5 Parting Thoughts for Tomorrow’s Leaders

As industry thought leader Kevin Iwamoto prepares for retirement, he identifies a handful of crucial topics to consider.

Photo Credit: Serhii Holdin for Adobe Stock

Longtime industry thought leader and Northstar Meetings Group contributor Kevin Iwamoto announced his retirement last week. Most recently serving as chief customer officer and head of enterprise at Bizly, Iwamoto has been a tireless advocate for the meetings and corporate travel industries for more than three decades. He helped pioneer the development of strategic meetings management when he was president and CEO of the National Business Travel Association (now GBTA) and has held high-profile roles as both corporate travel buyer and event technology platform executive. He is transitioning to a senior advisor role for Bizly.

An interviewer asked me more than three decades ago to describe my burgeoning career in three words. I said “ambitious, driven and game-changer.” Today, my answer would be “blessed, grateful and wiser.” After 35 years in the business of corporate travel, meetings and events, I’m ready to pass the torch to the talented individuals who are leading our industry forward.

As I transition into retirement, I’d like to share my thoughts on a few topics that are indicative of how far we’ve come over the past three decades — and are essential to our industry’s progress in the future.

1. Artificial intelligence will change the way we do our jobs. While people are mulling its potential impact on our industry, the creative folks who embrace change already are finding ways to introduce AI into their processes and strategies. AI is squarely on the radar for tech platforms and others angling for a competitive edge by being the first to go to market with innovation. 

My advice: Don’t be in denial. A year from now the value of using AI will become increasingly clear in terms of productivity gains, efficiencies, cost savings, etc. Read and educate yourself. Ask your tech and supplier partners whether and how they plan to integrate AI into their platforms and services. Anticipate how AI will impact your events and optimize current planning processes.

2. Diversity and sustainability won’t be optional for much longer. Suppliers and providers will increasingly prioritize and support diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility in hiring, policy-making and culture. The same goes for sustainability: Younger generations are demanding more action to protect the planet they’re inheriting, and governments will introduce regulations to ensure sustainable practices. These imperatives will supersede any cost concerns that come down from management, especially as the younger generation leaders replace today’s decision-makers.

3. Duty of care is on you. Like it or not, state and federal politics are impacting access to emergency-care protocols. Consider whether restrictions on pregnancy care, LGBTQ+ rights, open-carry laws or other factors might endanger any of your participants. No matter what your personal and/or political beliefs, the well-being of event organizers, staff and attendees should take precedence in destination and venue sourcing.

Emergency preparedness is critical, too. Is your team trained in reacting to an active shooter situation? Strip out the politics and focus on what actions need to be taken to ensure the safest possible environment for your group.

4. Higher prices are a reality; accept it. Supply and demand determine pricing in our industry and many others. When demand is high, prices go up; when demand is low, prices drop. This isn’t changing anytime soon. The Covid pandemic caused supply chain disruptions and labor shortages that triggered rapid inflation. It will take a long time for these factors to subside enough to bring some pricing relief. 

To fend off disappointment from management and stakeholders, set their expectations regarding service levels, pricing, venue availability and booking lead times. Be armed with data (such as the Northstar/Cvent Meetings Industry PULSE Survey) to prove these points. 

5. Change is constant; embrace it. Like them or not, changes are inevitable in our personal and professional lives. Leaders with the ability to remain open, flexible and creative in accommodating change will survive and thrive. Those who remain in denial or push back against change will be viewed as obstacles and pushed aside. Be the person who facilitates progress.


I’m confident in our industry’s up-and-coming leaders and look forward to seeing their accomplishments. I’m grateful to my Northstar Meetings Group family for allowing me to share my experiences and ideas for so many years. And, finally, thank you to every person I’ve met during my fulfilling and life-affirming career; every one of you has enriched my journey. While I’m stepping out of the race at this point, rest assured I will still be cheering from the sidelines.