Top 25 Influencers of the Meetings Industry

These stars from all areas of the meetings industry are shaping how corporate events are done.

Who among your peers is making or has made a mark in the meetings industry, thanks to their ideas, enthusiasm, creativity, expertise or simply a desire to change things for the better? This is the question we posed to you and to each other at Northstar Meetings Group, and what follows is the culmination of our ensuing discussions about a huge variety of influencers.

As a nod to how diverse and wide-ranging today's meetings industry is, we've elected to spotlight people whose names haven't been part of our past influencer lists, and organized the list into several different categories that emphasizes the great work each is doing. We wanted to acknowledge that despite the consistent great work that many of those already-cited luminaries continue to do, there are countless other individuals toiling to influence, inspire and improve events for all. 

Legends: Leaving a lasting impact


Jonathan Howe

A founding partner of the Howe & Hutton law firm in Chicago, Jonathan Howe wrote his first Law and the Planner column for M&C's April 1991 issue, discussing bankruptcies, Donald Trump and troubled airlines. Nearly 30 years later, he still offers wise words to planners and hoteliers alike via his column, Northstar Meetings Group webcasts and live events like the upcoming Destination Caribbean, taking place in the Dominican Republic Oct. 20-23.

The longtime general counsel for Meeting Professionals International, Howe also works with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Association Committee of 100, the Sports & Fitness Industry Association and the International Live Events Association, among others, and serves as special advisor to the American Bar Association's Standing Committee on Meetings and Travel. "I'm having too much fun to retire," he says.

Another thing that keeps him going: Howe is a staunch supporter of associations and the gatherings they host. "This really is a vital time for people to stay informed," he says, "and to become curators of their industries' knowledge."

Joan Eisenstodt

Talk about one's career being fated at the start: As a child, Joan Eisenstodt organized street fairs and YWCA events. She moved on to the association world as an adult and in 1981 founded her own Washington, D.C.-based company, Eisenstodt Associates Ltd.

She's seen it all, joining MPI early on and taking a seat on the 1989-'90 board of directors for the then Convention Liaison Council (now the Events Industry Council, whose Hall of Leaders counts her as a member). Eisenstodt remembers her first board meeting as one of three women in a room full of men:

"At the first break, after I'd spoken up in the meeting, a male member of the board patted me on the head and said, 'Honey, when you get a little older you'll know to be more quiet.' I was livid." Eisenstodt did not quiet down. A mentor to many a planner through the years, Eisenstodt still aims to make the industry smarter, better and stronger through her wide-ranging efforts. She has been an expert witness at myriad meetings-related disputes, has ironed out issues in thousands of contracts, run countless programs and taught many a class, such as the Meeting and Event Planning Certificate course at the University of North Carolina–Charlotte being held this month. "I've been teaching for them since 2012," Eisenstodt says. "I do a full day on risk and contracts/negotiations. It's exhausting -- and I love it."

Steve Maritz

For 36 years, Steve Maritz has helmed his family's eponymous company, which started as his grandfather's home-based jewelry business in 1894 and burgeoned into a $1.3 billion global meetings and motivation industry juggernaut with more than 4,000 employees today.

"There have been plenty of difficult times," the chairman and CEO acknowledges in talking about the Fenton, Mo.-based company. "We've had wars, recessions, the Great Recession; 9-11 was certainly tough on the travel business — on everything. Fortunately, this company has a legacy of perseverance — that and our people have allowed the company to grow and are why we're able to celebrate 125 years."

His interests and talents extend well beyond the family firm. Maritz was among the thought leaders who met with President Obama and federal lawmakers in 2009 to emphasize the enormous role the industry has in the U.S. economy. In 2015 he was inducted into the U.S. Travel Hall of Leaders, and this past June came another milestone: Maritz's beloved NHL team, the St.

Louis Blues (he is a part-owner), brought home the 2019 Stanley Cup. In summing up, Maritz says, "This business started long before I was here, and it will continue to be here long after I'm gone. I just want to make sure I leave it better than I found it."

Horst Schulze

Luxury-hospitality legend Horst Schulze began his 65-year career at age 14 as a busboy in Germany. At 16, while attending hotel school, he coined the motto, "We are ladies and gentlemen, serving ladies and gentlemen," which would become the customer-service mantra at Ritz-Carlton, which he cofounded in 1983. During his 19-year tenure, the company grew to 55 luxury hotels and resorts across 11 countries, twice won the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award for excellence and created a standard for luxury service that transformed the industry.
In 2002, four years after Marriott International acquired Ritz-Carlton, Schulze decided to raise the bar even higher and struck out on his own to found the ultra-luxury Capella Hotel Group, which he sold in 2006. Today he sits on the CHG board as chairman emeritus and has become director and board member of Boost, a provider of mobile training for the hotel industry.

In his autobiography, Excellence Wins: A No-Nonsense Guide to Becoming the Best in a World of Compromise, published this May, Schulze explained his approach to empowering employees: "Very few people come to work to be negative or do a lousy job. People come to contribute to a purpose. When we invite them to join us, to take on positions that befit them, their talents can blossom. As a result, they become employees of excellence for a long, long time, which benefits not only them personally but the organization as well."

Innovators: Changing the way business events happen

John Nawn

With a background in organizational psychology, John Nawn turned his attention to meeting design and strategic planning 13 years ago, and he continues to spread the word about making gatherings more meaningful for stakeholders, hosts and attendees. As president and founder of Chicago-based The Perfect Meeting, an event strategy firm, he wants to help define meeting-design terms and create standards for all event professionals. "I don't see anybody else filling this void," he says.

Nawn's aim is to get all industry players, even attendees, to break the meetings mold and evolve. "I don't think anyone is looking hard enough at where meetings fit into the big picture of their organizations," he notes. "We don't really address the outcomes, and without that, nothing will change."

Brett Hatch

The senior director of global corporate gifts for Maui Jim in Peoria, Ill., Brett Hatch has been innovating the way merchandise fits into events since he launched the company's corporate gifts division two decades ago. That the act of offering high-end gifts has become an event unto itself, where attendees select their own preferred products, is largely thanks to the pioneering efforts of Hatch and his team. As personalization and offering experiential elements has become an increasingly important part of corporate gatherings, his influence in the industry has grown as well.

Hatch's focus remains on finding ways to support the evolution of the gifting industry, while appealing to an ever-broader cross section of attendees. In part, that means offering an expanding catalog, with more than 600 products available by the end of this year. It also means finding ways to elevate Maui Jim's personalized customer-service approach to working with corporate clients, all while growing the company's footprint (currently comprising 16 international distribution centers).

The Maui Jim table continues to be a familiar sight at many incentive-industry gatherings. Hatch has deepened his work with organizations such as the Incentive Research Foundation, helping to spread the word about their findings and to make the case for incorporating merchandise into events.

Ron Shah

Founder and CEO of New York City-based meetings-management tool Bizly, Ron Shah has a straightforward game plan. "My biggest goal in life is to be the first company to achieve true product/market fit in the events category," he says, "where the product actually solves the pain for the user."

A former venture-capital investor and CNBC commentator, Shah has become a sought-after voice in discussions of event technology, a keen observer and leader in the market since launching Bizly three years ago.
The latest version of the software, currently in beta, is built on what Shah calls "instant personalization" -- where a set of rules or a template is applied to an event based on its type. Meeting characteristics are instantly applied -- even though the booking itself isn't instantaneous.

Indeed, Shah says the drive toward Airbnb-like instant meetings-venue booking is misplaced in our industry. "We've found the average person who needs to build an event would rather wait to make sure the venue matches their actual needs than book something instantly that may or may not work," he notes. "Uncertainty is intolerable for most meeting planners.

The new version of Bizly launches this month for early adopters, many of which are Fortune 100 companies.

Senthil Gopinath

When the Amsterdam-based International Congress and Convention Association board of directors sought a new leader this year, they didn't have to look far: The board found the perfect CEO in Senthil Gopinath, who had served as ICCA's Middle East regional director since 2016.

In that role, Gopinath forged new relationships with regional governments and industry partners, and grew membership in the region by more than 80 percent; his remarkable success was recognized by the Professional Convention Management Association's Visionary Awards, which named him 2019 Business Events Strategist of the Year for being a "creative, passionate and adaptive strategist who is also a respected leader and mentor.

In April, the ICCA board announced Gopinath's elevation to the top job, saying "not only that he can establish a vision, but also chart the tactical path to reach that vision, always working from a solid foundation of operational and financial expertise.

Of his new role, Gopinath says, "It will enable me to listen more closely to our members and key stakeholders, and service them in a more enhanced manner, making ICCA more relevant to the global membership."

Rob Adams

When he was 24, Rob Adams dove head-first into entrepreneurship and opened the Las Vegas location of a donut-shop franchise, which he successfully grew and later sold to tennis star Andre Agassi. The self-starter eventually shifted to the corporate world, including a stint as general manager of Microsoft Dynamics Canada, and now serves as president and CEO of Bishop-McCann, a brand agency specializing in meetings, incentive programs and events.
A member of MPI's board of directors, Adams has invested heavily in Bishop-McCann's four core principles of technology, innovation, value and collaborative partnerships.

Most recently, the company partnered with Immersion Neuroscience to create Return on Experience, a software platform that pairs with a wearable neurosensor to measure attendee reactions in real time. The resulting data shows moments of peak immersion or frustration among attendees, as well as identifying those who were extremely engaged at an event.

"Via this new technology, we are providing our clients with a measurable, scientific way to prove the value of meeting and event experiences, which directly correlates to company performance," Adams notes.

Advocates: Standing up for the industry

Fiona Bruder

After nearly two decades of working her way up the account-management hierarchy at experiential event and marketing agency George P. Johnson, Fiona Bruder was promoted earlier this year to executive vice president of client success. As such, she is one of five people on the leadership team who report directly to the CEO and help to determine the agency's strategic direction.

Having risen through the ranks herself, Bruder is a champion of women in leadership roles and of ensuring that everyone, regardless of gender, race or orientation, can be heard. "The more you open up your circle and bring in open-minded people who embrace community," she says, "the better experience you create for clients. Having a diverse group of people working with a client creates better work."

Bruder serves as executive sponsor of GPJ's employee resource group for women and is an active supporter of a group for LGBTQ interests and a new one for employees of color. She says this welcoming culture helps GPJ relate better to the agency's biggest global clients — LinkedIn, Google and Salesforce among them — who strive to create similar cultures.

Bruder continues to be the global lead for IBM, one of the agency's largest accounts, and she is standardizing best practices across clients as she spearheads the effort to build the agency's global operations model.

Patricia V. Blake

It's been a year of change for Patricia Blake. Relocating from her longtime home of Chicago to downtown Washington, D.C., she began a new role as CEO of the Heart Rhythm Society, leaving behind the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, where she had been CEO for 17 years. She had been ASGE's first dedicated employee after it became an independent entity, and she helped double membership to 15,000. This past August, she also began her tenure as chair of the board for the American Society of Association Executives.

"I'm a cheerleader for associations and an advocate for the differences they're making," says the 40-year association veteran about her secret to success. "We need to do a better job educating others on the power of associations." In her new role, Blake wants to support ASAE's commitment to helping associations recruit a more diverse and inclusive membership

"I am truly passionate about this profession and admire the countless staff that dedicate their lives to whatever mission is at hand," Blake enthuses. "It's so invigorating to watch people grow and succeed."

Jennifer Glynn, CIS, CITP

The managing partner for the Port Hope, Ontario-based site-selection firm Meeting Encore and its full-service planning arm, Intuitive Conferences + Events, Jenn Glynn has two passions: incentive travel and education, which she will combine during her 2020 presidency of SITE, the largest incentive-travel organization. "I love that our industry involves life-long learning, meaningful connections and creating shared experiences," she says

In fact, Glynn, a former hotelier, wants her legacy to be that of incentive-travel education advocate. "Incentive travel is often misunderstood as a recognition tool," she notes, "but if we provide the education that allows individuals to articulate the value proposition, then we'll grow and develop our industry globally."

To that end, Glynn will focus on SITE's educational offerings and certifications, including the Certified Incentive Travel Professional program and the launch of the three-part CITP prep course, as well as the Incentive Travel Academy. She also plans to redesign the Certified Incentive Travel Executive program, geared to seasoned incentive professionals.

Additionally, Glynn will continue to champion SITE's Women in Leadership Task Force, Young Leaders and mentorship programs. Under her stewardship, the organization will continue its digital transformation, aimed at equipping members with "a more seamless digital experience and fostering access to the resources and tools to support them as incentive travel professionals."

Brad Dean

Brad Dean could well be Puerto Rico's biggest booster. When he was tapped in March 2018 to be CEO of the newly established destination marketing organization, Discover Puerto Rico, group business to the island had been in a five-year decline. On top of that, he inherited a post-Hurricane Maria scenario with much of the island's hotels and resorts either damaged or closed for renovations. "Tourism had to lead the economic recovery, and regaining the meetings segment was extremely vital to Puerto Rico's future," he says. "Failure was not an option. We absolutely had to be aggressive and turn the meetings and conventions market around."

Dean sounded the call, "Puerto Rico is Open for Business," and set about shepherding his fledging DMO through a massive yearlong campaign to restore the island's image as a major meetings destination. His efforts clearly are paying off. In April of this year, the island was chosen to host the prestigious World Travel and Tourism Council's 2020 Global Summit, an event that will place Puerto Rico on the world tourism stage. One month later, the DMO announced that bookings in the meetings and incentives sector had surpassed the previous five-year averages.

This year, Washington, D.C.-based Destinations International recognized Dean's achievements by bestowing on him the 2019 Destination Organization Leadership Award.

Champions of Good: Helping to change the world through our industry

Michelle Guelbart, MSW

As director of private-sector engagement for the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based nonprofit ECPAT-USA (End Child Prostitution and Trafficking), an organization focused on fighting the sexual exploitation of children, Michelle Guelbart has taken the cause directly to the front lines of the meetings industry. In July of this year, in conjunction with the United Nations' World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, she launched ECPAT-USA's new 20By20 campaign, an industrywide initiative whose goal is to train approximately 20,000 events professionals by July 2020 to identify and respond to the commercial sexual exploitation of children. "To have the business-events industry become a unified part of the fight against this international scourge by championing education is essential to achieving this vision," says Guelbart.

The new campaign builds on Guelbart's work over the last several years, which has focused on enlisting the events industry. When she came on board in 2009, she led the push to grow adoption of ECPAT's Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct in the United States. The Code consists of six guidelines that hospitality and travel companies can use as best practices for implementing anti-human-trafficking policy. As of Sept. 1, more than 300 organizations had signed the Code, including MPI, PCMA, SITE and hotel companies like Accor, MGM Resorts International and Marriott International, which has mandated training of all of its employees globally. "You don't come to this issue once and leave," notes Guelbart. "It's too powerful."

Greg DeShields

As executive director of PHLDiversity, it's Greg DeShields' task to promote Philadelphia as an ethnically diverse destination and increase its share of the multicultural meetings and tourism markets, a role he has embraced since 2004.

Every year, PHLDiversity hosts an annual Hospitality Education Day, to help high school and adult students receive training and information from people working in the hospitality industry. Its annual seminar series tackles topics like multicultural marketing, to help create opportunities for its business members. And it supports the efforts of many community organizations and networking events that highlight multicultural partnerships.

This past March, DeShields and his team produced the second annual Diversity & Inclusion Conference, in partnership with Temple University. The one-day event, held at the Ritz-Carlton, Philadelphia, drew more than 350 attendees from across a wide spectrum of academic and corporate institutions, as well as the meetings industry. The event's academic think tank, made up of administrators from the university and local business leaders, was instrumental in getting Temple to launch a new three-credit course this fall that will focus on the fundamentals needed for developing a viable, working diversity/inclusion strategy.

For DeShields, collaboration among the various meetings-industry associations is key to creating a true culture of inclusion. Looking back on the conference, he says, "It was intense, but I think it moved the needle. They were all on board that they have to collaborate on a singular approach if we are to make any real progress on diversity and inclusion."

Michael O. Smith

Michael O. Smith's long career with Chicago-based Hyatt Hotels Corp. spans more than four decades. He has spent the last 15 years as general manager of the Hyatt Regency New Orleans, where he has become revered in the community for his inspiring volunteer work. Smith and his team have raised millions for myriad local and global causes.

This past September, several hundred friends and colleagues gave Smith a standing ovation in his hotel's Empire Ballroom as he received the Times-Picayune Loving Cup for 2018, given since 1901 to a New Orleanian doing good works without expectation of reward. Smith and his staff have made some $1.6 million of in-kind donations every year, and volunteered to serve more than 1,000 hours helping out in the community.

One of six children raised by a single mother in the rural South, where poverty was a major barrier, Smith has championed causes such as the United Negro College Fund, the Sisters of the Holy Family, the Human Rights Campaign (which works for LGBTQ rights) and the New Orleans Museum of Art. He has received two proclamations from the New Orleans City Council; Dillard and Xavier universities have given him honorary doctorates; he was named Hyatt Hotels General Manager of the Year in 2017, and he was inducted into the National Black College Hall of Fame in 2015.

Rising Stars: Beginning to make an impact 

Amaia P. Stecker

It's not every day you see "U.S. Senate" and "meeting professional" back-to-back on a résumé, but at 34 years old, Amaia Stecker, owner and lead designer of Pilar & Co., an Alexandria, Va.-based government-relations event-planning agency, has tackled both roles head-on.

Stecker began her career in Washington state Sen. Patty Murray's scheduling office. Over five years, she moved up the ranks, ultimately becoming the deputy press secretary for the Senate Budget Committee. In 2015, she left Capitol Hill to combine her two passions — planning and politics — and launched what soon became Pilar & Co.

The company services everything from agenda development and negotiations to advocacy fly-ins to further the legislative agenda of its clients. "When associations schedule those government-based meetings, it's our job to help them get their message across effectively despite competing with politicians' limited time," Stecker says, adding that she didn't spend years working in the government without picking up on the negotiation tricks of the trade.
When she isn't in her office, you often can find Stecker on her yoga mat. She is a registered instructor and claims the practice to be the best-ever stress reliever.

Shannon Sprau, CMP

Ohio native Shannon Sprau got her start in events at a small-market radio station when fresh out of college. Now, nearly 15 years later, she can be found managing meetings programs across more than 65 countries for a Fortune 15 company.

During her time at Cardinal Health, Sprau has risen from being the senior planner of meetings and events to global manager of the programs, where she has helped centralize functions and increase compliance from 28 percent in 2017 to 42 percent at the end of 2018.

Sprau prides herself on being a strong advocate for the meetings industry. She has spent four years on the board of directors for MPl's Ohio chapter and is now its president-elect. She also sits on the advisory board for Ohio University's hospitality-management program, where she aims to mentor students and provide them with the opportunity to sample the trade before they graduate.

"I think this is a fantastic profession, and we meeting planners have so much value to give to our stakeholders," says Sprau. "We bring so much more to the table than sometimes our clients think we do."

Sarah Buchbinder

A meetings broker with Meetings Made Easy, Sarah Buchbinder "slipped and fell" into the industry while studying psychology at Rutgers University. Temp work led her to a meeting-planning firm, where she spent 13 years. But the time came when she felt a different calling, and in 2011, Buchbinder moved from Manhattan to Argentina, where she spent three months helping families and children with AIDS, eventually moving on to Ecuador, where she taught English in public schools.

After a few years back in the U.S., Buchbinder learned that Michael Ferreira, a former hotel sales exec, was launching Meetings Made Easy, "a modern-day hotel site-selection and meeting-planning company created for event planners." She dropped him a note to learn more.

"We never met in person," recalls Ferreira. "We had one phone conversation [which Buchbinder made from her car], and I had this immediate, instinctual reaction. I told her: 'You have no idea what you are capable of in this industry. You will be wildly successful.'"

Ferreira's instinct was sound. With no prior sales experience beyond selling knives door-to-door in high school, Buchbinder contracted for 38 events around the globe within 18 months. Her success, says Ferreira, is based on "her knowledge as an event planner, her passion, her drive and her personality. Sarah can go into a reception and immediately be the focus of the whole entire party."

Robyn Davis

In 2008, Robyn Davis was busy interviewing for a position as an aerospace engineer while temping as a "booth babe" at a trade show. While her job was to "stand and smile," Davis, a high-achieving college grad, saw lots of room for improvement in the typical show-floor interactions. "I began calling exhibitors and asking how I could be more helpful. I said, 'Tell me about your business needs. How can I make a bigger impact?' 

Thus, a consultancy was born. Within a year, Davis launched When I Need Help, advising senior executives and their convention teams on how to maximize the short- and long-term value of their trade-show participation. Among a growing list of awards, Davis, now 34, was honored for her work by the Events Industry Council last month with the Pacesetter Award in the Young Professionals category.

"Exhibitor education is something many organizations aren't offering yet," she says. "The biggest mistake is treating trade shows like any other sales and marketing effort; it's really so different."

Derrick Johnson

Derrick Johnson has established himself as a leader through his position as senior director of meetings for the Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers, as well as his high-profile roles in PCMA — he serves on the association's board of directors, was on the 2018 board for the group's foundation, and is PCMA's advisor to Mexico. He has just accepted a new job as executive director of the National Behavioral Intervention Team Association. It's a heady mix of credits for a 34-year-old

"I actually started working as an event professional when I was 15 years old," he says of his time as an intern with the National Medical Association. "This industry is something that I've always had a passion for."

But what makes Johnson's accomplishments stand out isn't simply his passion for the work, but also his desire to advance the industry — and beyond. "As event professionals, we have the chance to make a global economic impact on lives and communities," he says.

Johnson has earned an executive certificate from MIT in Artificial Intelligence and now looks to apply AI and augmented- and virtual-reality solutions to events, currently incorporating VR simulations into a workplace diversity event. Using VR as an element of experiential learning, he says, "we can help someone truly feel what it's like to be in someone else's shoes. We can create empathy. And that creates change."

Planners Extraordinaire: Strategic planning at its best

Trish Simitakos

Trish Simitakos has done a bit of everything in the meetings industry. She's had roles in catering, production, floral and hospitality, for companies like InterContinental Hotels and American Express. She now runs her own boutique agency, Trish Star Events, which offers full-service planning for social and corporate events. And she continues to extend her versatility.

In her new video podcast, titled "Trish.O," which is expected to launch later this month, Simitakos will share a peek into the planning world and invite industry professionals to "show and tell" about their work. She is also in the process of planning the fifth annual DC Podfest.

Pushing for sustainability in the events industry has been a longtime passion for her, evidenced by her work with the Green Meetings Industry Council (now part of the EIC). In her spare time, Simitakos serves as vice president of the National Association for Catering and Events.

"The council was ahead of its time, but it is something I'd love to revamp here in Washington, D.C., now that [sustainability] seems to be better received and people understand it more," she says. "Today's consumer is way more socially and environmentally conscious. They care, and they're willing to put their money where their mouth is."

Karen Dillard

As senior vice president of executive events at SAP, it's up to Karen Dillard and her team to execute a vast palette of gatherings for the software giant. These range from large-scale motivation events, such as SAP's Field Kickoff Meeting and the company's annual Winners' Circle incentive program, to more intimate meetings for SAP Selects executive advisory boards and the senior leadership.

Dillard directs her team to approach all that they do with an "outside-in mindset." That means, "putting our customers at the center of everything we do," she says. "We always focus on creating an experience around what the customer needs and what the business is trying to convey."

Over almost two decades, from when SAP weathered the burst of the dot-com bubble to its rapid global expansion and becoming the cloud-computing and data-analytics giant it is today, Dillard has stayed focused on SAP's customers and their needs. She says that the company's events have been key to this growth and success, and she looks forward to helping them continue to evolve over time.

Carol Tegen

As unit manager in the finance department of the Open Society Foundations, Carol Tegen has had to straddle both the strategy and operations roles of meetings management for the past 12 years for an organization with 40 locations in more than 120 countries. On her own, she has been managing about 250 small meetings annually, bringing together 30 to 50 participants who often are high-profile and flying in from around the globe.

The logistics, not surprisingly, are complicated. Tegen knew from the beginning, however, the benefits of creating a strategic meetings management program with streamlined, consistent processes, aligning sourcing with the organization's values, and improving safety and security for the participants.

Her accomplishments 10 years into the journey are impressive. She has found a way to track global meeting spend without having a standard technology in place; developed needed contract clauses with her legal department; educated international stakeholders about pricing models; and developed comprehensive crisis-management plans.
Help finally is at hand. Tegen's first meetings-dedicated employee starts this month. "We have headcount!" she says with a laugh.

Edward Perotti, CMP, CMM

Over his 27 years in the business, Edward Perotti has earned a reputation for elevating event production to eye-popping levels. A private banquet was held in Beijing's historic Imperial Ancestral Temple, a gala in Istanbul's cavernous Basilica Cistern, an intimate dinner at the Palace of Versailles. Events arranged by his company, EP Events & Experiences, run the gamut, from high-level corporate retreats to high-production celebrity parties.

Perotti made a name for himself in the corporate meetings world with a decade-long stint as senior director of global meetings, events and travel for tech firm VMware. Last year was his busiest yet, as he managed more than 2,000 events globally.

Perotti's new love is spreading the word about the industry to a wider audience, via media appearances and publications, discussing everything from hosting a VIP event to creating a dinner party at home.

"Our world is about taking the feelings somebody wants and bringing them to life. Whether it's a wedding, a corporate event or nonprofit or even a dinner party, we're creating environments that convey ideas or emotions," he says. "Don't worry about which flower arrangement you choose; ask, 'Why are we getting together?' "