plans to go into this line of work until I started to see it and understand how amazing it was to create these incredibly important events in [people’s lives],” Terzakis says. “It’s such an honor that people would want to use your designs to celebrate those moments.”
Terzakis now works on creating weddings and other events with Revel Décor, where she has been for about a year, particularly enjoying the company’s emphasis on using edgy and unique design elements. “Our clients are asking for new, creative stuff, and we pride ourselves on pushing boundaries,” she says.
One recent, unique challenge was balancing the space allotment for décor and family-style food service at the wedding of a celebrity chef’s daughter. Since the food took up much of the table space, Revel opted to use wooden risers. “It was a playful way to make it functional for the table, while incorporating this really beautiful décor,” Terzakis says. She credits her partner, Erin Dahl Sellers, for her “amazing collaboration” on custom, unique ideas like these.
“Something Revel prides itself on is creating trends and edgy creative décor,” Terzakis says. “We have an incredible team. We all help people push boundaries and find new ways to design.”
Having worked in catering for much of her career, Monika Heppe uniquely brings forward the perspective of a planner and end user when coordinating rentals at Tablescapes.
Heppe started working in catering in high school and was also an event server while in college. After graduating, she was recruited by Chicago’s Pure Kitchen Catering LLC in 2012 where she worked as the director of sales. Upon leaving to pursue a series of independent projects, Heppe decided to switch things up and join Tablescapes in 2016.
“I never did rentals but had done the venue, planning and catering side, with a little bit of décor and design,” Heppe says. “Tablescapes gave me the opportunity to round out my experience.”
In her current job, Heppe enjoys that her work is for a new audience. “For the first time, my clients are more industry people and less of the end user,” she says.
“Corporate clients are looking for an event that is more of an experience, finding ways to build in incredible sights, sounds, smells and things for guests to do,” Heppe says. Many of those “things to do” center around food.
“New and interesting action stations like plancha grills and avocado bars, food carts that move around the event or interactive actors passing appetizers are all ways to keep guests entertained.”
Staying on top of trends like these is a challenge she enjoys. “I really like being a part of that, to be so forward thinking,” Heppe says.
>> Brique’s the Spot Our Hall of Fame portrait sessions took place at Brique, a beautifully resorted West Loop warehouse owned by Boutique Bites. With exposed brick walls, natural lighting, marble details and copious shelving, Brique is a cozy and versatile spot for photo shoots, parties and other events.