By now, they’re a familiar sight: hybrid vehicles that combine two separate power sources to squeeze maximum energy out of every drop of gasoline they use. Once considered an environmentalist’s fantasy, hybrids have made it into the mainstream, and for good reason—they’re a great, practical way to make your gas dollar stretch further, at a time of economic uncertainty and shrinking oil reserves.
SAN FRANCISCO – In the week since Terri Breining announced the closure of Concepts Worldwide, the San Diego County firm she built into a meetings industry icon, I’ve been thinking about the capriciousness of a market that rewards the most arbitrary successes, while devaluing or ignoring the most genuine achievements.
When we celebrate flash over substance, we miss the qualities and practices that signal true greatness in a business, an organization, a community, or the people who hold them together. Firms like Concepts fly under the radar when all they offer is smart strategy, great service and, to quote their company tagline, uncompromising integrity.
These backward expectations go as deep as the way we define and measure economic progress. When we apply them to small businesses, we create a cycle that is counterproductive in good times and can be fatal in bad. A business that doesn’t grow each year is deemed to be failing. A company that sets its sights on steady but modest financial success while emphasizing innovation, quality products, or quality of life for its employees is considered laughable.
I know, because we’ve tried it.
This isn’t a story I tell very often, and it doesn’t fully reflect the way we operate today. But when I launched InfoLink Consultants, The Conference Publishers’ predecessor, in 1984, profitability was pretty much the last objective on my list. (Not that I ever thought to write the list down.)
For most of our history, we’ve focused more on what we put out into the world than on what we took back. We worked hard to deliver meeting content in ways that had never been tried or imagined before. We looked for projects that would fulfill a strong corporate social responsibility (CSR) mandate, even if they fell short financially. Only in the last seven to 10 years have we become deliberate about grounding those principles in a sound business model and consistent operating practices.
The bottom line is this: while I expect the company to generate strong financial returns, I want it to be remembered and recognized for what it has given back to clients and employees, to the meetings industry, and to the community at large. And that’s a point that has been missed in the coverage of the Concepts announcement.
It was no accident that I headlined this morning’s column on MeetingsNet a eulogy. But there is so much more to say—so much that Terri Breining and her fabulous team have achieved that still belongs to them today, every bit as much as it did last week.
Start with Terri’s transformative contribution in her year as MPI’s international chair, at a time that called for tremendous courage and persistence to turn the association around.
Fast forward to her work as chair of the Accepted Practices Exchange (APEX), a major project of the Convention Industry Council (CIC).
Factor in her company’s fundamental commitment to industry education, from their work with San Diego State University to the unnatural number of staff members who had completed MPI’s Certification in Meeting Management. (Okay, fine, the story can now be told—yes, we were jealous, and no, we never thought we would catch up.)
Add the business achievement awards that Terri received in San Diego and her upcoming induction into the CIC Hall of Leaders, the school that Concepts rebuilt through its in-house CSR initiative, the relentless effort to create a business model for strategic meeting services…and with all of that, you only get the smallest snapshot of all that was Concepts Worldwide.
These achievements are ultimately so much more important than financial survival. And they are so very easy to forget.
Which brings me to the story of one of our company’s near-death experiences. On a very sad Friday in 1995, we laid off about a half-dozen employees who we thought of us colleagues and friends. The next day, as Karen and I drove past one of Ottawa’s downtown meeting facilities, I had the strangest of feelings. When I found the words to match, they were something like: “Hunh. There’s the Westin Hotel. They hold meetings. I used to be entitled to set foot there.”
This was less than 24 hours after the layoff. I still had my job, and I understood that financial performance was only one way to measure my company’s success, or my own professional worth. But it was so easy to forget all the good we had done in the midst of a scary setback. I don’t want the industry, or the former Concepts team, to make the same mistake this week.
“Mourn the dead, fight like hell for the living” was the headline on one of the obituaries when noted U.S. journalist and hellraiser Molly Ivins died a couple of years ago. Losing Concepts Worldwide is almost indescribably sad, but their leadership, staff, and considerable achievements live on. And there is no fundamental failure in the company’s closure unless anyone in the industry is certain they can resist the downward pull of a crashing economy. (No, I thought not.)
On March 10, The Huffington Post published my blog item on the meetings industry crisis and the Kerry bill now before the U.S. Congress.
The central argument, drawing on data from MPI Foundation Canada’s study of the economic impact of meetings and events, was that the attack on meetings in the U.S. could touch a couple of million jobs…and that the incentive programs in the eye of the storm only represent a tiny fraction of the industry’s economic activity.
PITTSBURGH – This week, our company marks an important and very exciting milestone.
The Edge is a blog about conferences and content, not a promotional page for The Conference Publishers. But this is a moment when we’re generating industry news. And it has everything to do with the power of face-to-face meetings, the transcendent importance of onsite content, and the green principles on which this firm was launched 25 years ago this fall.
When it comes to assessing the return on investment (ROI) in large, face-to-face meetings, it’s hard to think of a more basic measure than 3.8 million years of life.
With the approach of World AIDS Day December 1, the Harvard School of Public Health AIDS Initiative issued a verdict of sorts on the AIDS policies pursued by former South African president Thabo Mbeki. According to the New York Times, a Harvard study attributed 370,000 premature deaths to Mbeki’s “denial of the well-established scientific consensus about the viral cause of AIDS and the essential role of antiretroviral drugs in treating it.”
The Arctic is changing so quickly that it’s become one of the many early warning systems for global climate change. Each year brings new reports of ice sheets breaking off into the sea, along with a mad scramble to plan shipping routes and resource development projects that would have been difficult or impossible a generation ago.
Last week’s Meeting Professionals International (MPI) World Education Congress in Las Vegas was filled with great experiences, intriguing conversations, and engaging sessions. None was better than the panel presentation entitled “What if the next generation had planned this conference?” led by Kansas State University professor Dr. Michael Wesch.
FROM THE MPI CONFERENCE IN LAS VEGAS—Our first set of news capsules from MPI’s World Education Congress is now online, and I can’t seem to stop grinning.
It’s been a very long time since I was a journalist. When I left Canada’s Parliamentary Press Gallery in 1984, I was well aware that I was “going over the wall” from reporting to communications, and that there would almost certainly be no turning back.
In the meetings industry, there is considerable—and justifiable—concern that skyrocketing fuel prices may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. That people will say “enough” and refuse to pay higher and higher airfares, and that many will stop going to conferences and meetings altogether.