A Great Adventure

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A Great Adventure

By Rich Luna | May 3, 2021

Industry Leader Award recipient Terri Breining, the 2021 RISE Awards class and others will be honored at the MPI President’s Dinner during WEC Vegas. Tickets are still available, so join us!

Terri Breining was destined to find her calling in the meeting and event industry.

From the day she arrived, the first daughter and second of eight children born to Bernard and Joanne Breining would eventually carve a path to become one of the industry’s most ardent educators and in turn one of its most respected champions.

Her journey began when she was born on an early September morning in San Francisco, and while she has traveled the world to spread her gospel on the value of education for the meeting industry, she remains a true Californian, anchored in San Diego where she owns and operates her business, Breining Group Inc.

Along the way, Breining has built an impressive resume reflective of her commitment as an educator, a litany of stewardship beginning with Meeting Planning Certificate programs at multiple educational institutions and an ongoing tenure at San Diego State University.

Her acclaimed career, more notably her passion and commitment to MPI and the meeting industry, has led to her being honored by MPI with the Industry Leader Award, an honor bestowed since 2015 on individuals who through their personal and organizational commitments have made a significant, lasting and positive impact on MPI and its community. Breining has clearly demonstrated the attributes of leadership, creativity, passion and generosity that define the award.

“It feels like I am part of an amazing herd of people that I have such affection and such respect for. I’m privileged to be part of that herd.”

“I am sometimes overcome with gratitude…,” Breining says, her words trailing off as she starts to tear up.

Composing herself, she acknowledges the moment.

“I’m overcome with gratitude for the opportunities I’ve been given,” Breining says. “I didn’t plan this. I didn’t set this up. Ironically, I was an incredibly shy kid, so the fact that I’m out there as much as I am is extraordinary to me. I still look back at that kid and wonder, how did that happen? It’s because I am surrounded by people that are remarkable themselves and we’re all in this together. I mean, it doesn’t feel like I’m ahead of the pack. It feels like I am part of an amazing herd of people that I have such affection and such respect for. I’m privileged to be part of that herd.”

Her supporters within the industry, and there are many, have high praise for Breining.

“When I think of Terri, I think of warm, genuine,” says Julie Coker, president and CEO of the San Diego Tourism Authority. “She certainly is a passionate advocate for our industry. Terri has always been very committed to looking at the future. Our business constantly evolves. Terri is always good at looking at the moment and then helping us as a destination say what is that going to look like 10 years from now?”

Richard Harper, executive vice president at HelmsBriscoe, says Breining’s recognition is well deserved, calling her his biggest role model next to his mom.
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“That’s the highest compliment I could possibly give,” he says. “Your vision, your tenacity and your engagement in the industry. Most importantly, we benefit from your wit, and don’t ever change.”

As the second oldest among four boys and four girls, Breining was taking care of her siblings at a very early age. Her father was a serial entrepreneur and her mom, in addition to bearing and raising eight children, always worked, primarily as a dental assistant.

When Breining started her first business, Concepts Worldwide, she says her father told her one time that he had passed on his defective gene that prevented her from working for other people and so she was destined to an entrepreneurial path.

“I think he’s right about that,” Breining says. “One of the things that my parents never did was distinguish what their boys could accomplish versus what the girls could accomplish. They wanted all of us to pursue what we were drawn to. They didn’t tell us what we should be doing or where we should be going or anything like that. I really appreciate that because we were then all free to find our own way.

“There was a lot of chaos…there were eight children in nine years, and that’s a busy place. So, we learned how to take care of each other and watch out for each other. One of the lessons that my dad shared was he wanted nobody to be average—we all needed to be more than that.”

Terri Breining will receive the MPI Industry Leader Award at WEC Vegas. Learn more and register.

Breining attended Catholic school at St. Matthew’s and at one point wanted to be a nun. Her home was very loud and chaotic, and she found respite inside the convent.

But deep down, she wanted to be a teacher and landed in the meeting industry by accident. She went to work for a small association in Sacramento, a two-person office where part of her job was managing the annual convention and trade show as well as their other meetings.

It would be Breining’s introduction to meeting planning, “which I didn’t even know existed, and I discovered that this is what I love to do. At the time, I didn't know that was a possibility for something to do full time. It was just a very cool part of my job that I really enjoyed. I had no idea that it was going to be the beginning of this wonderful career trajectory that I’ve been on, which opened my world up to so many experiences and adventures.”

She would go on to work for a couple of association management companies and delved into other jobs—including jobs in sales departments of hotels in the Sacramento area—but found her calling with meeting management.

“With each new client and each new meeting, I just gained more and more experience,” Breining says. “There were no courses teaching meeting planning at the time, so everything I did was on-the-job training. I learned that I was more creative than I believed, that I had the ability to think on my feet and I learned how to communicate, which was a big deal for someone who had difficulty talking in even a small group.”

“Terri has always been very committed to looking at the future. She certainly is a passionate advocate for our industry.”

She moved to San Diego and quicky discovered she wanted to own her own business. By the late 1980s, she was a coordinator/instructor for the Meeting Planning Certificate Program at Cal State Long Beach, where she stayed for 11 years, then started the certificate program at San Diego State University. She was asked to serve on the advisory board of SDSU’s School of Hospitality and Tourism Management when it was being formed in 2000, and has been an active advisor and eventually faculty member since that time.

In the meantime, Breining’s business, Concepts Worldwide, continued to grow.

“When I started Concepts, I had no money. I had no clients. I was a single mother. It made no sense for me to start a business,” she says. “I said, ‘Why not?’”

The business started out slowly, but Breining’s reputation for keeping her word and doing what she said she was going to do helped her business grow. There were scary moments.

“I called my dad at the time and I said, ‘You know, I don’t know if I should just cash this in and go get a real job or if it’s worth it,’” she says. “He said something that was really profound and that is, ‘don’t ever forget that what you’re doing is a real job, that it counts, and that you might be providing real jobs to other people someday,’ which is not something that had occurred to me. I thought I was just going to be doing this independent gig. He said, ‘you have to give this a shot. If you don’t, you will spend the rest of your life wondering if you could have. So, give it a run. And if it doesn’t work, then you go get a real job.’”

Turns out she was a big success, with Concepts Worldwide becoming a successful, well-respected meeting management agency for nearly 22 years. In 2009, she formed her current business, Breining Group, which is still very much in the meeting industry, but with a focus on facilitation training and coaching.

“I’ve had some just great experiences and some great adventures in the time that I’ve been in the meeting industry,” Breining says. “I think one of the things the industry invited me to do was say, ‘sure, why not?’ to different opportunities, and those have been presented to me at different times, sometimes when I wasn’t sure I could do it and I said, ‘yeah, let’s give this a run,’ and I was able to do that.”

She’s been an active member of MPI for more than 33 years, serving on the International Board of Directors, including as chair in 2003-2004, as well as on the Chairman’s Advisory Council, numerous committees and task forces. She was San Diego Chapter president and is a member of MPI’s Community of Honorees. She was the International Planner of the Year in 2000, and was inducted into the Event Industry Council Hall of Leaders in 2010.

“MPI has been enormously important and to a much greater degree than I could have imagined,” Breining says. “I initially joined MPI because a friend of mine was in the hotel business and at the time, suppliers couldn’t join MPI without a planner partner. I was not terribly excited about it, but I thought, ‘sure, I can do that.’ Shortly after becoming a member, I was asked to get involved in the San Diego Chapter and then just continued to get more and more involved. One of the gifts of my MPI participation is the credibility, experience, visibility and opportunities that I’ve been given that I likely wouldn’t have experienced if I hadn’t joined MPI.”

She would find even more stability in her life when she met her husband, Jack Boyce. They met through mutual friends, with their first outing together at a San Diego Padres baseball game.

“What I will continue to do is the facilitation. It’s work I love because it’s not about me being the smartest one in the room. It’s about recognizing and pulling out the brilliance in others.”

“Both of us are baseball fans and we went with a group to a baseball game, and we started just saying, ‘hello,’” Breining says. “We’ve been together pretty much since that time.

“One of the things I just love about Jack is that we laugh together. We both have a kind of quirky sense of humor and we crack each other up. Something that I appreciate about Jack is that he has always supported the work I do, and not a lot of people, not a lot of men, could do that. I’ve been on the road a lot and I’m out there and I’m kind of going all the time, and he has every step of the way encouraged and supported that without hesitation and always with great enthusiasm. I’m just so grateful for my partner.”

Boyce remembers what first impressed him about Breining.

“Her eyes…and her smile,” he says.

Over time, Boyce has been most impressed by her commitment to service.

“She absolutely loves what she does,” he says.

They’ve been married now for 32 years and have a blended family with two children, a son and a daughter, and five grandchildren—three grandsons and two granddaughters ranging from 6 to 19 years old.

In addition to her love for baseball and the theater, Breining practices yoga, cycles, is an avid reader, spends time at or near the ocean and had a regular meditation practice.

“That’s a part of what I do to sort of keep myself centered and present,” she says.

Breining considers herself a reasonably good cook and her favorite meals to prepare are the holiday meals with lots of family and friends around, reminiscent of her days growing up with her large family.

As for future generations, Breining believes the industry is in good hands.

“People coming into the industry today are far better equipped than I ever was,” she says. “They probably would be better meeting planners, meeting managers or meeting strategists than I was at any point in my career because they come so much more prepared. I had great experience and I was good at what I did. But I think that the current and next generation are in a much stronger position, which is great for all of us.”

As far as Breining’s own future? Stay tuned.

“I don’t think I’m done yet because I’m still breathing, right, and my brain is still engaged,” she says. “I’m looking at what’s next. The pandemic has redefined that for me, as it has with so many other people.

“What I will continue to do is the facilitation. It’s work I love because it’s not about me being the smartest one in the room. It’s about recognizing and pulling out the brilliance in others. I love that, and I’ll continue to do that as long as it’s useful and helpful to others. I’m also putting a lot more focus on my coaching business, working with senior-level people in the meeting industry. I know the industry, I’ve been where they are and can help them navigate situations where there is still great misunderstanding of the business of meetings and of those who produce them.”



Rich Luna

Rich Luna is Director of Publishing for MPI and Editor-in-chief of The Meeting Professional.