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Chicago MPI Chapter Interviews Jeff!

An Interview with Jeff Whitney, Immediate Past President of Georgia MPI

When I was asked to write an interview for this issues of C+C about Heavy Hitters and Decision Makers, I began to get overwhelmed.  There were so many it was too hard to choose.  I went with my gut instincts and went to my VIP rolodex of mentors.  The first that came to mind was Jeff Whitney, Immediate Past President of Georgia MPI, President of Event Transportation Atlanta and my former boss.  Jeff was perfect for this interview and it’s always inspiring to see MPI from a different perspective.  Jeff gave a thorough interview for me and it was a pleasure catching up with my mentor!

1.    What method do you use to make your daily decisions?

Each day, I am faced with many decisions. I base my decision on importance (proposals for clients, payments to vendors, MPI chapter responsibilities, staff training, sales calls, family issues and personal health, etc.).  Not always are they in this order but definitely there is an important order every day.  I make lists … the “hottest fire burning” gets my immediate attention, and the qualification of each additional item on the list is based on its deadline importance.  Most days I accomplish 40-60% of my to-do list, and at the same time add about the same # of items back onto the list based on new programs, vendor partnerships, sales calls, etc.).

2.     What was the hardest decision/s you have made in the past and how did you make the final decision?

Starting my own business was one of the most difficult challenges I have faced.  I had left then current employer to begin my own company in 2002.  I had many fears.  Not having a regular paycheck was one of the larger fears to overcome.  Fear could have distinguished my passion in many ways but I had a great network of supportive clients that encouraged me to forge ahead. With that powerful motivation I finally took the challenge and started Event Transportation Atlanta.  It was important to me to be respectful and ethical with my then employer as I made my way to begin my company.  By not considering these two very important business traits, I have seen reputations tainted/ruined through unethical behavior.  My then employer and colleagues were trusted friends with whom I valued and wanted to continue those friendships.  My former employer was also a potential source of business for my new company).

Not only did my previous employer pay me commissions for the clients I had started but not executed, they thanked me for being ethical.  The hard decision was worth the pain and I am glad I took the path to starting my own company.

3.     What advice would you give others in the industry when faced with tough business decisions?

Make the decision that you would make if the outcome affected someone you loved and cared about; make a decision in which you can look yourself in the mirror and be ok with yourself. Tough decisions require a gut check, and even if the decision is one that you hate to make, be willing to make it and then do everything you can, within reason to be kind, appropriate and supportive of those impacted by that decision.  There will always be people who will not agree with you; what is most painful, in my opinion, is when people loose respect for you, and as a result you lose their trust.

4.    When making decisions to go with a specific service or product what are some of your key decision factors?

I prefer to have someone I know recommend a company and its services.  I buy MPI frequently, whether it is members of my home chapter or chapter members within the area I am working in.  I also look to trusted sources and partner vendors for referrals. For example a hotel has a vested interest in making sure a client has a good meeting and that their vendors do a quality job—it means return business to the property and the brand.  When a supplier name keeps reoccurring by several sources, that’s who I call.  When I talk with the sales person, I need to feel as though they can finish my sentences when I ask about their service levels, quality of equipment, availability, and pricing. I also ask for references, copies of Certificates of Insurance, rate sheets, etc.

5.    As a business decision maker, how do you sift through the overwhelming amount of resources and information available to determine what is helpful when making decisions?

I’m always looking at creating the best possible results for my client based on their goals, expectations and budgets.  Personal relationships are always key in decision making, even if I just need an unbiased opinion, a different perspective, or a creative idea.  As an example, not every vendor who provides a service is the right fit for every customer.  For instance, let’s consider the catering business.  Even though many caterers claim that they can do all size groups, not every caterer can pull off an upscale corporate event with savvy global executives, or a casual summer barbecue employee event, or dinner for 10,000 in Centennial Park.  Every vendor has a group size in which they excel most and feedback from MPI members who have personal knowledge of a vendor is incredibly helpful.

Budget is another key factor.  What is the best performance/effort that I can achieve within the dollars available?  What other options might be a better fit, and what is the added cost in order to upgrade the event/business decision?  Can I make a cut somewhere else with minimal affect and reallocate funds, or do I need to find another funding source?

6.     Why MPI and what has it done for your business and career?

Seventy percent of my company’s business can be directly (or indirectly) traced to relationships I have built within MPI. Being involved in the chapter is the key to many of my personal and career successes. My very first step was going to my first meeting and getting on a committee.  Volunteer engagement gave me the opportunity to showcase my existing skills, develop new skills, demonstrate my reliability, live my business ethics, and demonstrate my communication skills and leadership capabilities.   It’s important to communicate to chapter leaders what you need from your membership in order to justify the investment. They can guide you to the area of your chapter that can provide you that return.  It is also good to know what you want to gain from your volunteer involvement. Demonstrate your skills, learn new skills, meet potential clients, gain experience and references for career growth, personal satisfaction in supporting the chapter and/or industry, etc.  This helps leadership find the right fit for your interests and availability.  My additional payoff came by gaining the recognition of my peers, creating a network of quality suppliers and planners with whom to work, and with whom I could call for advice and creativity, and the many MPI members who have also become great friends that truly enrich my life.

The most inspiring Q&A was the last one for me.  There’s a theme here and hopefully your regular C+C readers can see the pattern.  I have been asked by many MPI members how they can extract ROI from MPI.  It’s the relationships you build while actively participating.  I met Jeff through MPI many, many moons ago.  Had we not connected with a giggle and active participation in an MPI committee, we may have never seen the blossomed building of our business and constant growing of our career together.

To learn more about the MPI Chicago Area Chapter and upcoming events,

About the Author:

Jiwon McCartney, ALLURE Event & Meeting Productions.  Jiwon is the current Vice President of Communications for Chicago MPI.  She’s a Meeting & Event Planner, Marketing Creative Director, Inspired by People and their stories and always aspiring to Grow her Career and Build her Business

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