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2016 Changemaker: Jean Johnson, CMP

For mixing traditional values with a largely virtual workforce to build a fast-growing, award-winning company

Jean Johnson, CMP, donates her time to a shoe drive.

President, CEO, and Chairman
Meetings & Incentives Worldwide

Making Change
Back in 2014, Meetings & Incentives Worldwide earned a spot on the Inc. 5000 list of the country’s fastest-growing private companies. And business isn’t slowing down. In January 2015 we had 163 employees and today that number has jumped to 217, with about 65 percent working virtually around the country and in the U.K. It used to be the opposite—only 35 percent were virtual as recently as 2012. Managing that evolution has given us the opportunity to hire great people (wherever they live) and avoid office overhead costs as we grow. But it’s also made us vigilant about communication and virtual technologies that keep us connected.

Managing Change
Growth is our goal but more important we want to maintain our company’s family culture. The minute we get too big for that we have to stop. It’s a balancing act, especially with a virtual workforce. We pay a lot of attention to the hiring process. Anyone can plan a meeting but we’re looking for specific personality types, people who are humble, passionate, and caring. And every new hire spends a week in our Wisconsin offices and I make sure to go out to dinner with them at least once. I want to get to know everyone. We hold an annual meeting for the company; this year it will be in September at the Grand Geneva Resort in Lake Geneva, Wis.

“I wouldn’t do it without her,” Johnson says of her sister Tina Madden, partner and CFO (left).

Best Business Advice
Advice I got at a leadership summit has stuck with me over the years: Be an active listener. When someone is talking to you, give 100 percent of your attention, make eye contact, be quiet, and really listen. Make that personal connection and give them the attention they deserve.

Role Model
My father, Dan Neider, is my role model. My grandfather opened a travel agency in 1967 and my father took over the business from him, turning the focus to meetings shortly after I was getting into the business 31 years ago. I grew up working with him. He’s the kind of humble guy that will give you the shirt off his back. Nothing is beneath him, whether that means carrying the luggage or cleaning the dishes to ensure a perfect experience for our customers. That’s a way of being that we’ll carry forward no matter how big we get.

What’s Next?
We continue to expand our global procurement team for non-hotel supplier purchasing—DMCs, ground operators, decor, speakers, florists—in an effort to drive cost savings by leveraging our buying power through preferred suppliers and standardizing contracts. We’re also investing in our technology to develop systems that are more scalable and can match the pace at which we’re growing.

Giving Back
In 2014, we launched our Global Give Back Program, asking everyone in the company to donate eight hours to a good cause. They can do it on company time, or on the weekends (in which case they can get paid time off during the week to make up for it). In addition, once they’ve completed their hours, we’ll donate $100 to the charity of their choice. In 2014, I had traveled to Ghana for a site inspection. The meeting never happened because of the Ebola outbreak, but I was moved to spend my give-back hours collecting, cleaning, and packaging shoes for an organization that delivers shoes to children in sub-Saharan Africa.

Previous: Changemaker Annette Gregg, CMM, MBA

Next: Changemaker Carol Krugman, MEd, CMP, CMM

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