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The Path to Executive: Japan as a Proving Ground

Lori Allen, vice president, global event operations at MetLife, proved her strategic and operational prowess when charged with building out an overseas events team.

MeetingsNet profiled four women who have moved into upper management through the meetings department. They detail their personal challenges and provide perspective and advice for other planners aspiring to executive-level careers.

Lori Allen’s career journey is not often seen in business anymore. A 20-year veteran at insurance and employee-benefits giant MetLife, she arrived as a junior planner in 2004 and today is the vice president of global event operations.

 Along the way, she moved through the ranks as a senior event planner; manager of global events; director of global event management; and assistant vice president of global event operations.

“I know that’s a really long time to be with one company,” Allen says. “But the reason I’ve stayed and been successful and happy is because the company supports career advancement and continuous learning with formal training as well as informal networking and Screenshot 2024-03-08 at 12.49.43 PM.pngmentoring.”

That support has served Allen well in her career progression because “planners today not only need to be experts in event coordination and hospitality; they must also understand all their stakeholders and be strong business partners for them. That means knowing how the firm operates and makes money, understanding its structure and the products it sells, and knowing the business objectives of the people you are planning events for. Our company has a lot of resources to help us learn those things, but you have to be proactive and take advantage of them” to be ready for a leadership position.

Another source of support Allen had for more than half of her career at MetLife was a good mentor. “My former boss was outstanding. He shared his perspective with me on a regular basis and saw my potential and gave me opportunities. I’m still in touch with him to this day.”

What was the best advice he gave Allen? “Preparation and listening skills are what make you a great business partner to all of your stakeholders. When you come in with a good understanding of who you are talking to, you can have focused conversations and listen for what is really important to them. Also, being able to work with a wide range of individuals is critical for an executive, and strong listening skills help you guide and coach people rather than just manage them.”

The Stretch Assignment

Before ascending to her present role, Allen made her mark by taking on a big project that was critical to MetLife’s international meetings and events operation: She spearheaded a two-year initiative to develop MetLife’s events team in Japan.

Though Japan was a market where MetLife had a strong presence for more than 40 years, “there were only a few people there with events as part of their responsibility,” she says. “So, we were tasked with finding ways to optimize the operation, to scale it up, and create protocols and efficiencies” while maximizing the business impact of those events.

In addition to the typical hurdles that come with creating a formal events team and instilling standard operating procedures, Allen’s biggest challenge was navigating the significant cultural differences. “We had to approach the task not just with the events in mind, but also organizational design and what makes sense culturally in developing an operation there that could be as effective as the centers of expertise we had elsewhere,” she says. “Good ideas and best practices come from everywhere, but we also had to demonstrate that we were taking into account local perspectives and opinions.”

The project was a proving ground for Allen, and her role as global vice president these days mirrors what she had to do in Japan. “Leading our worldwide planning community requires that I focus on developing an overall strategy for our events and then setting specific goals around that strategy,” she says. “I want to heighten the engagement of other MetLife executives around their meetings and events to make sure their business objectives are met.”

Allen has two final bits of advice for aspiring leaders. First, “seek out subject-matter experts in your organization to learn about other aspects of your business, and see which professional-development opportunities your company offers or will pay for. Also get involved with outside discussion groups or lean-in circles; they expose you to so many different ideas and opinions from all over the industry, and networking is very important for advancing your career.”

Second, “you don’t have to have a title to be a leader in your organization. Take initiative and make yourself known among the management team.”

More Executive Profiles

The Path to Executive: Understanding People and Possibilities
• The Path to Executive: Grab the Stretch Assignment (and a Mentor)
• The Path to Executive: Working with an Outcomes Mindset


• New Report: Women’s Career Advancement

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