Visionary, smart, and decisive women have taught me values and skills throughout my life. From my mother, who raised two girls alone while she held a full time job, and powered as a union president to my numerous mentors who guide me daily. What better way to share these authentic, powerful women leaders with you than to share their stories.
Young teenage women are so impressionable and often, it is a stage in one’s life when we lack self-confidence in peer pressure cookers. Let’s continue to encourage young women by providing role models and mentors. Share these stories with young women in your life.
The first powerful women leader of the series is a mentor to me, Kari (Kesler) Wendel. When I was new to the meetings management world, Kari taught me foundational principles. When I needed to update the PricewaterhouseCoopers meeting policy, she gave me hers. When I started to lead the Groups & Meetings Committee, she advised me. The impact that Kari has had on Strategic Meetings Management (SMM) cannot be underestimated and her name is probably in my SMM book more than my own. See SMM History.
Kari is the Senior Director – Global Program Management and SMM Solutions for Carlson Wagonlit Travel Meetings & Events. She leads a team of 3 groups within CWT M&E:
1) global strategists who drive SMM related strategy for their largest, global clients;
2) business intelligence analysts who support their accounts in driving actionable data to make sound business decisions; and
3) solutions professionals who provide consulting solutions to client and non-client companies.
She lives in Savage, MN (a suburb of Minneapolis, MN) with her husband, Bobby, 11 year old twins, Katie & Jackson, and great dane, Max.
Did you know when you were 15 that you would become as successful as you are today?
Truly, I don’t wake up each day and think “wow, I am really successful” . . . I thought at 15 that whatever I did, I should do it well. This was a common saying in my household, coming from my grandfather, in the form of a reminder that “anything worth doing is worth doing well." In fact, I would say that my career has been 80% accidental, 10% design, and 10% divine intervention at critical times. I believe that when you give your "all" to a task/job, your passion and dedication show and success will follow. I’ve been fortunate to have several people in my life that have seen in me something I’ve only recently recognized: I like to fix big messes and tough problems and I’m particularly adept if the solution is elusive. As long as I understand the safety zone in which I can work, if you give me a challenge, I am intrinsically motivated to overachieve in the finding the solution. At 15, I knew I wanted to be in charge (of something?) and happy – and I know I loved education . . . so the final combination of hard work, education and luck have resulted in my current position where I continue to drive visionary ideas in this industry that I love and can rest my head knowing I’ve done my best each day.
As the powerful woman leader that you are today, if you could talk to your younger self at age 15, what would you tell her?
Wow – I would start with learning earlier not to care too deeply about opinions of others . .. followed by focusing more on the objective of the task/work and less around who’s doing what/saying what/etc. In other words, I spent a great deal of time worrying about why folks around me didn’t see things my way, do things my way . . . and it was a fruitless effort which caused me to take my eye off the ball. I would also tell myself to take a year to explore the world and understand a non-US based view of the world and business – it’s a true detriment that most children in the U.S. see the world through a myopic U.S. lens which is very detrimental in the business world. Lastly, I would worry less about being a “feminist” and more about demonstrating my power through actions and example and grace.
What was your first job and what did it teach you that you still remember today?
While not my very first job (which was retail sales), the first job where I truly learned life lessons was my college internship my senior year. I worked for a very small design firm as the assistant national sales manager. I did a few things and said a few things out of sheer ignorance and immaturity – learning that being careful and intentional with my words would be critical to any success, regardless the field. I also learned that, like Debi, being willing and able to pitch in wherever needed and not being “above” any task is critical to prove work ethic and adaptability. This also taught me that there is always a piece of the picture/chapter in the story into which you won’t have insight – so we must be very careful in our judgment. Perspective is critical and empathy a requirement.
How do you handle the parallel divide between doing something that you know you must do and the inherent, internal belief that it may not align with your moral values?
This is a tough one for me . . . I don’t believe I have compromised my moral values for a business situation – I have declined to compromise them and, in one instance, it ultimately led me to leave that position. At the end of each day, I need to be able to rest my head and know I have been true to my values.
Looking over the horizon for the next 3-5 years, what changes do you visualize in our industry?
I believe our industry will continue to mature at a frustratingly slow rate . . . following the trajectory of the travel industry. I am interested to see what organizations and individuals will rise into leadership roles as I am sure that the strategic side of the meetings industry is still suffering from ambiguity and a lack of industry “ownership." Folks interested in learning and leading in this space currently have no real “rock” of stable, well founded education and leadership to look to. This leadership and education will continue to be managed in an ad hoc fashion and this will never work as effectively as a central, non-biased, objective group with a vision and mandate to drive best practices.
What do you think that we can learn from our global colleagues?
We can learn to be better global business citizens, broaden our perspective, and drive more inclusive global strategies that consider the important regional nuance critical to success. Take off the U.S. lens and broaden our view and understanding.
What keeps you up at night?
All of the opportunity that exists to invent new solutions that drive value and the lack of time/energy (or cloning technology) to make all of this come to fruition. And my lovely children and how I can ensure I am giving my very best to them in order that they become happy, responsible, successful adults in their own way.
Who or what motivates you?
My grandpa’s saying (see above) and success itself. I am simply excited when I fix a problem, solve a challenge, help an associate, and deliver great strategy to a client. I then need another project quickly to keep me motivated!
What advice would you give to someone who is starting his or her career?
Always give your best. Always learn. Be gracious and open to perspectives other than your own. Be perseverant in working with people you don’t see eye to eye with – you will learn more from them than from any other leadership. If you give your heart and soul to a project/job/situation, and that effort is not acknowledged, stop giving – someone else will appreciate it more. Slow down – soon you will wake up in your mid 40’s and wonder who hit the fast forward button!
Great advice, Kari! Thank you for being the FIRST person in our Powerful Women Leader Series!
You can learn more about Kari at http://www.linkedin.com/in/karikesler.
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Debi Scholar, GLP, CMM, CMP, SSGB, CTE, CTT