Global Head, Employee Meetings Management
For masterminding the creation of a meetings and events team at a global financial-services institution
Until recently, Morgan Stanley followed a DIY approach to meetings. “If you needed a meeting, you did it on your own, from marketing to travel. You had to figure it out,” says Fatina Coleman, now global head of employee meetings management at the financial services giant.
After Coleman took over in early 2020, all that changed. Moving over from her position as vice president of global travel sourcing, she had a major new assignment: build a meetings and events department.
The Covid pandemic, when many meetings were suspended, had a positive side, providing a little breathing room to strategize the design of the new resource. “It gave us some space, so we didn’t have to drink through a fire hose while we built the program,” she says. She and her team of two could consider processes and meet with stakeholders before solidifying a plan.
The team’s first question, Coleman recalls, was “What’s our north star?” They needed to decide exactly how the new team would work: what kinds of meetings they would service, what those services would be, and how to articulate that vision to management.
Given Coleman’s background, she naturally focused heavily on sourcing, negotiations, and vendor management. She wanted to create guidelines for supplier and stakeholder engagement. But she also realized all meetings are not the same.
“I found that we had to have some flexibility in our approach, but also that we had to have a point of view we could articulate to senior management,” she recalls.
With processes defined and executives on board, the tiny team started taking on more and more events as the pandemic ebbed. With external support from American Express Global Business Travel and Cvent, about 20 people now handle more than 350 events a year in North America.
“We’re doing things smarter and definitely being more conscious of how we get meetings done now,” Coleman observes. She points to more strategic hotel sourcing and negotiations, better contract compliance, and attention to attrition, all of which have improved budget efficiency. Those results are attracting more interest in the team’s services, with Morgan Stanley’s global locations, especially those in expanding Asian territories, looking for help.
Making the Case for One-Stop Planning
To justify adding staff or establishing a whole new department, data is key, Coleman says. But you may have to cobble together those stats at the beginning. She advises planners to look at any data available from travel, meetings, and accounts payable, and to articulate “the potential impact if people are doing their own sourcing or [contracting],” she says.
“What makes you successful is a solid case. What are the pain points of not having a program? What’s your plan? How will you build it out?”
She also suggests taking baby steps. Pick one business unit with a high volume of meetings and see if it will agree to a pilot partnership.
“If you say, ‘I’m going to tackle the world,’ you’re going to fail.”