October People News: New Hires and Promotions at GES, Freeman, Spectra and More 

October 23, 2019

This fall has been a busy one for companies in the meetings and trade show business. Take a look.

GES announced two major leadership changes this week. Jay Alitzer, who joined the company in May 2018, has been named global president, and Ian Dunhill, formerly CFO of Gold’s Gym International, joins the company in the newly created position of executive vice president of finance. 

Freeman has promoted Michelle Johnson, previously senior vice president and chief information officer, to executive vice president of the company. She has been with Freeman since 2009.

Joyce Leveston
Joyce Leveston

Philadelphia-based Spectra, a company specializing in venue management, food and hospitality, and partnerships, has named two new leaders to its executive team. Joyce Leveston, previously with Boston’s Hynes Convention Center and Boston Convention & Exhibitions Center, is now senior vice president of convention centers. William Hughston, most recently of Thompson Hospitality Corporation, is senior vice president of human resources. 

Mike Burns has joined the Oklahoma City CVB as vice president of sales, overseeing the sales and convention services team. He previously served in a similar role at Destination Cleveland.

The Meetings Mean Business Coalition selected Fred Dixon, president and CEO of NYC & Company, as its next co-chair (alongside Trina Camacho-London of Hyatt Hotels Corporation). He will begin his new role in January 2020.

INTERSCHUTZ USA, managed by Hannover Fairs USA, has a new show manager. Rachel Lesczynski, a trade show veteran, was previously with Access Intelligence. 

Michael Mandl, previously group vice president of Reed Exhibitions US, has been appointed CEO of Reed Exhibitions Mexico. Previously, he’s overseen various large-scale shows at the company, and will continue his work to grow the Mexico market. Taking over his former position will be Randy Field, who will oversee National Hardware Show, INTERPHEX, BUILDINGSNY, ALUMINUM USA, BAR CONVENT BROOKLYN, Fastener Fair USA, FIBO USA and ICE USA. 

Naji El Haddad was named new regional manager for UFI’s Middle East-Africa region last month. He brings more than a decade of experience in the region to his new role, including his most recent position as group event director for Reed Exhibitions. Géraud de Dieuleveult has also joined the company as business development manager, based in Paris. 

Michelle Johnson
Michelle Johnson

Two new directors have been elected to International Houseware Association’s board of directors: Paul Cosaro is CEO of Picnic Time Family of Brands, and Kavita Shukla is founder and CEO of The Freshglow Co. Their three-year terms began Oct. 1.

Sean Thorndike is now director of business development for CSI DMC in Chicago, and Nicole Rolstad joined the company’s Denver office as senior account executive.

Atlanta CVB announced two new managerial promotions in September. Megan Wilkinson, manager of convention services, will manage bookings for groups from 250 nights on peak to citywides. She previously served as a sales manager with the CVB. Joseph Henry has also been promoted to technology manager, after previously working as a technology specialist. Also at the CVB, Brad Minton has been hired as a sales manager for national accounts, and Treasure Williams has joined the team as a sales manager.

Surf Expo appointed two new staff members last month: Nikki Houston Duroe is the new show director, and John “JR” Rosenberg is senior category manager.

Kaela Simeonoff is now sales manager for The Expo at World Market Center Las Vegas, set to open in July 2020. She previously spent seven years with MGM Resorts International.

Joseph Henry
Joseph Henry

ON Services, a GES company and full-service audiovisual provider, has two new hires. Craig Pemberton is national sales manager for corporate business, and Matt McGraw is account manager for corporate trade show accounts.

IAAPA, the global association for the attractions industry, elected Jim Pattison, Jr., who’s president of Ripley Entertainment, as second vice chair during its Sept. 16 meeting in Paris. He will serve as first vice chair in 2021 and lead the association as chairman of the board in 2022.

Miami Beach Convention Center named Patricia M. Rios as new human resources business partner. She has 18 years of HR management experience, including roles with Centerplate, Starwood Hotels and KSL Resorts.

April Halm, a veteran information security professional, has joined Seattle-based event registration and technology company Eventcore as compliance and data privacy manager.


Hargrove, a full-service event, exposition and experience marketing production organization, hired Tara Higgins to lead the company earlier this month. In her new role as president, she will lead the company in its next chapter of growth. Rachel Paisley has also joined the company as director of sales for events. Previously with Red Velvet Events, Inc. in Austin, Texas, she brings 17 years of director-level experience to her new position.

Orange County Convention Center in Orlando has hired Katrina Dos Santos as assistant manager of marketing and communications.

Have a people announcement to share? Email it to kogletree@tsnn.com for a chance to be featured in our next People roundup.

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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.