“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
What if the road you were travelling on suddenly dead-ended or another path beckoned with possibilities? Would you continue your planned journey or stride forward to see what could happen, prepared to meet unknown challenges?
Fortunately for the hospitality, meetings and events industries, Terri Breining, CMM, CED and CMP Fellow, chose the latter.
As she indicated during the Meeting Professionals International (MPI) Small Business Owners’ SBO) Mentorship Moments hour-long Zoom session on May 18, her business journey has never been predictable or traveled in her anticipated direction, but what made her journey remarkable is how she adapted to each unexpected fork in the road and managed to arrive at a successful destination.
That journey to Rebuild, Rejuvenate and Reinvent began when she became a meeting planner by accident. As one of two staffers for the California Ambulance Association, she was tasked with assisting meetings and convention staff for their events. Discovering she enjoyed her taste of the hospitality, meetings & events industries, she tried selling hotels, which she claims she “failed miserably at” because selling wasn’t her strength; planning and producing events was. She returned to Association management and learned all the finer details of being a meeting planner.
Ironically, meeting planner was an unknown title or job description then, but the on-the-job training did lead her to the next path on her journey… to start a meeting planning business.
Breining wanted to specialize in being an independent meeting planner, but few businesses existed like that at the time. When she approached banks for a loan, she was told to start a catering business. “I didn’t know anything about Food & Beverage. I heard a lot of no’s.”
“I was a single mother, with no plan.” Then she laughingly mused, “Seemed good time to start a business.”
Her dad, who had been an entrepreneur, gave her advice that became the foundation for the next step on her journey.
He advised her to create a business helping others succeed. What she learned from his wisdom is that “You don’t know how what we say impacts others. That’s true leadership.”
Initially, she took any business she could get. Growth was slow but steady. “I had crushing self-doubts.”
When she began her planning business, Concepts Worldwide, in 1988, MPI was then called Meeting Planners International, and a supplier could only join with a planner. A supplier said she would pay Breining’s initial membership if Breining would join with her. There were few planners in the San Diego chapter at the time, so they asked her to be on the Board of Directors. “MPI has always nourished me when I say ‘yes’. Being on the board taught me leadership skills and brought me business.”
That business grew and thrived for over 20 years, but then was hit by the global recession of 2008. In 2009, she shuttered her business. “Now what do I do,” she wondered. “I wanted to make enough money to live comfortably, but planning wasn’t the focus. I didn’t want to be responsible for employees or anyone else again.”
That was the beginning of her current business, Breining Group, Inc., which offers facilitation and coaching for the hospitality, meetings & events industries, working with retreats, strategic planning, and counseling companies on the path forward.
The COVID pandemic changed everything for her. The isolation became a gift. “It helped me prioritize what I want. I discovered constant travel is no longer as fun as it was, and I had to figure out what’s important to me.”
For many years, she worked at San Diego State University Payne School of Hospitality and Tourism Management as adjunct faculty. In January 2023, she became the Director of the Meeting & Event Management Masters’ Program (www.Mastershtm.sdsu.edu), a labor of love which manages alongside her continuing work of professional facilitation.
With her successes have come wisdom hard-learned and easy to share.
- Self-evaluate. Tell yourself you are enough.
- Figure out what is important to you. Give your business and your ideas a shot, even when they run counter to other opinions. “If it doesn’t work, you can always get a ‘real’ job.”
- What are your personal values? Are they different from your business values? She says her values are the same for both. “Breathe life into those values. One of my values is to be of service. Where do I want to spend time and with whom.”
- If a breakup with a client is necessary, but they’re not happy about your decision, don’t take it personally. “You can’t please everyone.”
- Make your employees a part of the discussion on values. When she had employees, there was a regular practice of having each employee take a value each week at the staff meeting. The employee provided the reason for the value and what it meant to them.
Karen Kuzsel is a writer-editor based in the Orlando area who specializes in the hospitality, entertainment, meetings & events industries. She is an active member of International Live Events Association and Meeting Professionals International and is now serving on the 2022-2023 MPI Global Advisory Board for Small Business Owners. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists. Karen writes about food & wine, spas, destinations, venues, meetings & events in her blog, Hotel Happenings & Program Promotions. A career journalist, she has owned magazines, written for newspapers, trade publications, radio and TV. As her alter-ego, Natasha, The Psychic Lady, she is a featured entertainer for corporate and social events. Karen@KarenKuzsel.com; www.KarenKuzsel.com; www.ThePsychicLady.com; @karenkuzsel; @thepsychiclady.
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