Budgeting for LifeApril 16, 2024

Planners Planning for Retirement By
April 16, 2024

Budgeting for Life

Planners Planning for Retirement
Meetings and events can be informative and fun, but at some point, it is time to retire. Making a plan ahead of time is paramount. Courtesy of Charles Chan Massey

Meetings and events can be informative and fun, but at some point, it is time to retire. Making a plan ahead of time is paramount. Courtesy of Charles Chan Massey

One of the keys to event management is for meeting planners to think long-term in creating solutions to stay within budget. Planners can tap into that same forethought when budgeting and planning in their personal lives, including for their own retirement. Setting a framework for how much can be spent and how to live within that budget can be applied to both a successful meeting and personal life.

“Retirement is just like planning any meeting. It’s doing a little bit all the time, and that has to do with saving,” says Terry Blumenstein, former managing partner for meeting planning agency Coordination Plus. “You have to save, even if it’s $100 a month. Put it away with compounding interest. It’s a matter of not waiting for the last minute. You have to start when you’re young and continue all the way through.”

Still the decision to retire for planners who have deep roots in the industry and longstanding careers, despite the inherent high pressure of the industry, is never easy.

At age 63, Blumenstein has for the most part stepped away from his work in the industry. Originally from Canada, he started out in hotel management in Toronto and later moved to Sarasota, FL, to work for an independent planner before starting his own independent meeting planning agency and heading that for about 26 years.

“It was just me at one point,” Blumenstein says. “I did have a business partner. But I did everything myself. I would contract travel staff on site, and I would contract one person to help me do menus and decor and things I didn’t like to do, but otherwise I did everything from accounting to registration.”

Blumenstein was working on about 12 meetings a year, some large and some smaller incentive programs. “That was crazy when I look back at it now. Then I started doing less meetings but for larger meetings. It was way easier to do larger meetings, and fewer of them than the smaller meetings.”

He says he didn’t set a goal of a certain age to retire, but he felt it was time. There were certain aspects of his business that were hard to let go. “The hardest decision was saying I’m not going to do this anymore. I had created my own database. I loved doing the crunching of numbers and statistics. I loved reconciling bills. It sounds ridiculous. But I loved matching, million-dollar hotel bills and making sure that I knew exactly where every penny was. It was almost a sport.”

One of the factors in making his decision was the recent high rate of turnover and loss of contacts in the industry. “A prime example is with hotels. You used to have either regional sales managers or you used to have a contact. Now, there’s high changeover, so the relationships that you had built over time have disappeared over the last 10 years. There came a time where I felt I wasn’t happy. I still liked to be in the mix of things but there came a time where I found that even the pre planning which I loved, just wasn’t fun anymore. So, I decided that enough was enough.”

Blumenstein says the hardest part of retirement has been acknowledging that he wasn’t as involved in the industry anymore. While Blumenstein keeps busy with the occasional planning contract, he has mainly been volunteering part time for Habitat for Humanity building homes.

Haley Powers, principal for Insiteful Meetings, also planned early for her retirement with investments. Powers, who worked for various hotels over the years as a director of sales & marketing as well as handling convention sales for the Los Angeles CVB, has been an active member of MPI for some 40 years and has worked on more than 55 committees for the MPISCC Chapter. She still picks up part-time work in the industry.

Powers understood the need for financial preparation having been in the industry during the recession of the early ‘90s, as well as during the drop in travel following 9/11 and the 2008 housing crash. “The meetings markets had serious ups and downs. Then, the pandemic!”

Now at age 71, Powers earns income from a home she had purchased years ago that is now a rental home, teaching at local colleges and picking up part-time work at the L.A. Grand Hotel Downtown. “Planning for passive income and setting up multiple streams of income for retirement has allowed for a peace of mind,” Powers says. She quotes Benjamin Franklin, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”

With all her hard effort, Powers did experience burnout at different times in her career. “I went through various times of burnout but what I would always find is that getting back in the action with MPI friends helped.” She also volunteered and taught CMP classes for her MPI chapter. “I’m a proud member of MPISCC since 1982 and those friendships networked me to jobs and lifelong friendships.”

She learned that taking a true break on days she wasn’t on deadline with a project helped rejuvenate her to prevent burnout. “I learned that it’s okay to let myself sleep in on the days that I was not working or not on a project, not on site. It’s okay to take half a day off and sleep in or just watch a movie or something in the morning. I have such a work ethic that I would feel guilty if I wasn’t up and doing stuff, at least by 8 a.m. I had to learn to give myself permission to do that.”

There are certain features of her work as a planner she misses, such as all the traveling, though after 30 years that also became a “job,” she says. Her advice to today’s planners is to be honest with themselves.

“You just have to really think of your future and your older self and what kind of life are you expecting for yourself, and what are you willing to commit to make sure you get there,” she says.

Charles Chan Massey started his boutique meeting planning firm, SYNAXIS Meetings & Events, in 1994 after working on the hotel side of the industry from 1983.

“By 1995, I was fully working on my own, with a handful of clients and a staff that initially consisted of me, myself and I,” Massey recalls. “You can imagine how staff meetings went, especially when we disagreed!”

Massey says he took on a business partner in the late 1990s, and by 2002, his husband joined in the business, and they bought out the partner. “Throughout the early 2000s and up until 2020, we had a dozen active clients, and at our peak, a staff of five, including the two of us,” Massey says. “We supplemented our staff by partnering with other small planning firms that essentially did the same things we did, and while we were technically competition, we collectively morphed into more of a ‘coop-etition’ model, and when one of us got a larger project, we all had a piece of it. That system served us all well over the years.”

Aside from running his own meeting planning firm, he also owned a small chain of retail stores and invested in real estate as well as the markets. “That helped us save for our retirement, which we decided to explore when COVID essentially decided for us that it was time.” In addition, he says “We closed the retail business by the end of 2018 so when 2020 hit and everything started to be canceled, we were in a position to make the decision to semi-retire, and while we still work on a project here and there, we are able to enjoy life as well and, so far, have the resources to manage it.”

Massey highly recommends diversification. His company’s client portfolio was diverse, including suppliers, professional associations in the pharmaceutical, biotech and medical areas, and entities in the pet food and supply arena that they met through their retail stores. “They would sell us products and we would help them plan their sales meetings and incentive programs, a somewhat unique symbiotic relationship,” Massey recalls.

Some career highlights for Massey include serving in leadership roles with meetings industry organizations including MPI, where he was on the local Southern California board of directors, ultimately serving as chapter president, then on the international board, as well as serving on and chairing several committees over the years. “I like to say that I literally built a business out of my MPI involvement. The synergy between the two was amazing,” he says.

Another highlight was working as a volunteer with IMEX helping them with their Future Leaders Forums (FLF) in both Frankfurt and Las Vegas for a number of years. He also enjoyed mentoring coworkers and building lifelong business relationships. Massey mostly misses the people he worked with in the industry, but says he was saddened when a few people he thought were friends went away quietly once the business aspects of their relationships were no longer in play.

One of the challenges running his own company was having “too much of a good thing,” saying, “often everything happened at once and it was a constant balancing act.” Another challenge was managing burnout. “That was the toughest part for me,” he says. “I hated when I overextended myself and my team, and of course I didn’t want to let anyone down.”

His advice for planners who need to plan for their own retirement is to save money and invest it wisely, and to work with a financial planner. He also suggests investing in real estate if possible. “We were able to purchase a small commercial building for our offices which we now lease to a production company as well as a small apartment complex, which we sold last year. The rental income helped us with our cash flow, and when the meetings industry clients weren’t as active was a lifesaver, especially during 2020 and 2021,” he says.

Another industry veteran beginning to entertain thoughts of retirement is Joan Eisenstodt, who at 77 is still active as a hospitality and meetings consultant and trainer. Eisenstodt started her own business in 1981 at a time when there were few independent planners. “I’ve always been a consultant in the sense that I’ve never worked in-house since I started my own company,” she says.

One of the reasons she has yet to retire is she still loves being challenged. Eisenstodt began to think about retirement when others in the industry she is close with were retiring. “I thought, should I? Is it the right time? Am I overdue? Am I not keeping up? I think that there has always been an expectation for people, even self-employed people, that you will stop working at some point because there is certainly more to life after you stop working and you could do more of what you want. I don’t know that that’s necessarily true. And so, when I think of planning for retirement, I think it’s planning for what quality of life you want and what does that involve?”

Eisenstodt says the retirement decision revolves around life satisfaction. “For me, it isn’t about making a lot of money, it’s that I’m doing the things that I really love. I have all this experience. If I wasn’t working, I would just disappear. The industry is robbed of people who have experience when they retire.”

She teaches a virtual class at the University of North Carolina Charlotte once a year about risk management in contracts.

“I cannot imagine a day where I’m not learning or reading something, and seeing how it applies to a client or former client or the industry, and posting it to somebody saying, “Here’s why you should know this.” That’s who I am.” C&IT


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