How Did You Get Your Start in the Industry - Joanne Durham

Like many of my seasoned colleagues, the meetings industry was not a known career path.  After I earned my degree from Simmons College in communications and business I went into marketing.  I worked for Young & Rubicam Advertising and North American Philips Corporation in New York City.  When I moved to Boston I did employee benefits marketing for Mercer and Towers Perrin but I realized it never felt like the right fit for me.   My participation in the Quincy Toastmaster Club also helped clarify that.  After I gave birth to our son I decided to work in the non-profit sector so I could have greater work-life balance with my family and that opened new opportunities for me. 

I took a position as an account manager with The Engineering Center – a consortium of engineering societies on Beacon Hill in Boston -- that managed all their meetings and special events.  The account I was assigned to provided a variety of responsibilities including meeting planning including a small annual conference for 1,000 attendees, Board meetings, and managing the database of their members.  Fortunately, the Executive Director was reviewing my work closely at the time and recognized I had a skill set that was a great match for meeting planning.  She told me about MPI and the hospitality field and encouraged me to check it out.  That changed my life.  I decided to get more serious about making this change. 

In 1999, I applied for a Conference Manager position to open and manage a the Starr Center – a former movie theater that had been converted to a state-of-the-art conference center.  It was managed by the Schepens Eye Research Institute, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School in Boston.  It was a dream job for me -- hiring the staff, working with vendors on AV, selecting furnishings and testing catering companies, and putting a plan in place for sales.  I even enjoyed hearing world-class researchers talk about their science which would lead to cures and discoveries for eye disease.


When I ran the Starr Conference Center I knew it was time to join MPI/New England.  If I wanted to grow in this field, make contacts with colleagues and vendor partners, and feel a part of this exciting community, I had to get involved

Initially I just attended meetings and paid my dues.  But change was inevitable.  The Starr Conference Center closed in 2003 due to a buyout from the landowner and major construction of the Charles River Plaza began so our entire team was laid off.  The first place I turned to was MPI/New England.  I volunteered to serve on the Education Programming Committee.  This activity helped my confidence, put me in touch with more members, and gave me a platform to improve the chapter’s education programming.  I continued to serve in different roles until 2010.   I also took the Meetings Certificate program at Northeastern University from 2004-2006 to enhance my skill set.


It’s definitely the people in our industry!  Professionals in this industry work very hard and benefit from knowing we have this incredible support system.  Members like Mark Bice, Anne Roberts, and Shelley Griffin have been so important in my career development.  I’m thrilled that my employer is using two former MPI/NE chapter presidents who run Lehrhoff Productions to help us with the production of our general session at the annual meeting.   Due to an encounter at the September 2010 MPI/NE meeting, NFPA contracts Mark Goodman of Experient, another leader from MPI/New England, to source all our meetings.   


I had actually never heard of NFPA!  But in 2007 an MPI/NE colleague I had done educational programs with told me about a job that opened up at NFPA.  I had previously shared with her what I’d like to do next since I had recently earned my CMP.  Fortunately, she knew all about the opening.  She told me they received more than six dozen resumes and had made an offer to a finalist but were waiting to hear her response.  Despite the finality of that scenario, she still urged me to apply and promised to give the hiring manager a quick call just to say she should check me out.  I got an interview.  The finalist decided not to leave her employer and turned down the offer.  My experience, apparent “fit”, the phone recommendation, as well as the recent CMP certification all helped me land that job at the National Fire Protection Association.  Now I’m proud to be a part of an association that has a new vision:  to save lives and reduce loss with information, knowledge and passion.  I manage the three Board of Directors meetings annually, oversee the logistics of the Conference & Expo, and review contracts for the 150 Technical Committee meetings and Training Weeks we conduct nationwide.  The conference has changes annually and will continue to push the envelope to be fresh and inviting. 

To this day, if I need help or a contact, I just call on one of my MPI/NE colleagues and they always respond.  But if you volunteer for the chapter you’ll gain so much more.



I love to travel and explore.  Whenever possible I try to attach a few hours or a ay to business trips in interesting locales to learn about the area.  Last summer, my husband and I enjoyed a vacation to London and northeast England.  In 2014, we went to London and northern Portugal.  I love the Boston area because there are so many great museums and historical sites to inspire us –particularly the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and the Peabody Essex Museum.  At home I enjoy baking, doing genealogy with, and volunteer work in the community through our church.