Every successful event relies on unsung heroes who make all the elements come together without expecting recognition for themselves beyond a job well done. The sharp-eyed attention from these behind-the-scenes professionals is the secret ingredient to transformative meetings, and these people deserve to be celebrated in their own right. That's why Northstar Meetings Group and the Singapore Tourism Board are recognizing these individuals with our 2nd annual "Their Passion Made Your Event Possible" awards. These U.S. winners put great pride in what they do every day and demonstrate the importance of making every meeting special.
Ohio's Greater Columbus Convention Center is a cherished second home to Joseph Shaw, director of event management and parking. In fact, he has spent most of his days there for nearly 40 years.
"I started with the security department in 1980, two months prior to the opening of the Ohio Center, the city's original event venue," notes Shaw, who was born and raised in Columbus. "With the opening of the Greater Columbus Convention Center in 1993, I transitioned to the event-coordination department and got more hands-on with the planning processes."
Shaw now oversees seven event managers and two coordinators, along with the teams that operate under each arm of his division. For every gathering, Shaw is the gracious host, meticulously making sure every detail seems effortless when the plan is put in motion. When the doors open, he's on hand to make sure his guests are cared for.
Winners Around the World
These three winners represent some of the stars of the U.S. meetings industry. Earlier this year, Northstar Meetings Group and Singapore Tourism Board recognized three Unsung Heroes in Singapore. Read their stories here
"Joe's unmatched generosity and personal, historical perspective are the first qualities people notice," says Jennifer Davis, marketing and communications manager for the facility. "He's a walking, talking, teaching machine. He always takes the time to consider how each client operates and works tirelessly to best provide for them. Crafting an event with Joe is like planning something with a friend — it's astonishing how much our clients value what he has to say. He truly becomes a part of their event family."
Shaw's dedication to the convention center also is responsible for his love life. His wife, now Valerie Shaw, works for the GCCC's innovative displays and graphics team. The two met while tweaking meeting-room setups. When they're not at work, the couple can be found on the golf course, tending their garden or enjoying their six grandchildren.
Shaw's workday might last 13 or 14 hours; throughout, he does his best to see that any glitch or challenge will be invisible to the client. "There are so many times Joe has put out fires," notes Davis. "He's one of those who go all-in for our visitors without expecting any recognition."
"Hard work, dedication and being passionate are all necessary in this industry," says Jennifer Black, assistant director of catering and convention services for Caesars Entertainment in Las Vegas. But she says her biggest priority is "giving back to the community and striving to make a difference for those less fortunate than myself."
And that she does. Blackover sees Caesars' internship program as a volunteer -- sometimes managing up to eight college students' schedules at a time. She also oversees the food waste-and-rescue programs at both the 2,814-room Bally's Las Vegas and 2,916-room Paris Las Vegas Hotel & Casino.
"Whether we have one or 10 pans of unused food following an event, we package it, and the Three Square food bank picks it up from here," she says. "So many are in need. There are children at my kids' school who might eat only because of programs like this."
Born in New York and raised in Florida, young Jennifer moved to Las Vegas in 2007 after meeting her soon to- be husband, Zac Black, who owned a restaurant in the area. After learning about Caesars Entertainment through friends, she applied on a whim and landed a job as an administrative assistant for the Bally's and Paris properties.
She eventually moved on to another company but came back to Caesars to serve as convention services manager at the 3,348-room Caesars Palace. The several years following included the birth of her now 9-year-old son (her husband had brought two older children into the marriage), a 2014 move to Salt Lake City and a 2016 move back to Vegas, where she assumed her current position for Bally's and Paris. Today, Black finds the internship program especially rewarding.
"I didn't go to school to work in this industry," she admits, having studied art during her undergraduate years. "So I really love this chance to teach and show the interns how to actually do the job." "She's always the first one in the office," notes Bill Dosch, Caesars' director of marketing. "She's always tackling new projects without expecting recognition at the finish line. I don't know how she does it."
Executive chef at the Irving Convention Center since 2010, before the facility even opened, Eduardo Alvarez says his mission is to have groups not only raving about the food but asking for recipes. And he is more than happy to oblige. Recently, Alvarez learned that two attendees were particularly impressed by the butternut squash soup served at lunch. He ducked into his office, scaled the banquet-sized recipe down to eight servings, printed up the recipe and hand-delivered the copies to their table so they could make the soup at home.
"Going above and beyond is his standard practice," says Lori Sirmen, communications manager for the Irving Convention and Visitors Bureau. "Chef Eduardo wants our visitors to walk away saying, 'Wow, the Irving Convention Center truly created an unforgettable event.'"
Hard work is embedded in Alvarez's craft, as he painstakingly developed his culinary talents from the start. At age 16, he ventured with his father and brother from Mexico to Dallas, seeking a better life. His interest in creative cuisine was sparked in the kitchen of a French restaurant, the former Les Saisons, where he began working as a dishwasher. Alvarez observed and began to learn the precision cooking of the late chef Jean LaFont and his team. His jobs since have included personal chef to Dallas Cowboys' owner Jerry Jones and heading up culinary operations at what now is the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas.
Alvarez says that for any of the 300 events held at the Irving center each year, he and his team of eight sous chefs, plus the banquet staff, do their best to create enjoyable F&B experiences.
"Chef's contributions are indispensable to the success of the convention center," notes Sirmen. "Clients often cite the F&B component of their event as a reason for coming back to the venue time and time again."
Because of his busy schedule, Alvarez says he doesn't get to see his wife of 37 years and three adult children as often as he'd like, but when he is at home, you'll often find him in his kitchen, whipping up creative snacks for the family or dishing out the entirety of a Thanksgiving feast.
"Cooking is part of our family tradition," he notes. "It's what I love!"