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plenary ‘You Just Have to Stay the Course’ CAREER PATH

David Williams I

n his travels around the world as executive director of the Inter- national Association for Energy

Economics (IAEE), David Williams has picked up a few pointers. The owner of the association-management company Administrative Management Services (AMS) has also blazed a trail for other international meeting professionals, for which he earned PCMA’s Global Meet- ings Executive of the Year award, pre- sented at IMEX in Frankfurt, Germany, this past May, by PCMA COO Sherrif Karamat and IMEX Group Chairman and Founder Ray Bloom (photo at right).

What does this award mean to you? I’ve been sort of the advocate behind other people getting into international meetings, so I was amazed to first be nominated and then to get the nod. I was highly touched. It’s one thing to give back to your organization and to your industry. It’s quite another to be acknowledged by it. I have a lot of people to thank for

where I am. Of course, my parents. They’re my role models. My father is still in the business with me [at AMS]. Without a doubt, my wife and daughter, because they’ve sacrificed quite a bit over the years to let me go and do what I have to do. I think the most rewarding thing is, I’ve sort of built my career to the point now where [my wife] Julie can travel with me. [My daughter] Lindsey is in college and she’s beginning to do some of that, which is pretty cool. There are so many people at PCMA

who helped me when I first started planning international meetings — Leigh Wintz, Lamar Williams, Gregg Talley, Ron Caulk, and Maureen Pickell, to name a few.

You’ve been with IAEE for more than 20 years. How did you first get started in the meetings industry? I was a psychology major, and I got my


master’s in communications. I wanted to be a counselor, go out and save the world, and do all these good things. I had a job [in that industry] for a year. I was largely disappointed with how that was going. I interviewed for a conference man-

ager job for the National Association of Business Economists [NABE]. I got it. They didn’t have a planner. They didn’t know really what they wanted. They had a secretary running their meet- ings. They knew that their meetings were growing and that they needed help with this. I knew nothing about the meetings industry. I fell into this in 1986, I think. I was with NABE until 1990, when

they decided to move their office from Cleveland to Washington. [At about the same time] Bruce Harris [founder of Conferon, now Experient], who was in Twinsburg, came to our office and … kind of helped me see that I could do what he’s doing and be a full-service association-conference–management company. So I started, with my father, this

business — Administrative Manage- ment Services — back then. Our first client was the International Association for Energy Economics. I became their executive director. IAEE is my baby, and it has really grown from one confer- ence to now upwards of four to five a year. We [have conferences] in Europe, Asia, Latin America, Africa, and Russia. It’s very exciting.

What are some destinations that have proven to be a challenge, planning-wise? We were asked to do a conference in Tehran, Iran. I went to Tehran and I looked at hotels. This was in 1995 or 1996. I was nervous as all get out. No airline would book me a ticket. The president of the organization [at that time] was an executive for BP in the U.K. I flew to London. He bought

my ticket from London to Tehran. I couldn’t get a visa, because the U.S. government would not secure me whatsoever. I had to get a visa from the Pakistan embassy. All the sudden, I realized my life was kind of in a precari- ous situation. I went there and then I came back.

I had a great experience. People were very kind. One of the most moving things was driving by the U.S. embassy and seeing, I remember the sign, “Down with the U.S.,” and the graffiti. There’s this beautiful building overgrown with crabgrass and weeds, and everything’s been vacant for years. I came back to the States and I

received a letter from the State Depart- ment that said, “You are a U.S.-based organization. It is illegal for you to be doing business with Iran. You must cease and desist right now.” Our [Iran] chapter went ahead and held the meet- ing, and it was one of the most success- ful meetings that IAEE has ever had. I couldn’t go. Very few people from the States went.

What are other hot-spot meeting desti- nations for your industry? Europe is a fascinating place for us. I think probably the most exciting for us right now is Latin America. We’ve been in both Rio and Salvador in Brazil. We’ve been in Buenos Aires; Montevideo, Uruguay; Santiago, Chile. We’re going to Medellin, Colombia. Latin America is very disintegrated. The countries are very much separate in their energy pol- icy, unlike the United States, where we have an electricity grid. If you’re short of electricity here you can buy it from [another state] and just turn the switch on. It’s not like that in Latin America, where country lines are drawn and it’s quite a hassle to get oil or natural gas or electricity to cross those lines. Our organization has been very good at trying to bring about talk of


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