Cathy Breden, International Association of Exhibitions & Events; Vicki Hawarden, formerly president of International Association of Venue Managers; and Deborah Sexton, Professional Convention Management Association, catch up during ICCC. Hawarden served as IAVM president and CEO from 2011 to 2016.

Now that the International Association of Venue Managers (IAVM) begins its search for a new president and CEO following the sudden departure of Vicki Hawarden  last Thursday during the association’s midyear board meeting, Board Chair Karen Totaro said that the leadership is keeping an open mind for Hawarden’s successor. The hope is to have someone in place within 16 weeks or definitely by the time the association’s annual VenueConnect takes place in Minneapolis beginning July 23.

“We expect to have an executive search firm named later in the week,” said Totaro, general manager of the Atlantic City Convention Center. “But nothing is off the table as far as candidates. We’re open to all.”

“There isn’t a preference necessarily,” she added. “We talked a lot about that in terms of we love the idea of someone with some association background who understands associations. To use our business as an example, we wouldn’t want somebody running an airline coming in to run a venue. It’s a different industry. It’s a different business model. To have somebody with expertise in associations and how to grow membership and how to reach out and start new programming and set up conferences in terms of the programming side of it is a specialty. People spend their whole careers doing that.

Hawarden is one who has spent her whole career doing that and has announced she is now working with her husband, Jim, as partner in Association Resource Consultants, LLC. “It was always in our plans,” she said, explaining that Jim has a strong background in sales, management and revenue development, while her focus in leadership strategy and operations. The firm was established three years ago and is headquartered in Dallas.

Hawarden added that highlights of her career at IAVM included building a great team and working with such an engaged and passionate group of volunteers. High membership rates and the Certified Venue Professionals program were hallmarks of Hawarden's reign. “And there are more exciting changes in the works,” she said, declining to be specific as she is now ex-CEO.

Totaro said the board very much respects that running an association is not running a venue. “However, on the flip side we very much know IAVM’s culture. It’s a family. We relate to each other so well. We speak the same language. You can get a lot of momentum and a lot of things done when you can relate that well to a membership. People who have run venues understand that.

Hawarden came from an association background when she took the reins at IAVM in August 2011 following the retirement of her predecessor, Dexter King, who was a veteran venue professional when he arrived to lead the association in September 2001.

The industry and IAVM membership was abuzz after an email announcement from the IAVM Board of Directors went out to the membership last Thursday afternoon announcing the immediate departure of Hawarden and that 14-year IAVM veteran CFO Steve Flamm would serve as interim president and CEO while a national search for a new leader was launched.

Totaro said that Hawarden’s contract was set to expire this August and that a discussion of the contract was one of the agenda items at last week’s meeting that took place at the Marriott Quorum Hotel in Addison, Texas.

“Vicki’s contract was expiring this year and so the intent was always to meet with the board and go through the process and understand the pros and cons of leadership and what we feel is going to help move IAVM forward,” Totaro said. The midyear board meeting seemed the appropriate time to have that discussion. Totaro said that all parties came into the meeting prepared to discuss the contract and nothing beyond that.


Totaro said that a search committee comprised of IAVM’s executive committee will work closely with the search firm. In addition to Totaro, that group includes Kim Bedier, Tacoma (Wash.) Public Assembly Facilities; Doug Booher, Indiana University, Bloomington; Marty Elliott, Kennesaw State University Sports and Entertainment Park; Mark Mettes, Herberger Theater Center, Phoenix, and Patrick Skaggs, Georgia World Congress Center, Atlanta.

“We thought about having a separate group, but honestly we felt like we had a very broad spectrum from all different sectors and all different regions of the country,” Totaro said. “We want to keep this as transparent as we absolutely can. The search firm will have 30-minute one-on-one conference calls with each board member and we are also going to get a list of additional stakeholders. Again, we know the most important piece is hearing from our membership and what kind of leaders they want for the future and for them to tell us what we are doing well and what we need to work on in terms of our leadership approach. We’re excited about that because we really want to make sure the search is for everyone.”

Totaro said that while no IAVM staff is included on the search committee, “the whole staff are going to be part of the interview process with the executive search firm so that they (the firm) really get an understanding of what works well for the staff and what the staff is looking for in leadership. We want to make this such an inclusive, thorough process so we absolutely get the right person on board. It is imperative that the staff and board work in sync so we really see it as one big team in the end. It’s going to be critical.”

Once the field of candidates is culled to about five, Totaro said that the interviews will be in person and that perhaps one or two candidates will be brought back for additional interviews.

Interim Leadership

Until then, the role of interim president and CEO falls on Flamm, who is ready for the challenge.

“I just want to keep this thing moving forward,” he said. “We’ve got to keep the momentum moving forward. The spring is a busy time with many of our programs coming up. So first is making those the best they can be and focusing on that. Then another is the new IAVM branding by Gensler and new conference strategy, two things that we are very excited about in the upcoming months.”

Flamm said that he was as surprised as anyone by the turn of events at the board meeting.

“It was definitely a surprise to us there,” Flamm said. “When we talked to staff later the tone was, hey, this is a situation that is a little bit awkward and might make things anxious for certain people but we have to take this on starting right now. So here we are Thursday morning in a board meeting and like I said, we just have to keep moving things forward. It should not be an excuse to slow things down but to continue pressing on.”

Flamm met with the staff on Monday in his first full day back in the office to discuss the future.

“We need to set the tone with the membership,” Flamm said. “These are passionate people who love this industry and many of them spend a lot of their valuable time serving this association. We need to let them know, hey, here are our goals and our agenda for the next coming months.”

Totaro said that the board is very comfortable handing the reins to Flamm while the search is underway.

“The decision was made right away with the departure of Vicki that we’re not going to stop and wait for a new CEO,” she said.

Bright Future

As immediate past chair, Tacoma's Bedier is ready for the months ahead and the possibilities for the membership she led last year.

“I am definitely excited about the future for IAVM under new leadership,” she said. “We are poised to roll out new branding which focuses on our core values and are critically examining everything we do to ensure it is really what our members want. I sense a renewed energy among volunteers, members and staff and a real enthusiasm to take our 90-year-old lady (a reference to IAVM’s age) out dancing!”

Patrick Skaggs, assistant general manager of the Georgia World Congress Center, is also looking forward to the future.

“I could not be more excited about IAVM’s future,” he said. “We have a tremendous team at headquarters and such a passionate group of volunteers at IAVM.  We have grown our membership and our international industry presence in a big way, and I believe that IAVM has a bright future.”

Mark Mettes, CEO of the Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix, is next in line to assume the IAVM chair beginning this July at VenueConnect. After going through the various chair positions, he sees nothing but a positive future.

“IAVM is on the verge of an exciting new chapter in our history, thanks to the tremendous efforts of the volunteer leadership on every committee, the dedicated board, the talented staff, and the wonderful support from our Allied partners,” he said. “Considering where we are going and the many memorable moments in IAVM’s history, I’m truly humbled to be able to serve the Association at this time and I want to encourage every member to get involved as a volunteer for the upcoming year.”

Totaro said that it will be important to engage the membership during the search process and to understand what that group expects and needs to continue growing the association. She credited Hawarden for moving the association forward in the last four years in professionalizing the association and advancing it among other professional peer groups.

“Vicki took us to that level and in addition we also want somebody who is out there interacting with our members, with our committees, with our peer groups and really involved and a collaborator,” Totaro said. “Nobody is going to be perfect. We absolutely understand that. None of us is perfect and we’re never going to find a candidate that has every element but we have to be able to at least steer in the direction of what we think is the most valuable.” — Linda Deckard contributed to this story.

Interviewed for this article: Karen Totaro, (609) 449-2000; Steve Flamm, (972) 538-1034; Kim Bedier, (253) 573-2554; Patrick Skaggs, (404) 223-4022; Mark Mettes, (602) 254-7399; Vicki Hawarden, (972) 369-5966