RISE: John Kirby, Member of the Year

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RISE: John Kirby, Member of the Year

By Michael Pinchera | Jun 13, 2023

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Member of the Year: John Kirby (MPI Kansas City Chapter), customer relationship manager, global sales, Encore

An MPI member for 17 years, John Kirby has volunteered across multiple industries and organizations. He has been instrumental at his chapter for taking a unique approach to the affiliate program in order to boost membership across the Midwestern U.S. and he supported the launch of his chapter’s University Outreach Program.

In his work as chapter president and beyond, he has focused on industry advocacy, inclusion and member engagement. He currently sits on the Chapter Membership Advisory Council. In addition to his efforts within MPI, Kirby is also a member of the PCMA Heartland Chapter, Event Minds Matter and an Ally member of Encore’s PRIDE Business Resource Group. He is a nominee and graduate of the Citizens Academy for the Federal Bureau of Investigations in 2012 and remains active in their Alumni Association.

How did you succeed on your career journey—what are some aspects that have been integral to your success?

I’m really lucky to say I’ve been with the same company my entire career—22 years! The growth I’ve witnessed from a company that was 60 or so properties in five or six markets to our current size and service scope has been amazing. The experience across a career thus far has run the emotional gamut and given me more amazing life experiences than I could have dreamed. Over that time, I’d point to two things that have been integral for my growth as a person and professional.

1) I always need to be working in a state that anticipates and invites change. Change is inevitable, it is necessary, and it’s coming whether I like or not. It can be stressful, but as long as you feel comfortable that change is going to improve your team’s position or ability to meet an objective, be a champion for it. Ask constructive and thoughtful questions. Identify problems, but not without thinking through solutions as well. You are always in a position to show up as a leader whether you are in a leadership position or not.

2) The volunteer work I’ve been able to do in the industry associations I’ve been involved with, especially across the last five years, has made me better in every way. It’s made me a better person, a better colleague and teammate, and I have a better sense of the type of leader I want to present myself as. I’ve learned to relate to the different spaces in our industry and better understand the vastness of perspectives and experiences in this ecosystem. Lastly, volunteering taught me the value of celebrating success and achievement. The experience of volunteering and leading in the MPI community has deepened my passion and roots in this industry.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given?

I’d say there are five things I’ve held true in my life and career. The advice I’m listing below are examples I have learned from both good and bad leaders across my career along with my own experiences I’m always encouraged to learn from.

1) My grandmother told me when I was young, “Don’t go buying trouble…there’s plenty of it out there for free.” This taught me a lot about the things I decide to give my mindshare to. If it is out of my control, I try not to spend time worrying about it. Rather, I focus on things I know I can provide movement or positive impact on. This is hard work, but it does a lot to keep me clear-eyed about my purpose.

2) Before you worry about being good at anything, be good first. Always find a way to add to any situation you are a part of. Everything that makes the world better starts with kindness and a desire to help.

3) Always look to bring your teammates along for the ride. No one gets where they want to go alone. Celebrate together and celebrate often!

4) Always set goals for yourself that you can move towards. The more you know about where you want to go, the less it feels like running from something you don’t want to do.

5) Be patient with yourself and those around you. No amount of success is worth your mental health or sanity, and failures are indeed only steps to success, not the end of the line. Learn from it and try again!

What’s one piece of career or meeting/event industry advice would you like to share with your professional peers?

If I had to narrow down to one thing, there is a saying that goes something like, “When you are gone, no one will remember how many deals you closed, how much money you made or how many possessions you had. People will remember the way you made them feel.” The meeting and event industry is grounded at its core in the spirit to serve. Many times, our tendency is to begin to focus on achievement or success, taking our eye off the ball where service is concerned. The reality is that achievement is the result of service to a purpose. And almost everywhere we look in this industry, service is a team sport in every sense of the word. So, my advice is to get up every day with the notion of being of service to the people and situations you meet during the day and find a way to make them better than they were before. I see my purpose in my work every day as clearing the way for any of my teammates to be the most amazing contributors they can be. More than making people feel good about themselves, giving someone the purpose and confidence they need to accomplish their goals is always a win for all involved. Meeting people where they are and making them better makes a career and a life worth having and working for.

What do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t a meeting professional? 

Had I not gone into events I would have ended up in the broadcast business. My brother is a producer for ESPN, and being my older brother, of course I idolized him and what he wanted to do. I came out of college with a degree and focus on electronic media and broadcast, and I had a face made for radio, so my goal was to be an on-air personality or program producer at a radio station. I was willing to work along that path, and during the interview and audition process I heard early and often that I was far too nice and not near edgy or provocative enough to be put on the air. In every instance, I was pointed to the station’s sales director and in every instance I turned down the opportunity because I “didn’t want to do sales.” I always thought I would be in an operations role of some sort. In the end, though, you don’t choose sales, it chooses you. And I’m glad it did! I think it’s safe to say I am doing what I was meant to do! The experiences in the meeting and event industry have provided a lot of parallels to what I trained to be in college, but I’ve never stopped once to compare the career I thought I wanted because what I’ve been given is already beyond what I could have imagined. It makes me excited for what is next on the journey!



Michael Pinchera

Michael Pinchera, MPI's managing editor, is an award-winning writer and editor as well as a speaker, technologist and contributor to business, academic and pop culture publications since 1997.