It doesn’t matter what the title is next to your name or what your responsibilities are in an organization—answering the phones or answering to stakeholders—you can always choose to lead. Robin Sharma, leadership expert and author of the national best-seller “The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari” observed, “A leadership culture is one where everyone thinks like an owner, a CEO or a managing director. It’s one where everyone is entrepreneurial and proactive.”
The meetings and events industry is especially ripe for this type of forward-thinking, collaborative work environment. The very nature of the industry requires all of us to step up, roll up our sleeves and get things done. We sat down with three industry leaders to find out how they got where they are today and who helped shape their own leadership styles.
Director of Sales
Washington State Convention Center
Michael McQuade’s journey to Seattle began 3,000-plus miles away in a bedroom community outside of Providence, Rhode Island. His father was an entrepreneur and owned a small grocery chain in New England, and his mother was a homemaker. McQuade’s introduction to the industry was, as he calls it, a “sideways trip” from his interest in architectural preservation.
How did you get involved in the meetings and events industry?
I did some volunteer work for the Providence Preservation Society. Through that, I learned that some civic leaders in Providence had decided to save a 1929 movie palace from the wrecking ball and turn it into a performingarts facility. They were looking for volunteers to do many things, including help clean the inside of the long-vacant property
That volunteer work led to me being offered a part-time assistant house manager position. Then I got offered the job of being the concessions manager, which was a bit more full-time and a little more pay. Ultimately, I was offered the job of the director of operations for the facility, which I consider my first professional job in this business.
Do you miss working in the theater?
Yes, I have to say it was a lot of fun. Of course, it was a lot of work—long days, long weeks. But there was a different clientele for the performances that would go through the theater, just as there are for the conventions that come through the facility here. So, all that diversity made each day unique.
How did you end up in Seattle?
My first boss in Providence was this gentleman by the name of Ted Stevens, and he was an impresario. He had great faith in people. If he liked you, you were in. Shortly after I got the full-time job, he introduced me to this organization called the International Association of Auditorium Managers, which is now known as the International Association of Venue Managers. I went to my first association convention in 1981, and he introduced me to his peers.
Like all industry associations, there was a first-timers program. At one program, this gentleman stood up—tall, lanky, little bit of a Southern accent—and talked about convention centers. His name was Jerry Lowery. He was the then-president and CEO of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City. At every one of those industry programs that I went to, I’d run into him. He was one of the people I reached out to when I was ready to change jobs. [By then, Lowery had left the Javits Center to serve as president of the Washington State Convention and Trade Center.] He was the first person who offered me a job. I came out here in late March 1984 for an informal interview, because there wasn’t a formal position open yet. (The convention center was not yet under construction.) In September of ‘84, he gave me a call and asked if I could start on Oct. 1.
So, you moved cross-country within a month?
I had to tidy up all my activities in three weeks and pack, and then took a five-day drive across the country, which was fun. This past October was my 34th anniversary here.
You’ve mentioned a couple of people already who helped you along in your career. Who among them would you say was the most influential?
I can’t put it down to one because each person shaped me, my thoughts and processes—Ted Stevens as an impresario of the theater and Jerry Lowery as a sales and marketing guru. [Another person] was Chubb Foster. He had worked for the State of Washington almost all of his life, retired, and then got called into being the interim general manager of the convention center. We had a situation—I can’t remember what the specific details were—but we had a staff meeting and were sitting in his office discussing it, and he said, “We have a duty to be fair.” And it stuck with everyone who was in that room. As a public agency, there’s a higher expectation of fairness, because you’re representing the public. That stuck with me.
Seattle civic leader and WSCC advocate Jim Ellis is another influence on my life. He’s probably the only true visionary I have ever met. He shared with us several of his visions. One was that the convention center would be an island of civility. The second was that the convention center would be an oasis in the downtown core. When you walk through the convention center—the landscaping, the art, the public seating, the openness of it, the fact that people can walk through parts of the convention center—it is an oasis. Most convention centers are not inviting. Even if the doors are open, there’s nothing that draws people into convention centers. He wanted people to be drawn into ours.
Then, the last person who I’d say influenced me is John Christensen who was president and CEO of the organization. When he started here, he essentially had the same conversation with each one of us. He said, “You’re in the position you’re in because I have confidence that you can do the job, so do the job. Come to me any time you have questions—any question at all, my door is always open. Make mistakes, but learn from them, and don’t do anything that would get you on the front page of the paper.”
To me, each one of those individuals shaped me, and each one shaped the direction and the destiny of the convention center in different ways.
MORE ABOUT MICHAEL
Complete this Sentence: The best things in life are … family, friends and dogs
If You Could Meet One Person, Who Would it Be and Why? Peter the Great. He had an insatiable thirst for knowledge and used his energy (and power) to modernize Russia from its medieval social and political structure. I read Robert Massie’s book years ago (when I was at the Providence Performing Arts Center!) and was taken by his story. Early on in his reign in the late 1600s, he traveled for about a year and a half all over Europe visiting all the capitals and economic centers, meeting kings and queens and prime ministers and politicians. He learned shipbuilding and contemporary art, politics and government administration, architecture and construction. From his visit to Venice he took that vision home to build out of a swamp what became the most modern city in Russia and Europe: St. Petersburg.
Senior Event Manager
Linsley Swenson was born and raised in Grandview, a small farming community in Central Washington. The daughter of a farmer, she worked industriously alongside her parents, harvesting Concord and Niagara grapes for the juices, jams and jellies of Welch’s. She left Grandview to attend Seattle Pacific University where she received a Bachelor’s of Arts in Communications.
How did you find your way into the hospitality industry?
Coming from a small town, I was fascinated by the tourism industry. So, I started looking for jobs with hotels, and that led to convention centers. I was able to connect with Cynthia Lydum, who at the time worked for Visit Seattle. She was pivotal in getting me my first job at Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue, Washington, as an events assistant. I went on to serve as guest services manager at the center.
The city and the tourism industry that propels the city were so fascinating to me. Once I got into the industry working as an events assistant, I realized that it was the perfect industry for me considering my skill set and my background. From there that’s how my career really started.
After Meydenbauer, where did you go?
From Meydenbauer, I went on to work at the Washington State Convention Center (WSCC) as an event manager. Going to the convention center in Seattle introduced me to a different market of clients—much larger clients that would bring citywide business to the Seattle market. In 2013, I was introduced to a citywide program that was coming to the convention center called the Tableau Conference.
From the start, Tableau made it known that the 2014 program they were bringing to Seattle was a very important one because they were inviting all of their customers to Seattle, the location of their company’s headquarters. And so it was very important that they had a wellexecuted program. I worked all year with the team at WSCC to execute the program, and it went off without a hitch. Tableau left as a very happy client, which was exciting not only for myself but for the entire team and the hotel and city partners that worked on the event.
Afterward, the logistics company who works with Tableau, MCW Events, asked if I wanted to come and work for them on the Tableau Conference specifically.
What all does that entail?
MCW Events oversees all of the logistics for the event. This includes but is not limited to vendor and venue management, producing master production schedules, managing all of the space planning, supporting ancillary events, and the list could go on and on.
The Tableau event is unique in the sense that they bring 1,800 of their own employees to the convention. That employee contingent creates an event within an event.
Is there one person who has helped you out along your career, serving as a mentor or offering direction?
One person was a guest services manager at Meydenbauer Center, Stephanie Stevenson. She now works for Atlanta Electrical at WSCC. [She] taught me the difference between a theater set and a classroom set. But even more importantly, what she taught me that has carried me through the last 10 years is the importance of thanking the teams who work for you and under you on projects.
One example was simply writing “please” in BEOs (banquet event orders) at Meydenbauer Center. She emphasized how important it was to say, “Please set this room with 10 rounds of 10 chairs each.” She explained how important it was to the person setting that room to see the word “please” as they read the note. She also taught me to make sure I thanked those same people after they set the room. In the position I’m in now, leading a team of eight to 25 onsite, that’s something I’ve carried with me.
MORE ABOUT LINSLEY
What Would the Story of Your Life be Titled? This is a toss-up between “Follow Your Gut” and “Fake It ‘til You Make It.”
If You Could Meet One Person, Who Would it Be and Why? I would love to meet Christina Tosi, chef, founder and owner of Milk Bar. The story of her career growth is fascinating to me, starting with her upbringing in a small agricultural community. I find her drive to continually seek balance in all different aspects of her life (business, family, friends, etc.) admirable.
Complete This Sentence: What most people don’t know about me … is I would love to move to New Orleans where I would immediately join a krewe and participate in as many parades as possible.
CINDY WALLACE, CMP, CMM
Director of Sales
Oregon Convention Center
C indy Wallace is a born-and-raised Oregonian. She was born in Oregon City, grew up in Sherwood and went to college at Oregon State University. She graduated in 1995 with a Bachelor of Science in speech communications and entered the meetings and events industry two years later, working as a tour planner for an educational travel company. Her experience in the industry is especially varied, having worked for a travel company, dinner cruise operator, meetings and events venue, and event producer.
Tell us about your first job in the industry.
The company [where I worked] is called Educational Travel Services Inc. I planned educational tours for junior high students. So, when classrooms take trips to Washington, D.C., for example, I planned those. I would curate the trips for the client—in those situations, the teacher—based on what they wanted the experience and educational impact to be for their classrooms. This included planning all of the activities and logistics from airfare and motor coach to the ticketing for events, per diems, and more. Whatever was needed to make their experience a success, I made sure it was planned and coordinated in full detail.
From there where did you go?
I worked as the sales manager and event planner for Portland Spirit, which is a service that provides dining and sightseeing cruises in and around Portland. After my time there, I went to The Expo Center, which is a venue managed by Metro, and transitioned to the Oregon Convention Center (OCC) (also a Metro venue) with Pacific Wild Catering in 2003. In 2005, I moved into venue sales for the convention center. In 2012, I left OCC to work for Opus Events Agency as an account executive until 2014. After gaining agency experience at Opus, I came back to the convention center in 2014 as director of sales and marketing.
Who mentored you or influenced how you like to lead?
I attribute my influences and inspiration to a wide-range of people. I would say my membership in Meeting Professionals International Oregon chapter was a huge influence on my career path and my education, with regard to the profession and leadership. The networking through MPI cannot be underscored enough. Having started at Portland Spirit in '99, joining MPI in 2001, being on the board by 2002, and then becoming president in 2010 is a clear example of the power of the organization’s impact on my life. It’s actually how I got to the Oregon Convention Center: through my participation in MPI and networking. The people I met saw how I worked in a volunteer capacity, and I got offered positions because of my volunteer work.
How many people do you manage in your current role as director of sales and marketing at the Oregon Convention Center?
I recently began managing two additional departments, so altogether 17 reports. I manage OCC’s sales team with two assistants and four sales managers, the marketing department—which is a team of two—and the receptionists, which includes two full-time staff and seven part-time staff.
How do you like to lead?
I lead with clear expectations for the specific role. It’s very important to provide the proper resources for my team. I am very transparent and fairly direct—people know where they stand with me. And while I provide support, I’m not a micromanager in any way. I’m a firm believer in “teach ’em how to do the job; let ’em go do the job.” I’m here to provide the OK and to help if anything needs to be escalated, but I give my team a lot of autonomy because I trust them. They’re very well trained, they’re all very self-motivated, so my leadership style is basically providing clear communication of expectations and providing the resources that are necessary for my team to succeed.
When you’re hiring, what are some traits that you look for?
I look for self-direction or candidates who are self-motivated, and, if it’s something that they can portray [in an interview], work with integrity. I look for candidates who exude energy— positive energy—and can display a systematic organizational knowledge.
MORE ABOUT CINDY
Complete This Sentence: The best things in life are … family, friends, love and food!
What Would the Story of Your Life be Titled? “The Smart Woman’s Guide to a Lifetime of Fun”
If You Could Meet One Person, Who Would it Be and Why? Michelle Obama. She’s inspiring, intelligent and funny. Her strength to endure a world of criticism with unbelievable grace is to be admired. I like how “real” she can be, while still holding such command and respect.
Complete This Sentence: What most people don’t know about me is … that I have dual citizenship with the United States and the United Kingdom. My father is from England, and I’ve been back a few times to visit relatives and could live there as a citizen if I ever wanted.