Founding member and Treasurer of WIEN North America, wife, mother, yogi, fly-fishing extraordinaire, and General Manager at Exhibition Place in Toronto, ON
(W) As a founding member of WIEN and our Treasurer, tell us a little about yourself.
(LP) I’ve always considered myself to be a fixer of sorts, someone who has the ability to observe and analyze, and strategize ways to move forward and implement solutions. Throughout my life and career, I took on a variety of leadership roles as I enjoy implementing new ideas, supporting a team, and inspiring my team to always achieve excellence.
Today, I am proudly leading our team at Exhibition Place as General Manager—and looking forward to our industry’s reopening in the coming months. I am a wife, a mother, a sister, and a daughter who enjoys fly-fishing and taking my yoga mat everywhere I go!
(W) How did you discover the world of trade shows? Is there someone who introduced you to the industry?
(LP) In the first part of my career, I worked for a large multinational developer, Olympia & York (O&Y), who developed urban commercial, and mixed-use retail developments—you may be familiar with a few key projects like the First Canadian Place in Toronto, World Financial Centre in Manhattan, and Canary Wharf in London.
As part of the Retail Marketing & Corporate Communications team, we participated in tradeshows like ICSC to promote our urban shopping centre brands. Over time, our firm became 3rd Party Managers and in addition to my own work, I participated on ad-hoc global bid teams when pitching for new business management contracts. It was one such bid, a joint venture with SMG out of Philadelphia for the new National Trade Centre (now Enercare Centre) at Toronto’s Exhibition Place (a 192-acre convention, entertainment and sports campus), that led me into the world of tradeshows. Our bid team worked together for about 6 months on the management bid and when we were awarded the contract, I was asked to assume the role of Director of Sales & Marketing. With some hesitation, I agreed to take the position on a 1-year contract, with the caveat that if I didn’t like the work, I could return to my O&Y position at First Canadian Place. This year will be my 25th anniversary with Exhibition Place. ☺
(W) Wow, congratulations on 25 years! So, who was your most influential mentor along the way?
(LP) There have been so many people that I have learned from and have contributed to my success, but if I had to name one, it would be Thom Connors (SMG). I met Thom as part of the bid team for the National Trade Centre, and while I came from the ‘shopping centre management’ world, I thought I knew very little about ‘convention centre management’. Thom was generous with his time, and shared information and his vast knowledge without reservation or judgement. I benefitted from his support for many years as I grew within the industry.
(W) What one piece of advice (besides joining WIEN) would you offer to newer members our industry?
(LP) Get involved in your industry and your organization! Join an industry association (or a few) and be open to learning from others. The tradeshow and exhibition industry is all about learning from on-the-floor experiences, and you need to embrace the fast pace of implementing changes as they arise. I believe that as a woman in this industry, you have to be comfortable in creating your own opportunities and always be open, to putting your hand up and volunteering for new challenges with your employer or industry. And, do join WIEN – it is a vibrant network of supportive and inspiring women.
(W) What was the most unusual job you had pre-career?
(LP) I did the standard working retail thing during school, but mid-career I did a stint as an Arena Booker. I learned a ton about the music and entertainment industry, and still benefit from that experience to this day. A couple of the more interesting concert experiences was booking Bob Dylan, and P. Diddy (but not together!).
(W) If you could pick any job you would like to do (besides what you do now), what would it be?
(LP) Growing up, I always wanted to be a medical doctor and I continue to have a keen interest in medicine and diagnosis.
We will be spotlighting a member each month in the WIEN newsletter. You can connect with Laura on LinkedIn.
If you know a friend, colleague, industry professional who is interested in joining WIEN, help spread the word. Learn more here. #WeAreWIEN #WeAreEventProfs
Membership spotlight written by WIEN North America Marketing Committee Member Mary Cecile Neville.