Sherry DeLaGarza: Meeting Industry Leadership, MPI RISE Awards

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Sherry DeLaGarza: Meeting Industry Leadership, MPI RISE Awards

By Rich Luna | Jul 13, 2020

Meet Sherry DeLaGarza, CMP, CMM (MPI Dallas-Fort Worth Chapter), who received the 2020 MPI RISE Award for Meeting Industry Leadership. This award honors those rare individuals who by visionary hard work and creative insight have positively changed the global meeting and event industry. It recognizes sustained commitment and substantial contributions to the meeting and event community.

You’ve had a storied career as a meeting professional. What inspires you to keep striving for excellence? 

Growing up, my family life was centered on a sense of order. My father was a mechanical engineer and I inherited his need for organization. When I was in college my father left his engineering position and enrolled in a Lutheran seminary for theological studies. He graduated and became a pastor, then six months later suddenly passed away. Over the next several years, people who had not even met him would express how my father’s ministerial work had impacted their lives. This instilled in me that things we do can influence people we may never meet. In the hospitality industry we touch lives on a global basis. With this in mind, I strive to make sure my influence, professionally and personally, is positive and the best I can deliver.

This award honors “sustained commitment and substantial contributions to the meeting and event community.” What does it mean for you to receive it?

To receive this award for contributing to an industry from which I have gained so much seems so oxymoron-ish! A quote from Helen Keller sitting on my desk resonates the definition of the meetings profession for me: “I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.” I am deeply honored that my small tasks have resulted in such an extraordinary recognition.

Who or what inspired you to become involved in our industry and in our community?

Like many others, I entered the industry not knowing what an association was, but eager to find out. Jim Stroop, the executive director who hired me as the second person in a startup office for an international association, encouraged me to join MPI for the education. I also enrolled in classes at Richland Community College. Those classes are taught by industry professionals, and active members of the MPI Dallas-Fort Worth Chapter (MPIDFW), who encouraged me to volunteer. The more I became involved, the more I learned and built my network. I remain in touch with Jim as well as the instructors, as they are my greatest mentors and champions, encouraging me to continue growing my career.

Was there a defining moment that motivated you to give back to the industry and the community in the way that you are?

Following the December 2015 tornados that devastated my hometown of Rowlett and other suburbs of Dallas, I was part of a team that created a gala event to show appreciation to first responders and raise money for a scholarship fund for their families. I was honored to use my industry knowledge and network for this incredibly worthy cause. I am also honored to serve on the board of Our Friends Place, a non-profit dedicated to empowering homeless women to become independently sufficient through education. Once again, I am grateful I can lend my industry knowledge and network for the benefit of others.

“I strive to make sure my influence, professionally and personally, is positive and the best I can deliver.”

Your resume is filled with accomplishments. What are you most proud of?

As a 23-year member of MPI, I am proudest to have influenced the growth and success of colleagues. Most notably, in 2017 representing the chapter in accepting the RISE Award for Educational Programming for the Mentor Café. The cafe is the result of a vision to enhance the mentoring experience for chapter members. It is now part of the MPI RISE Up program and available for all chapters to implement. It has also been adopted by another international association, making the program’s influence truly global.

As a mother, I am proud that through my passion, two of my children caught the hospitality bug. My daughter was a planner for eight years and recognized as a MPIDFW Rising Star nominee. My son served as a bellman at the Adolphus Hotel for seven years. My daughter is now a stay-at-home mom and my son is serving in the Air Force. 

You’re involved in a chapter that has achieved quite a bit of success. What are the values that inspire MPIDFW?

Our chapter’s leaders have created a legacy of leadership by service to the members. The “needs of the members first” mindset is an integral part of the chapter’s culture. During my two terms as VP of leadership, I drove the succession planning program with the intent of building leaders for life, concentrating on education in leadership skills that members can apply in their professional lives, as well as volunteering in the chapter.

What would you still like to accomplish?

In 2018, I was a co-creator of the North Texas Global Meetings Industry Day (GMID), bringing together leaders of 10 area industry associations and four local CVBs. We held a City Hall Rally in 2018 and an educational networking event in 2019. For 2020, we partnered with Richland Community College’s hospitality program in mentoring students to create an educational program, while raising funds for their scholarship program. Since the live events were canceled, we developed a mock event held virtually for the students to complete their class. I am passionate about growing North Texas GMID and mentoring students while raising the public’s awareness of the industry’s impact.

2020 MPI RISE Awards: Learn more about all of the recipients.

How has MPI helped you in your career as a meeting professional?

Some will be surprised, but I was once a shy person who was most comfortable in the shadows. Volunteering in MPI has taught me that to grow as a leader, you have to step out of your comfort zone to accomplish more than you thought possible. Through education, building relationships and increased MPI involvement, I have gained knowledge, a network of mentors and confidence in my abilities, allowing me to share my passion and industry knowledge to help others successfully step out of their own shadows.

How have you coped with the COVID crisis, professionally and personally?

These are definitely unprecedented times. I am blessed to be a home-office worker, so have not needed to adjust work habits. My knowledge of virtual meetings has certainly increased, although I am experiencing webinar burnout!

I have had to adjust to not seeing (and hugging) my MPI family. Some of us have Virtual Wine-Down Wednesdays, and Friday afternoon Virtual Happy Hours are a regular occurrence. I have taken this time to reflect on those who have influenced my life and sent them handwritten thank you notes. Social distancing dates with my boyfriend have become a regular thing! I do miss the face-to-face, personal interaction with others. I believe once this passes, the true impact of the hospitality industry will be more apparent and respected by those who did not have a full understanding prior to COVID-19. 

When you were young, what did you want to do when you grew up? 

At an early age, I wanted to be an Army nurse because they traveled the world. Then my mother explained what an Army nurse does, and I decided it wasn’t for me after all! In college I thought I would become a high school physical education teacher but kept getting injured in the PE classes. Then I got married and found my most significant calling—that of being mother to my three wonderful children, and now Oma to four precious grandchildren.

What are you most passionate about outside of your career and the meeting industry?

Ten years ago, I reconnected and began dating my high school sweetheart. We love to go camping, hiking and fishing in the Colorado mountains. I also love to read, am working on several home projects including an herb and vegetable garden and, of course, love spending time with my four beautiful grandchildren (ages 4 and under).

What’s the best advice someone gave you?

The executive director who first hired me in the industry taught me that in leadership, if we provide clear directions to someone of where we are (Point A) and where we want to be (Point B), then, rather than explaining step by step how to do it, take a step back and let others use their creativity and problem-solving skills. With this approach, he taught me to have confidence in taking risks to try new things. By following this method while mentoring others, I have been taught new thought processes by watching how they reached their Point B.

What advice would you give to someone considering a career in meetings and events?

Prepare for a fast-paced, ever-changing, exciting roller coaster ride. The key to success is to be involved, build a network and use that network to shape your journey and give back to this diverse and resilient industry.

An additional comment I would like to make is to say Thank You to the MPI headquarters team and the retreat facilitators. Their passion and the things they do every day helps make the volunteer experience so rewarding.

Next Monday we’ll speak with Cassie Poss, CMP (MPI Dallas-Fort Worth Chapter), who received the RISE Award for Young Professional Achievement.



Rich Luna

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