Audrey Lakin is a city girl, so she never thought she’d have to learn what a soybean was—until she became a marketing planner for the Chicago Board of Trade early in her career. From visiting farmers in the flatlands one day to schmoozing with executives in New York the next, Lakin became quite comfortable with entertaining vastly different crowds—so comfortable she took matters into her own hands by opening corporate planning firm Executive Productions, Ltd., which has a strong tie to the real estate community. As her company turns 20 this year, Lakin has much reason to celebrate.

ILM+E: What was your very first job?
AL: “I started in college with Lettuce Entertain You by booking their private event space at Bones, formerly in Lincolnwood.”

ILM+E: What made you want to start your own firm 20 years ago?
AL: “I had my first child and wanted to continue to do events but with less travel commitments. And I was lucky because back then event planning was not the most popular profession, but I was able to find my niche.”

ILM+E: What’s the biggest industry change you’ve seen?
AL: “Technology has been the biggest advancement. Now people don’t call, they email or text. I’m finding that to be my biggest challenge, trying to convince people there is still a purpose in being together for an event.”

ILM+E: How did you start building your client list in the beginning?
AL: “I have to give credit to my husband. He’s in real estate, so every time I’d meet his friends, I’d network and now the calls keep coming, especially for most big events in the city, including the 100th anniversaries of the Burnham Center and the Wrigley Building this year.”

ILM+E: Are there any challenges in planning for the same audience each time?
AL: “I have to always get creative and provide different experiences. I have to create the atmosphere, whether it’s a themed event, bringing in a sports star or having giveaways.”

ILM+E: What has been the biggest asset of your success?
AL: “Understanding that the bottom line is relationships. Sometimes that means scheduling two lunches even if I’m not hungry or I’m busy. It’s about making people feel they are the most important.”

League City CVB manager Stephanie Polk shares her career journey.

Originally from Kentwood, Louisiana, Stephanie Polk, TDM, CTE, first made her mark on the travel and tourism industry as director of marketing for the Beaumont Convention & Visitors Bureau. There, she helped to elevate the city as a destination for recreation travelers and business groups. Wowed by her accomplishments, in 2020, League City brought her on board to lead its marketing efforts. She shares with us highlights and advice from her experience in the industry. 


You may not have seen her name among Chicago’s James Beard award nominees or caught in the buzz of another trendy eatery opening, but the ripples of Rita Dever’s culinary creations have made an impact far and wide. After cooking around the world, the Pacific Northwest native put down roots as Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises’ (LEYE) associate partner and corporate chef where she collaborates in the company’s test kitchen to innovate new dishes for all LEYE restaurants.


For Chicago-based event planner and stylist Rachel De Marte, her bright, dynamic personality isn’t just one of her many amiable characteristics. It’s her calling card.

“I’m a big personality and a maximalist through and through. There’s definitely an energy and excitement level I bring to each event that you’ll start to grasp as we sit down together to brainstorm,” says De Marte. “‘Where does she get all of this energy?’ and ‘force of nature’ are things I hear all the time,” she laughs.