2009 Hall of Fame
Colorado Meetings + Events is pleased to present an outstanding 2009 Hall of Fame. Our editorial advisory board (EAB), comprises professionals from the meetings and events industry around the state and members of the 2008 Hall of Fame submitted nominations that were reviewed by the EAB. We recognize three seasoned professionals, three promising up-andcomers and a lifetime achievement winner.
by Beth Buehler; photos by Don Cudney
President & CEO, VISIT DENVER, The Convention & Visitors Bureau
"After 20 years in the business, even my relatives don’t know what I do, so I can honestly say that I had no idea I would have ever been in the destination marketing business,” quips Richard Scharf. It’s a career choice that has helped guide Denver to a new level, and one that has provided a plethora of community service opportunities.
Scharf entered the hospitality industry working for Hilton and Radisson in the early 1980s before joining the Denver Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau (DMCVB) in 1985. The lure of starting a business beckoned, so he launched a publishing and consulting company that represented more than 400 colleges and universities as conference sites in 1988. He sold the firm five years later and returned to the DMCVB as director of sales.“I knew then that this was the right career and was glad I found my way back,” Scharf confirms.
Over the past 15 years, he has worked his way up to president and CEO, managing a $15 million annual budget. The Purdue University alum has based his career on three main principles: hard work, fairness and leading by example. “I also am a big fan of Jim Collins and the principles in his book Good To Great. I believe that first you have to have the right people on the bus. Over the years, we have worked hard to hire great people who do an excellent job of selling and marketing Denver as a world-class destination,” he says.
Making a difference in the Denver metro area’s economy is one of the biggest motivators for Scharf and his 63-person staff, which includes regional sales offices in Chicago and Washington, D.C. “It gives me great pride in seeing Denver grow as an international convention and tourism destination,” Scharf shares. “We generate millions of visits, which drives economic impact, tax dollars and creates jobs.”
One of the most satisfying moments of his career was in 2005 when voters passed a ballot initiative to increase lodging tax by a vote of two to one, which increased marketing money for the DMCVB by 50 percent. “We have put that money to good use over the last three years,” Scharf says. “Also, I am very proud of our staff and city for booking and hosting the Democratic National Convention in 2008. That was Denver’s tipping point, and we now have to leverage that success.”
What are the challenging aspects of leading an organization recently renamed VISIT DENVER? “Selling a destination is different than selling a product where you control all the variables. We sell an experience made up of many different products and services that are delivered by a variety of different vendors at a myriad of service levels,” he explains.
Scharf has been recognized with a slew of awards and has shared his expertise on numerous boards and committees. He lives with his wife, Cindy, and their two daughters in Littleton. His nugget of wisdom for newcomers to the meetings and events industry also sounds like good fatherly advice. “Have passion and love what you do, and then everything else will follow, including all the benefits of a great career.”
Cari Strouse, CMP, CMM
Meetings & Events Director, CH2M HILL, Englewood
Cari Strouse, known as “Cas” to most, has worked in the engineering and construction business, providing a solid building block for her career, which started out in education. “Folks ask, ‘How do you go from being a teacher to a meeting professional?’ It doesn’t matter in our world. First graders and adults all need managing and herding on occasion,” Strouse laughs.
She is on the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Meeting Professionals International’s (MPI) board and has been at CH2M HILL for 10 years, managing a team of six who plan meetings and events for this global engineering consulting company. Strouse says, “I have a wonderfully talented team that I have the pleasure of working with every day. And being fond of chaos and ongoing changes, what can I say, it’s a perfect career!” Previously, she worked for Morrison Knudsen, an engineering firm, and Saunders Construction Inc., with a brief time in the technology sector.
Growing up in Cañon City, her grandparents ran the Royal Gorge Bridge for many years. Just as she learned important lessons from family, she recommends that colleagues “find mentors in all areas of your life who will help you continue to grow day in and day out. Make time to network and get to know people.”
UP-AND-COMING MEETING PROFESSIONAL
Corporate Meeting Planner, RE/MAX International, Denver
After completing an internship at the University of Wyoming’s sports information office, Jamie Bohner thought she was destined for a career involving athletics. However, a special events internship at INVESCO Field at Mile High in Denver, followed by a full-time job at the Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau in convention services, changed the course of her career.
“At the CVB, I had a pulse on the city. I was there during the expansion of the convention center and when the Hyatt Regency was being built, which helped put Denver on the map,” Bohner says. “I worked with so many different groups from small to big and worked with lots of planners. It was a great learning experience for me to become a planner.”
Today, her job at RE/MAX International involves something new everyday, whether it’s planning an incentive trip to Cancun, a mountain retreat in Colorado or hiring a speaker for a large convention. “I’m not stuck on a project for too long; I get to jump around, and I love that!” As a member of Professional Convention Management Association and MPI, she advises people new to the industry to “get involved in anything, network and be open-minded. It’s all about relationships and when to call upon those relationships.”
SPECIAL EVENT PLANNER
Nancy Lamb Thompson
Owner, Nancy Thompson Events, Denver
“Each event has its own personality. The execution may be the same, but the people and the personalities are different. That’s what makes my job fun,” says Nancy Lamb Thompson, whose main focus is nonprofit fundraising events such as the Men for the Cure Foundation’s annual Gentlemen’s Dinner, Volunteers of America’s Western Fantasy and Runnin’ of the Green, and the Pink Tie Affair for Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
While Thompson has worked on some events every year since 2001, others she has launched and stepped back so a nonprofit organization’s staff can take over. She is particularly passionate about raising money for cancer because both her mother and her husband’s late wife died of breast cancer. Together, they started the Men for the Cure Foundation. “I like the whole idea of men coming together to raise money for this cause,” she says.
Prior to launching her company in 2001, Thompson worked for the Bob and Sharon Magness Foundation, Make A Wish Foundation of Colorado, National Jewish Medical and Research Center and KUSATV. All of these positions involved event planning, teaching her the importance of “a heart for building relationships and caring about the causes,” she says. “It’s not just about picking pretty tablecloths but what I can bring to the table to make an event successful for a nonprofit.”
UP-AND-COMING SPECIAL EVENT PLANNER
Senior Catering Sales Manager, The Ritz-Carlton, Denver
Angela Coleman has served as the catering sales manager at one of the oldest Denver hotels, The Oxford Hotel, and one of the newest, The Ritz-Carlton, Denver. “You can light up people’s lives in the catering and sales world by creating special memories,” Coleman observes. “You have to live your life today and do what you love.”
Growing up in Michigan, she was given the option to work on her family’s farmhouse or accept a job at a floral and design company as a teenager. Cleaning roses and blowing up balloons led to learning how to design. Helping her mom plan dinner parties evolved into an interest in catering and food.
The Michigan State University graduate followed her brother to Colorado and first worked as a banquet manager for Rock Bottom Brewery in Denver. She has been involved with the Rocky Mountain Chapter of International Special Events Society (ISES) most of that time, now as a board member, and helps plan events for Trelexa Foundation, which was started by her family to create awareness of domestic violence. She aims to be the “calm during the storm” of events and is a proponent of always taking the extra step, whether planning or selling an event. “It may not always get thanked, but it always gets noticed.”
Director of Convention Sales, Experience Colorado Springs at Pikes Peak Convention & Visitors Bureau
Kathy Reak can thank the military for prompting her to launch what has become more than 25 years experience in the hospitality industry. “My husband was in the military and our first assignment as a married couple was in Ft. Walton Beach, Fla. The hospitality industry was such a predominant factor there and some really good people gave me a chance,” Reak recalls. “I realized then that being a people person, this was the industry for me.”
She became as a “Jill of all trades,” having to find a different job every time her husband received a new assignment, working in several catering and sales positions for hotels before joining the Colorado Springs CVB in 1997 as a national sales manager and was promoted to director of sales in 2004. These jobs have taught her that “face-to-face meetings and personal contact is of the utmost importance,” Reak notes. “This will help you build relationships that will last a lifetime not only with planners but with your peers.”
Industry involvement has been at the forefront of Reak’s career. She is currently serving on the leadership team for the Christian Meetings & Conventions Association (CMCA) and the Leadership Council for the Rocky Mountain Chapter of MPI and is a past president of several associations in her area.
Event Director, The Perfect Petal, Denver
Luc Hughart’s first job in Denver was working as the assistant manager of The Buckle, but living in the Highlands area of the Mile High City had him frequenting The Perfect Petal as a customer. “I fell in love with the shop, the people and the culture,” Hughart says. Today, he is the business’s event director, a job that gives him the freedom to “daydream and bring those thoughts to life.”
The 2005 graduate of Bowling Green State University is no stranger to the floral business, working at a small shop in Edgerton, Ohio, during high school. He dreams of owning his own business in a “fashionable service field” and incorporating family vacations and bedtime stories into life’s mix. “I like bringing environments to people and creating an atmosphere. That is what I have a passion for,” he shares.
He has volunteered his time and event design skills to assist with March of Dimes and Museum of Contemporary Art events for the past two years. Being successful in his line of work requires hard work and trust. “There is no such thing as an overachiever; you can only give 100 percent and should give 100 percent,” Hughart says. “Dream big, let your mind wander and never put limits on things, but when working with a client you have to be realistic and honest.”
2008 Hall of Famers
Best Special Events Planner
Betsy Wiersma, CSEP
Best Up-and-Coming Special Events Planner
Best Meeting Professional
Best Up-and-Coming Meeting Professional
Best Up-and-Coming Supplier
Anna Marie Martinez