Executive Action at the OCCC

It’s no secret that while the meetings industry is made up predominantly of women, leadership positions are disproportionately filled by men.

Kathie Canning, Jan Addison, and Yulita Osuba

While 85 percent of the respondents to Convene’s 2012 Salary Survey were women, male respondents earned an average salary of $81,161 – compared to women’s $69,408 average salary.  Which is what makes recent developments in the C-suite at the Orange County Convention Center (OCCC) in Orlando so noteworthy.  In July and August, Mayor Teresa Jacobs appointed three women to executive-level management positions at the OCCC: Kathie Canning, as general manager; and Jan Addison and Yulita Osuba, as deputy general managers.

With these appointments, the OCCC may be the only convention center in North America with three women at the helm.  (It’s certainly the biggest: The OCCC is the second-largest meeting facility in the United States.) Convene interviewed the three executives by phone to gather their impressions about the significance of female leadership in venue management, the state of women in the industry – and, of course, their plans for the continued success of the OCCC.

Veteran’s Day

“It is unusual and it absolutely is significant,” said Canning, who has been an integral part of the OCCC’s management team during the planning and development stages of the facility’s various expansion projects.  The fact that Orange County’s mayor also is a woman is not lost on Addison, who said: “[Jacobs] has demonstrated that being a leader as well as a change agent is what’s important in the top-level positions. …We have diversity, even though we have three women who are here on top, and we believe that it is important to have strong leaders in executive positions, some of which just happen to be females, which is the case at the convention center.”

This management team isn’t new to the OCCC.  Canning started there in sales in 1985, bringing experience in education and in hospitality with Leona Helmsley’s Park Lane Hotel on Central Park South in Manhattan.  Addison is a 24-year veteran of the OCCC; she served as chief financial officer since 1992, during which time the center expanded from 350,000 square feet of exhibition space to its current size of more than two million square feet.  And Osuba joined the OCCC in 2001 after working in hospitality sales with Holiday Inn and in sales, marketing, and event management with Daytona Beach’s Ocean Center and the Tampa Convention Center.

“Working at smaller facilities and wearing many hats helped develop my skills,” Osuba said.  “Many of those facilities help prepare future [women] managers and leaders.”

“What Venue Management Is”

Not surprisingly, leadership was a recurring theme during our interview.  All three women have been actively involved in the meetings industry through professional organizations such as PCMA, ASAE, and IAEE.  Osuba has served as president of Convention Sales Professionals International, while both Canning and Addison are adjunct professors with the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management, which offers an event-management track with a focus on convention centers and other meeting facilities.

“We see in those classes that [students] are predominantly female, which I find interesting,” Canning said.  “There is probably more knowledge about what venue management is, or convention-center–type management, for the female who finds it exciting and interesting.” The OCCC frequently draws interns from the program who then move into full-time positions at the center.  That women starting their careers are demonstrating a greater interest in management is important, Canning said, because there are now mentorship opportunities in place along with educational and credentialing resources.

But more than anything, Canning and her team are enthusiastic about their role in the ongoing development of the convention center.  When asked what types of meetings they hoped to attract, Canning joked: “All of them.” She stressed the importance of retaining programs such as the OCCC’s Client Advisory Board, which asks partners and suppliers for feedback on what’s working – and what’s not.

It’s this type of initiative, she said, that has helped the OCCC secure about $200 million for improvements over the next five years, which Canning feels is vital for continued success.  “We’re very interested in new business as well as the folks that come every year or on a rotation basis,” she said.  “We’re only hoping to increase business well into the next decade.”


Katie Kervin

Katie Kervin was formerly assistant editor of Convene.