You can say entrepreneurship runs in the Gershaw family. For Lori Gershaw, it’s her long lineage of business owners beginning with her grandfathers, father and brother that set her on a path to begin her own journey. In 1989, Lori decided the timing was right to leave a successful teaching career to launch a new business, a full-service meeting planning company called Professional Meeting Planners.
Lori credits her success to her parents. While it was her mother who provided unconditional support and sound advice (as well as suggesting the name of the company), it was her father who provided her with the guidance as to how to build and sustain a successful business. He shared his ideology on the rewards of hard work and the lessons learned in the face of opposition and rejection. Together, they are what propelled her to become the first woman in her family to own and run a business.
It was the launch of Professional Meeting Planners where Lori excelled. She found her niche planning continuing medical education courses for some of the most accomplished innovators in medicine and she was determined to earn their trust. It was not long before they recognized her talent and her small business grew by leaps and bounds with clients from many well-respected institutions in Boston and beyond requesting her services.
It was from the experience she gained and connections she made as a meeting planner that Lori identified another service in the meeting and event industry. She decided to redirect her attention from providing full-service meeting planning and focus on creating a new service. In 2003, Lori founded her second company, GCG Event Partners. Today GCG Event Partners is made up of a network of independent meeting professionals located across the country all with similar goals in mind.
“When taking this leap creating GCG Event Partners, I realized that in doing so I was not only making a very significant change for my own life, but also for the lives of many other entrepreneurs across the country,” Lori adds. “I was establishing a place for meeting professionals to come together as a community, be a resource to each other and be given an opportunity to showcase and build their own businesses; for that, I am extremely proud.”
In a recent survey of its members and administrative team, a common theme was uncovered. The number one benefit of working with or at GCG Event Partners was found to be the flexible work schedule it offers because it provides for a better, more positive sense of balance with one’s work and home lives. The responders recognized the company as being sensitive and supportive to the needs of today’s professionals.
“Over the years, I’ve learned a great deal about managing people,” Lori offers. “Creating a work place focused on its employees that offers flexibility while encouraging everyone to take ownership and present their best work, is what makes for a positive work-life balance. Providing this type of work environment is what I consider to be my greatest achievement of all.”
Michelle Barbaro, GCG’s Member Services Manager, has been working at the company for over seventeen years. Her longevity as a key administrator at the company is a testament to the success of the flexible work schedule. Because the company operates on a 24/7 schedule, work inevitably needs to be completed outside of the traditional 9am-5pm work hours. “I’ve found a way to balance work that can be completed during a regular work day with work that is required outside of my regular office hours,” Michelle explains. “When necessary, I’ll squeeze in a couple of hours of work in the evening once the kids are in bed. I’m able to work remotely with ease and having this flexible work schedule is extremely important to me. Lori encourages me to make time for myself and for my family and that support is what motivates me to perform the best I can. I consider what I have working at GCG, the best of both worlds.”
GCG’s business model was designed to connect corporate meeting planners located across the country with local independent meeting professionals to work onsite at their events. The independent meeting professionals act as the meeting planners’ eyes and ears when they are unable to be there themselves; or assist them as part of the on-site team. Network members have on average, 12 years of direct onsite management experience and are skilled at managing meetings, events, conventions, tradeshows, etc.
Members are offered opportunities and can choose to either accept or decline them based on their availability. Lori Cenci, an Independent Meeting Professional who lives in the Boston area, praises GCG for the work it has offered her small business over the past 8 years, “I love working in the field of event planning and many of the onsite opportunities GCG has offered me are close to home which makes accepting them very convenient. I am able to work as much or as little as I can and I’m always happy to accept those events that fit into my schedule.”
With today’s access to online employment opportunities marketed on social media sites, staying at any one job for an extended length of time is no longer the norm. Lori credits the positive work environment GCG provides as proof of why they have members and GCG employees who have worked with them for well over a decade. “We must be doing something right,” Lori surmises.
Her philosophical approach to running her business is to lead by example. Ask anyone who works with Lori and they will attest to the fact that she would never ask someone to do something she isn’t willing to do herself. It’s not uncommon to find her rolling up her sleeves to join the operations team when busy times warrant all-hands-on-deck. Perhaps this team approach explains how she has managed to stay in business throughout three recessions all the while molding and reshaping GCG’s services to meet the marketplace’s ever-changing needs over the years.
An excerpt from the company’s mission statement reads in part, “GCG Event Partners is continually working to be fair and ethical with our Clients, Members, Suppliers and Employees.” Fairness and integrity are in fact, strong themes Lori lives by in both her professional and personal life. Her commitment to these fundamental core values she attributes to her upbringing. Lori makes every effort to run her business in a way that would make her parents proud.
Lori is celebrating 30 years in business in 2019. Quite an accomplishment for this woman entrepreneur.