Industry Leadership

2023 Honoree Kitty Ratcliffe

Kitty Ratcliffe, the recipient of MPI’s 2023 Industry Leader Award, took a chance on herself—a leap into the unknown—and established a standout career built around advocacy, volunteering and bringing people together.

Working as a retail store manager in her early career, Kathleen (Kitty) Ratcliffe—this year’s recipient of the MPI Industry Leader Award—realized she’d made a mistake about her chosen path. “I called my dad one night and said, ‘I just want to tell you that you were right, and I was wrong. I should have gone to college because I don’t want to do this anymore and I don’t know that I’m qualified to do anything else,’” the Chicago native recalls. “Don’t do anything rash,” her father—then the dean of continuing education at Southern Illinois University Carbondale—told her.

He had noticed the city’s tourism bureau was seeking a director and suggested that she apply. At the time, Ratcliffe knew little about tourism, so she headed to the library to research the industry before her interview. “There was nothing about it that I knew about, except how to do a budget,” she says. But Ratcliffe’s cramming paid off. She got the job and threw herself into learning the business. “I signed up for the Illinois Society of Association Executives and started going to their meetings,” she recalls. “Then I started to recruit their state association meetings to Carbondale.

I joined the MPI St. Louis Area Chapter because MPI was holding its national conference (now named the World Education Congress—WEC) that year in St. Louis. Carbondale is about 100 miles from St. Louis, so I could drive in, attend and learn—and that’s what I did.” These early career decisions built a strong foundation for a prominent career in the meeting industry—one for which she will be honored at WEC23 in the Mexican Caribbean on June 14. Ratcliffe is currently president of Explore St. Louis, the destination marketing organization (DMO) for St. Louis, where she now lives.

“My dad was so prophetic—I wish he were around today,” she says.

President's Dinner