Latest Staff Appointments News...
MPI Appoints Michael Woody as Chief Operations Officer
Meeting Professionals International (MPI) has announced the selection of industry veteran Michael Woody as its new chief operations officer (COO). In this role, Woody will lead the daily operations and marketing efforts of the association, ensuring the delivery of community-wide member value and brand consistency. He will officially begin the role on March 23, 2015, reporting to MPI president and CEO Paul Van Deventer.
Woody has more than 27 years of experience in the meeting and event, hospitality and tourism industries and is a current, active member of MPI. As COO, he will be responsible for the development and implementation of tactical business plans as well as management of MPI’s events, professional development, chapter business, marketing, communications, and European operations teams. In his current role, Woody serves as the assistant executive director for the Grapevine Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), the fourth largest budgeted bureau in the State of Texas with an annual operating budget of $24 million. He leads daily operations and oversees a team of more than 150 employees, providing direction, supervision and consultation for all CVB departments including comprehensive sales, marketing, sponsorships, public relations, advertising, festivals and events, convention center operations, and historic planning and preservation initiatives.
“We are very excited to have Michael join the MPI leadership team. He brings a unique blend of passion for MPI and our community, with broad experience across the hospitality and meeting and event industries, including hotels, F&B, publishing and DMOs,” said Van Deventer. “We believe Michael’s strategic planning experience with repositioning American Airlines’ publications and hands-on approach to promoting and differentiating the Grapevine CVB will be instrumental as we continue to grow our association.”
Over the course of his career, Woody has worked in sales, restaurant management, operations, marketing, communications and publishing. In addition to his role at the Grapevine CVB where he served from 1997-2005 and 2012-2015, he held senior leadership positions at American Airlines from 2005 to 2012 including director of art and editorial for the custom publishing and in-flight portfolios and ultimately as publisher of the in-flight portfolio of magazines which included American Way, Celebrated Living and American Airlines Nexos.
"It is indeed an honor to be joining Meeting Professionals International as the new COO. I have had the opportunity to gain tremendous insight over the recent months from many business unit leaders in the organization, the executive team and the board of directors as to where the opportunities are and how this position can help move the needle on so many fronts,” explains Woody. “My focus will be on the core strength of education and connecting planners and suppliers in unique and engaging ways that will increase membership, marketplace relevancy and the value proposition for all MPI members. The team is very passionate about their responsibilities, the organization and the future of MPI. This is an exciting opportunity and I am very anxious to get started!"
Woody is based in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and is an active alumnus of The University of North Texas (UNT). He has served as a member of the UNT College of Merchandising, Hospitality Management & Tourism Board of Governors since 2006 and is currently the board’s chairman. In addition, Woody has served as a guest lecturer for the university’s Hospitality Management & Tourism Department for the past 20 years. He also serves on the board of directors for both the Tarrant County Hotel Association and the Society of American Travel Writers, Central States Chapter.
Visit KC Welcomes New Manager
Visit KC, Kansas City’s tourism and hospitality organization, is pleased to announce the recent addition of Kaleena James as destination services manager. A Kansas City native, Kaleena brings more than 10 years of event management experience to Visit KC. Her first day was Feb. 9.
In her role as destination services manager, Kaleena will serve as a primary liaison between meeting planners, the City and members of its service industry. She’ll work closely with assigned convention groups to plan, host and promote their events in Kansas City.
Prior to joining Visit KC, Kaleena served as senior event manager for the Kansas City Convention Center where she partnered with Visit KC on several key convention accounts, such as the International House of Prayer, the American Academy of Family Physicians and Church of God in Christ. A graduate of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Kaleena’s background also includes event management positions with the Priest Holmes Foundation and the KC Event Center. She also previously served as a senior media relations director for AM Marketing.
“Kaleena’s experience with the Convention Center, coupled with her positive energy, make her an excellent addition to our growing team at Visit KC,” said President & CEO Ronnie Burt. “Our destination services team goes above and beyond to help our partners succeed, and I expect Kaleena to play a big role in that.”
In addition to serving as a lifetime member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., Kaleena is also active with local charitable organizations such as Face to Face and Sleepless in the City, an annual fundraiser for homeless youth.
Marcus® Hotels & Resorts Names Michael Swasey Area Vice President
Marcus® Hotels & Resorts, a division of The Marcus Corporation (NYSE: MCS), announced Michael Swasey has joined the company as area vice president.
Swasey joins Marcus Hotels & Resorts with 20 years of hospitality experience, having most recently served as vice president of hotel operations for Alena Hospitality, based in Orlando, Fla. His prior experience includes serving as vice president of asset management for Inland American Lodging Management, L.L.C. (now Xenia REIT) in Orlando, Fla., and serving in operations roles for B.F. Saul Company – Hospitality Group, Bethesda, Md.; Legacy Hospitality, Inc., Albuquerque, N.M.; InterContinental Hotel Group, Atlanta, Ga. and Sage Hospitality, Denver, Colo.
“Mike brings an extensive background of operations expertise to our portfolio and we are excited to welcome him to our executive team,” said Joseph Khairallah, chief operating officer of Marcus Hotels & Resorts.
Swasey graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah and holds a master’s degree from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. He serves on the American Hotel & Lodging Association Food & Beverage Committee and is a member of HAMA (Hospitality Asset Managers Association).
Special D Events hires Maria Geller as Meetings & Events Manager
Special D Events is pleased to announce a new member of their team, Maria Geller. As a Meetings & Events Manager, Geller will guide and collaborate on a variety of innovative and creative projects for corporate, association and tradeshow clients with a keen eye for digital marketing and efficient account management.
Joining us from HelloWorld (formerly ePrize), Geller has excellent experience servicing large, multinational corporations. Since 2013 she played a key role in developing engagement marketing strategies for a variety of top 100 brands helping to drive up the client’s key performance indicators.
Previously she worked at Cushman and Wakefield activating corporate and networking events, working directly with retailers to maximize their corporate marketing campaigns in the local Philadelphia market. Geller is a native of Philadelphia and graduated from Temple University. She considers herself a celebration enthusiast, avid social media marketer, and obsessive list maker – all of which will be extremely useful to clients in her new role at Special D Events.
Bob Habeeb Named CEO of First Hospitality Group, Inc
Rosemont, Ill.-based First Hospitality Group, Inc. (FHG), a national hospitality management and development company, announced today that President and COO Bob Habeeb will be named the company’s next CEO. Founder, Chairman and current CEO of First Hospitality Group, Inc. Stephen L. Schwartz made the announcement.
As CEO, Habeeb will focus on continuing to grow and cultivating FHG’s reputation as one of the nation’s top hotel developers and operators. Schwartz will focus on the company’s growth and development as Founder and Chairman.
“With 18 years of history at FHG, Bob has embraced the company’s culture and proven his ability to lead and inspire our team as we grow,” said Schwartz. “We look forward to continuing to build on the reputation of FHG as we create a brand that is both trusted and valued by our associates, clients and partners. It is an exciting time as we embark on the next 30 years under his capable stewardship.”
Habeeb, a recognized industry leader who has won a series of awards, including the Illinois Hotel Association’s Hotelier of the Year award and Global Hotelier of the Year, was selected to lead the company into its next chapter due to his wide reaching industry relationships, proven track record of innovation regarding development opportunities, superior operating performance, and the long tenure of his management team, said Schwartz.
“I am excited for the future and grateful to my team for their consistent focus on delivering results,” said Habeeb. “This transition offers us the unique opportunity to rededicate ourselves to our core values and look to the future, while remaining focused on creativity and innovation.”
Habeeb is a seasoned professional with more than 25 years of high profile, multiunit experience in hotel, resort and food and beverage management. During his career, he has successfully operated hospitality businesses in virtually every aspect of the industry, including luxury, select service, resort hotels, restaurants, and golf and ski operations in every setting imaginable.
In addition to his duties at FHG, Bob serves as a member of the adjunct faculty of Chicago’s Roosevelt University, where he teaches at a graduate level in the Manfred Steinfeld School of Hospitality Management. He has served on numerous industry boards and brand advisory councils, including his current seats on the board of directors and executive committee of the American Hotel & Lodging Association and his previous chairmanship of the Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association.
Café Minnesota at the Minnesota History Center and Bon Appétit Management Company Welcome New Executive Chef Christian Pieper
Café Minnesota at the Minnesota History Museum and its award-winning foodservice partner, Bon Appétit Management Company, are pleased to announce the appointment of its new Executive Chef, Christian Pieper. Pieper will oversee culinary operations at Café Minnesota as well as in-house catering at the Minnesota History Center.
Born in Excelsior, MN, Pieper started his career at an early age by cooking fish and game with his mother in the kitchen. After attending Saint Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights, he went on to earn his culinary degree from the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont. Over the next several years, he worked as the Executive Chef at the casually elegant Mills Tavern in downtown Providence, RI, as well as the Salvation Café in Newport, RI. Most recently, Pieper served as the Catering Chef for Wolfgang Puck at the Museum of Science in Boston, MA, where he oversaw high volume catering on a regular basis.
“We’re thrilled to have Christian as our new executive chef,” said Café Minnesota General Manager and Director of Catering Christie Altendorf. “He is an excellent chef, and his passion for using local and sustainable products in creative ways couldn’t be more perfect for both the café and catering program.”
Pieper’s new menus for the café and catering program showcase his talent for creating approachable food on a foundation of classic French technique. Dishes feature seasonal, organic produce when possible, as well as humanely raised meat, certified cage-free shell eggs, and seafood that meets Monterey Bay Seafood Watch sustainability guidelines.
From meetings to private events and weddings, the Minnesota History Center offers unique gathering spaces, convenient parking, and outdoor terraces with spectacular views — and now, under Pieper’s fresh eye, equally exquisite catering menus. For more private event information, email email@example.com, or call 651-259-3030.
Overland Park Convention and Visitors Bureau Announces New President
The Overland Park Convention and Visitors Bureau (OPCVB) is pleased to announce the appointment of its new President, Dana Markel.
Markel is currently the Executive Director of the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau and has served in that position since 2005. As a member of the Omaha Mayor's Cabinet, Markel worked with key city leaders to develop and enhance Omaha as a tourism destination.
"As we come off of the best year on record in terms of total hotel room nights sold, Overland Park is very excited for Dana's energy and experience," said Bruce Boettcher, general manager of the Sheraton Overland Park Hotel and OPCVB Board Chairman. "Our City offers a tremendous package for meeting planners, sports tournament organizers and visitors alike, and with her leadership, we look forward to taking our efforts to the next level."
"The Overland Park Convention Center, Overland Park Soccer Complex, Museum at Prairiefire, TopGolf , national and regional corporate headquarters and much more position Overland Park as a destination for sporting groups, corporate conventions and tourism," said Mayor Carl Gerlach. "Dana's experience and knowledge in similar competitive markets will be truly beneficial to Overland Park."
This is a homecoming for Markel who is originally from the Kansas City metropolitan area. "It is an honor to join the Overland Park travel and tourism community, and I look forward to representing the destination and bringing value to its future strategic direction. Many opportunities abound for tourism growth and development, and as an added plus, I'll be close to family again," said Markel.
Markel assumes her duties as the OPCVB President on March 30, 2015. She succeeds Dr. Jerry Cook, who retired at the end of 2014 after serving as the OPCVB's president for 19 years. Leawood-based executive recruitment firm EFL Associates conducted the national search for the position in partnership with the OPCVB Board of Directors Search Committee and the City of Overland Park staff.
With more than 20 years of experience in the hospitality industry, Markel has worked in convention sales in Omaha, Oklahoma City, Dallas and Miami. In 2001, Markel joined Omaha's Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority (MECA) as the convention center director of sales and marketing. She was also one of five individuals who spearheaded the business strategy of Omaha's convention center and arena. Markel has served on the Executive Committee of the Omaha Sports Commission, the Omaha Metropolitan Hospitality Association and the Omaha Downtown Improvement District. She was also appointed by former Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman as a State Tourism Commissioner.
Morrissey Hospitality Companies, Inc. Names Ken Boyles New General Manager at The Saint Paul Hotel
Meet Chicago Northwest Announces Staff Appointment
Meet Chicago Northwest, the official destination marketing organization for Chicago’s northwest suburbs, has selected Kim Leva to join the organization’s sales efforts as an Account Manager focusing on the Medical and Legal Associations and Corporate markets.
Prior to joining Meet Chicago Northwest in November, Kim has held professional hospitality sales positions with Marriott International, Q Center in St. Charles, IL and with Pillar Hotels. She has also worked as a meeting planner in the digital media industry.
A graduate of Oakton Community College, Kim resides in Lake in the Hills, IL with her two children.
"We are very excited to have Kim joining our bureau, she is a dynamic sales professional that we are confident will contribute to the success of our region." said Dave Parulo, President of Meet Chicago Northwest.