Career Path

Germaine Schaefer

"You are stuck with the reputation you create — so make it one that you are proud of."

gschaefer_6x8_mnp_v1TITLE Director of Conference and Leadership Development, National Association of Counties, Washington, D.C.

EDUCATION Bachelor of science in business administration with a certificate in legal studies, Nova Southeastern University.

MY FIRST INDUSTRY JOB Temping at various associations — American Trucking Associations and American Diabetes Association.

MY PREVIOUS THREE JOBS Director of convention operations at the American Diabetes Association; independent planner/owner at Schaefer Consulting; manager of exhibits and registration at the American Academy of Physician Assistants.

WHAT I DO I manage a team that plans the meetings for the National Association of Counties [NACo]. Our team manages about 40-plus meetings a year, from eight people to 2,800. I also oversee the vendors that manage housing and exhibits for us.

MOST INFLUENCED IN MY CAREER BY It’s hard to pick one, so I’m picking three: Jacy Hanson, Tom Rohlfing, and Mary Migre.

WHAT I LEARNED FROM THEM Jacy was my first boss at Diabetes. She taught me all I know about meeting planning — that the details are important, how to stay on top of a budget, and to never be tired (they called her the Energizer Bunny). Tom and Mary were the salespeople who would see you at an office visit or at [ASAE’s] Springtime [Expo] and would pay attention to you — even when your title was “administrator, meetings.” They didn’t spend the conversation looking for a more “important” person over your shoulder. It meant a lot when I was starting out, and taught me a good lesson: You never know who will be in what job next, or where you will be next.

FAVORITE THING ABOUT MY JOB  The on-site experience — seeing all of your team’s advance work pay off on a successful event, handling the issues that weren’t anticipated, and celebrating with your coworkers a job well done. I love the camaraderie that staff develops at a well-run meeting.

MY NEXT BIG CAREER GOAL I just started at NACo in November, so this is my next step! I am getting back to the smaller events where you have a greater opportunity to shape the attendee experience. This is also my first foray into managing education and developing general-session content — which I am loving. We had both Sen. [John] McCain and [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell at our recent Legislative Conference, along with three cabinet secretaries, four governors, and countless other administrative folks. I worked with doctors and scientists who were rock stars in their field at Diabetes, but this is a whole new level. I also love our members. I attended NACo’s board meeting on my second day on the job, and by day five they were playing jokes on me.

MY ADVICE FOR YOUNG MEETING PROFESSIONALS Be professional. You are stuck with the reputation you create — so make it one that you are proud of. Also, handwritten thank-you notes make a huge impression. My friend Paul Griffin with Tourism Australia is the undefeated champ of those, but I try to keep up!

Christopher Durso

Christopher Durso is executive editor of Convene.