As director of conferences and events at Yale University, Suzanne Shaw is a textbook case for how to prove the intrinsic value of meetings to organizations. Once a sleepy conference services staff at one of the country’s most prestigious schools, her department is now a recognized revenue resource and major contributor to the institution. Connect’s Christine Born talked with Shaw about her team’s evolution.
What was the initial impetus behind the changes in your department?
It’s kind of funny. I brought about a dozen new clients when I came on, and our provost realized we met our budget about the same time the economy went down, so we looked good. Suddenly, we were on the radar.
Tell us about the meetings you plan.
We planned more than 100 summer programs this year. We take over 18 buildings housing more than 8,000 people. Mainly we work with clients who are producing their own programs. During the academic year, we work with hotels to set up special housing and conferences. We’re here to help the greater Yale community too. We’ve shown them how to maximize employees, handle books and use technology. One of my goals is to build awareness that we’re all connected and should operate under one system.
That’s a lofty goal—and an unusual one in traditional academic structures.
It’s a different model than I was used to. We’re an oddity: a for-profit entrepreneurial business in a nonprofit setting. We’re trying to create and pilot programs, and make money. This department has been around for 40 years, but we feel this is a rebirth.
Any new projects on the horizon?
We have two new residential colleges being built in 2017, which will be ready in summer 2018. They will have 400 beds each, and we’re trying to fill them now for the summers, just like a hotel. We’ll work with all types of meetings, though we often draw education and association groups. Recently, we were working with a large high school group representing the National Student Leadership Conference.