Running a town is a lot like running a convention, says Deb Bullwinkel, and she should know. As a full-time meeting planner in the nonprofit sector the past 20-plus years, Bullwinkel decided to extend her reach even farther in 2009 by becoming a trustee in her home village of Villa Park before eventually becoming mayor in 2013. She was a top vote getter in both races. “I enjoy serving the people and public service,” she says, speaking from her village office before heading to her home office for round two. It’s a busy life, but she makes it all work.
ILM+E: How did you get your start in the meeting planning industry?
DB: I received a degree in communications and journalism from Eastern Illinois University and landed my first job at a community newspaper, the Lisle Sun. That’s where I cut my teeth before I discovered the nonprofit world. I transitioned from journalism into association work with a mental health advocacy organization in Chicago. Now, I cater to the nonprofit arena and some trade organizations doing association management and planning annual conferences.
ILM+E: What prompted you to add the role of public office to your very full plate?
DB: I was involved with local clubs and organizations, and I had come to some [village] board meetings with concerns about the conditions of our streets. That is what originally got me fired up and involved. Some folks in the community approached me and asked me if I’d consider running for the board, and I decided it might be an interesting opportunity.
ILM+E: Is there any intersection with your two jobs that you benefit from?
DB: They really do complement each other. As a meeting planner, one of my sayings is, “the devil is in the details.” The details really matter especially when you are negotiating a contract and working with food and beverage and room blocks. The same is true as a mayor. Details are very important.
ILM+E: What advice do you have for planners, from your unique perspective?
DB: Continuously maintain relationships. Nothing is ever a constant. Staff can change at hotels and in the village, too, through elections. So you have to not only establish relationships but maintain them.
ILM+E: What does the future hold for you?
DB: I think one of the most exciting things is to see is the resurgence of the meetings and convention industry. It’s been flat for a long time; but now there’s comfortability and more bookings, even four to five years out. It’s harder to find spaces, but that’s a good thing for me as a self-employed planner. I’ll be able to keep busy.