Meeting Professionals International
Making the Match: Pearson Partners Secures COOs for Global Meeting and Event Association
When a global membership organization needed two new, uniquely qualified chief operating officers within a three-year period, it turned to the same, proven executive talent resource both times: Pearson Partners International.
Dallas-based Meeting Professionals International (MPI) is the largest global meeting and event industry association, with approximately 18,500 members belonging to more than 80 chapters and clubs in 22 countries. Having successfully employed Pearson Partners International to fill its open chief operating officer position in 2012, the organization made sure that Pearson Partners was one of the three retained executive search firms that received a request for proposal when the same position reopened nearly three years later.
Remembering the success of the first COO search—and particularly its positive experience working with Pearson Partners’ Lisa Thompson, managing director of professional services—MPI once again chose Pearson Partners to help secure its newest executive.
“Having worked with Lisa before—both here at MPI and in searches at my earlier career—we knew what the search was going to entail and what we were going to get out of that relationship,” says Diane Hawkins, MPI’s senior director of people and performance. “Another one of the three companies knew our market, but had done a lot of work in our industry, so they were restricted from going after certain people because their employers were clients. Pearson didn’t have that disadvantage, and another thing I liked about Pearson was that they have a lot of familiarity with non-profits and membership organizations.”
In both COO searches, MPI sought an executive with experience working for an association or membership-based organization. The ideal candidates would also have operational expertise and experience in the travel industry. Because these niche requirements narrowed the qualified talent pool considerably, MPI knew the position would be hard to fill and was willing to conduct a nationwide search.
Thompson and the Pearson Partners team, including chief executive officer and vice chairman Keith Pearson, began by conducting multiple interviews within MPI to learn about the organization’s culture and identity, as well as what would be expected of the new COO. Then, Thompson carefully pre-screened and interviewed multiple candidates, presenting Hawkins with detailed written evaluations, background checks and references for those who were most highly qualified.
“We expected a diverse group of candidates, and that they be totally and thoroughly screened, and they were,” Hawkins says. “It was very clear that Pearson Partners spent a lot of time and effort with each candidate, because the detailed write-ups that we received on each one prior to the interview were right on target.
We had three or four final candidates, and it was really a tough decision.”
Both COO searches were completed within three months, and the candidates who were hired had both the skillset and disposition to excel within MPI’s global membership culture.
“Their passion for the industry was clear,” Hawkins says. “They understood the industry, and they were in perfect alignment with our core values.”
MPI’s current COO, Michael Woody, brought more than 27 years of experience in the meeting and event, hospitality and tourism industries. He was excited about MPI’s commitment and dedication to professional development and education, which dovetailed perfectly with his passion for and involvement with higher education. He was eager to move into a role where he could have a global, positive impact in a challenging and rewarding membership organization.
“It has been an excellent fit,” Woody says. “This position has given me the opportunity to pull in all the different skillsets I have from my numerous jobs, from understanding the hospitality industry to hoteliers, restaurants, convention and visitors bureaus, publishing and international diplomacy. It’s a great match.”
He was extremely impressed with Pearson Partners’ confidentiality and respect for his time throughout the search process.
“I had gone through the recruitment process before, with two other firms, and there was no comparison,” Woody says. “Pearson Partners was unparalleled in its professionalism, flexibility, level of detail and speed of providing me with information. They were constantly surpassing my expectations.”
Woody felt that Pearson Partners’ thorough interview process ensured not only that he was a good fit for MPI’s needs, but that this was the right opportunity for him.
“It was a very collaborative process, where we were all looking at the whole package and exploring, and making sure that it was a good fit for all of us before we moved forward,” Woody says. “It was clear that they had researched me, and they asked all the right questions. When I asked questions about MPI, they were very well informed about the culture and the experience to be expected once I was onboarded. After each interview, Pearson Partners always followed and asked for my thoughts. They weren’t relying just on what MPI told them; they also asked me. I haven’t seen that as standard, in my experience with other recruiters.”
Woody was also pleasantly surprised to find that Thompson stayed in touch with him not only during the offer negotiation, but for weeks and months after he accepted the job.
“Lisa’s follow up was just as important to me as all the work she did leading into the interviews,” he says. “The entire Pearson Partners team, at every level of the organization, was incredible, from the leadership to the front line that greets you when you walk in the door and makes sure you have everything you need.”
That sentiment was echoed by Hawkins, who expects to continue her professional relationship with Thompson and Pearson Partners as other executive search needs arise at MPI.
“No matter who we have worked with at Pearson Partners, they have always been very professional,” Hawkins says. “They have always been very responsive, on top of their game and understood what our needs were. Lisa has created that business and personal relationship that really helps drive the success.”