Event Planner Spotlight – Francesca Lendrum, The Culinary Vegetable Institute

October 17th, 2016 | hereschicago
Francesca Lendrum

Francesca Lendrum

Here’s our interview with Francesca Lendrum of The Culinary Vegetable Institute

How did you get into meeting & event planning? What were some of the hurdles you experienced? At the first job I took out of college, with an international electronics company in Los Angeles, I was introduced to the world of trade shows.  Planning sales meetings and customer events was part of our show strategy, as it is for many companies.  My boss was very good at her job and taught me well.  After a couple of years, we spun off a subsidiary and our department VP transferred her.  It turns out she had been doing her utmost to have me fired behind the scenes.  Fortunately, the VP didn’t agree.  So along with the great training, I also got my first taste of corporate politics.  Annoyingly those are games that continue to be played and I’ve seen my share of manipulation.  I’ve decided it isn’t so much being corporate but that human beings who didn’t get the right attention in life bring it to the office.  When you figure that out, life is much easier!

What are the biggest challenges of meeting and event planning today?  Changing attitudes about the profession.  These days people think searching “how to x” makes them knowledgeable enough to do anything. But following a recipe or picking notes out on a guitar doesn’t make you a Chef or a rock star. There are no do overs when your event has a date, time, place and money on the table. The pros understand the synergies of transforming leadership wishes for a program into a unique, branded environment, balanced with suppliers who listen and execute to your needs, with a realistic budget and goals in place to measure outcomes. That, rather than throwing an inexperienced person into the mix, shows me a company values its marketing spend and knows to entrust it to a responsible professional.

What advice do you have for those seeking to secure a job as a meeting or event planner?  Ask a veteran planner for an informational interview to gain some insight, or even be a mentor.  Most experienced professionals enjoy giving advice and will support efforts to find a position for someone with enthusiasm and potential. Check into Meeting Planners International (MPI) for best practices. Attend local business expos, ask questions of those participating. Take classes that have project management and planning as a focus.  Join/follow industry social media groups, e.g., “Event Planning & Event Management” and “CMO Network” on Linked In

What have you learned being on the job as a meeting and event planner? When starting out I relied on suppliers as they had years of knowledge, were supportive and helped me learn quickly.  I’ve also learned to ask for more than needed for whatever is being prepared, so there is room to negotiate without giving up something you really need to make the event spectacular for the audience.  Bringing new perspectives to old ideas and always finding a way to contribute.  But the most important lesson is that whether small or large, each event has the same nuts and bolts planning requirements – to not follow them courts disaster.

Do you see any new trends in the meeting & event industry? Experiential events are still king, and are broadening in type.  Teambuilding where groups can have some fun playing, or better yet creating, something together is helping companies develop people and processes.  At the Culinary Vegetable Institute, groups can prepare a meal with the Chef as part of their team building experience. Also, everyone talks about metrics. Although sought after, most still do not use them to their advantage, particularly in justifying events to executive management.

What type of meetings and events do you plan? Anything from corporate trade show participation to customer appreciation receptions to executive meetings and accompanying education to entertainment programs.  The most recent have been more experiential, with team building and gaming aspects to them.

What do you love about planning events and meetings in Chicago?  Chicago has so many unique venues from which to choose!  In May I reviewed about 15 likely downtown locations for 3 -4 activities of different sizes that we were creating for a client – it was hard to decide!

What skills do you feel it takes to be a successful meeting and event planner? Listening is key, Creativity, attention to detail, negotiating skills and a positive attitude.  There are challenges in dealing with the multitude of players involved in any event and being able to manage them diplomatically is important for maintaining long term relationships.

Who has been the biggest influence (personal and/or professional) in your life? Personally and professionally has always been my Father.  He was a true gentleman with a strong work ethic, kept his cards close to the vest, always had a kind word or funny anecdote to impart, and never lingered.  He supported other’s dreams, offering encouragement along the way and showing up to congratulate (sometimes years later), those who turned those dreams into reality.  He treated humans and animals equally and with respect.  His wit and love of family are never far from my thoughts.

What kinds of things really make you laugh? 

Human interest stories with funny, descriptive vocabulary.  And then there’s those videos of haphazard people that you just can’t help but watch!

What’s your favorite place in the entire world?  My front yard on Lake Erie.  Every day is different.

What is your favorite movie of all time? Why so? Too many choices…..

What’s your biggest goal in life right now?  To enjoy my family, friends and surroundings while developing a successful sales and marketing strategy for The Culinary Vegetable Institute.

What is your favorite way to spend a Saturday?  With friends on a beach or just running errands around town to know I accomplished something.

What was your family like growing up? They called us the Brady Bunch.  We were also a combined family of 3 girls and 3 boys, similar ages to those in the show.  Our parents were adamant we work as a team and that has kept us close throughout our lives.

What were you like as a kid?  I was an observer, somewhat shy.  It took leaving home to find my voice and some probably say I haven’t stopped talking since – haha!

What should I know about you that I’d never think to ask about?  How much I enjoyed taking flying lessons.

Did you—or do you—have a nickname? What’s the story behind it? I was called “Lisa” growing up.  We lived in a small town and Francesca Alicia being unusual, I guess it seemed out of place.  I used my proper name on resumes, so when I started interviewing and moved to California after college it was easy to transition to the real thing.

What type of events do you plan?  From a large trade show to mid-size customer appreciation events to small-scale iconic dinners for a specialty crowd, you name it, I have been involved in it.  I admit to not being as interested in the large-scale events as I was, there are so many more moving parts and security has become cumbersome.  I prefer the close personal touch events where you can do activities that cater to the group tastes, like executive retreats, team building and fund raising for charitable causes.

What type of music do you love?  I’m a rock-n-roller, with a nod to the blues.  At one point I even took voice lessons and sang with a band – good fun!.

What don’t people know about you?  As a child, I was the quiet one.

What is your favorite restaurant or bar (Personally)? Still Gage for a lively happy hour. Columbia Yacht Club for a scrumptious dinner and wine pairing.

When not working, what do you love to do? Be on the Lake (Boat or SUP). In inclement weather, watching an action-packed or thought-provoking movie.

Besides your professional talent, do you have any personal talents? Fond of languages and piano. Stupid human trick – can touch my thumb to my wristJ

Have you ever sung karaoke? If so, what song? Absolutely! Dating myself, but the first time was a birthday in about 1988. Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild” is still my signature song.

What is your favorite color? Purple

What are you passionate about? Currently vegetables! Besides eating healthier, my new position is with The Culinary Vegetable Institute at The Chef’s Garden in northern Ohio.  Farmer Lee Jones®, known throughout the culinary world, with his overalls, white shirt and red bow tie, is a sought after speaker on topics of sustainability and leadership.  This small, family farm supplies the micro greens and mini vegetables you devour at high end restaurants across America and 17 other countries. The Culinary Vegetable Institute provides one of the most iconic event experiences I have been through in years.  Set in a stunning hunting lodge-like venue, with a to-die-for kitchen, an experiential program can be created for an executive retreat, educational or team building event.  A tasting and tour of the farm can be part of the experience, sampling vegetables and micro greens you didn’t even know existed!

What tips can you provide to someone new who wants to be an event planning profession? 

  • Start with the company or industry you work in, connecting with marketing teams who produce events to see what the job entails – it is not for everyone.
  • Try to “sign on” to an event at your company for some hands on experience.
  • Check into online classes or at your local college to learn the organizational and financial basics
  • Ask for an informational interview with a local event agency, venue or supplier to get different perspectives.

Do you have any Association affiliations?  Corporate Event Marketing Association (CEMA), Exhibitor Appointed Contractors Association (EACA/E2MA), Alpha Gamma Delta Fraternity, Columbia and Huron Yacht Clubs

Are you a Cubs or Sox fan? Cubbies as there is a kinship with my Indians.  So excited they are both in the post season!

What’s your go-to meal when you’re home alone? Used to be popcorn for dinner, but I’ve started paying more attention to nutrition. Now it’s a healthy shake or fresh veggies and protein.

What’s your favorite thing about your hometown? The friendly people, well-kept homes.

Which book(s) have you read multiple times?  “Catcher in the Rye” as I think everyone did back then.  “Atlas Shrugged”, because it took a couple of times to get it, which, of course, led to “The Fountainhead”, another favorite’

What’s on your bucket list? Greek Islands and, truthfully? Walking down the aisle – haven’t done that yet!

What’s the most embarrassing moment you’ve had?  So many, have lost count!

What was your First concert? Steve Miller, Blossom Music Center, Cleveland, ’77-ish.  Seven (or so) of us were piled into the Vista Cruiser, 1 ½ hours away and on a whim we headed there. Bought tickets as we pulled up –  great lawn seats within viewing distance of the stage.  Classic high school road trip.

If you had to go back to school or learn a new skill, what would you want to learn? To play guitar – and finish flying lessons….

What are your thoughts about Hereschicago.com?  Love this organization, its communication abilities and the fun events to show off Chicago’s coolest venues.  I have been a fan for as long as I can remember getting my first email.  Jim’s integrity and sense of fun make it a part of the fabric of Chicago events.  Hope to see more “Here’s” cities in the future!!

Event Planner Spotlight – Francesca Lendrum, The Culinary Vegetable Institute


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