Over the holidays, I took time to reflect on the many blessings I have received since the foundation of my firm, The Webster Group (TWG) – blessings that have come in the form of extraordinary people, projects and impact on our society.
Let me start with the people. Like most companies, TWG started small. A treasured friend and employee with whom I worked at the Four Seasons, Kim Booth, and I saw a void in how most event firms operated. Armed with the knowledge gained from fifteen years working with some of the world’s finest hotel companies, she and I set out to create an event design and production firm with ‘excellence’ and ‘integrity’ as our mantras. We also wanted to have fun, so it was not unintentional that our plan would be to seek out and hire not only the most capable people we could find, but also the nicest.
At the beginning, our staff was comprised by Kim, a golden retriever named Cinder and me; within a few months we shrank by one third when Kim’s husband was offered a great opportunity outside Washington. But, thankfully we had secured a wonderful first client, Save the Children, so TWG was off and running.
When in graduate school many moons ago, a wise professor challenged me to honestly review my personal strengths and weaknesses—and remember to hire well to accommodate the latter should I ever become a manager. I have tried hard to follow this sound advice and consequently have been grateful for the professionals who have chosen to work at TWG over the years, many of them over long periods of time.
I’d fill up pages if I were to brag about each of our incredible staff members, past and present, and their many accomplishments, but a recap of our history would not be complete if I didn’t mention Lizette Corro, who served as president and CEO for three years in the beginnings of the company, and Wendy Drake, who holds that position now. Wendy started with TWG back when our office was in my basement and has always embodied the TWG principles to her core. I have no doubt she will lead TWG well into the future. I am also proud that Deborah Gitelson Krauth, our vice president of production and undeniably one of the country’s best event experts, will be celebrating nine years with TWG this year.
I could not write this without thanking the amazing clients we have had over the past 20 years. Our first client came to us when former Pan Am President and Chairman of Save the Children’s board, Najeeb Halaby, asked me to produce an event Save the Children had in mind to honor him. Thanks to a number of dedicated people, the event was such a success that I was engaged to work as the organization’s director of development for my region, a job I loved and held until our next big opportunity presented itself—the Pentagon Memorial.
The next big break in the life of TWG came in the form of a dear friend, Sandy Brock, who suggested we bid on a fundraising and event management contract for the proposed Pentagon Memorial. Having lost a friend, Barbara Olsen, in the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon, I felt a connection to and truly wanted to work on the project. I was overjoyed when we were chosen to support Pentagon Memorial Fund’s President, Jim Laychak, Vice President, Rosemary Dillard, and the memorial board comprised of many dedicated and passionate victims’ family members. Working together for more than four years, $22 million was raised and the memorial was dedicated on September 11, 2008, with President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary Rumsfeld, senior military officials and the majority of the cabinet, congress and the diplomatic corps in attendance to pay homage to the victims and their families, many whom were present that day.
While still working on the Pentagon Memorial, we were engaged by Ross Perot, Jr. and the Air Force Memorial Foundation board to work in conjunction with Fred Lindeberg and Webber Shadwick on the dedication of the majestic Air Force Memorial. What was originally slated as an event for 1,700 people turned into TWG’s biggest event to date with over 43,000 in attendance!
As the rsvps began to rise dramatically, TWG realized that the space around the memorial could not accommodate thousands of guests. TWG quickly designed a plan to create a celebratory day of festivities in the Pentagon’s south parking lot with static displays of helicopters, aircraft, military all terrain vehicles, booths, food stations; large IMAG screens broadcasted the dedication live for all attendees to view. The dedication event included two flyovers and was attended by many of our nation’s greatest heroes of flight. In all, TWG orchestrated five events over three days. Having grown up in a flying family, I was in heaven that weekend!
Since those early days, we have worked with numerous organizations that support our military—the PenFed Foundation, Special Forces Charitable Trust, Naval Special Warfare Foundation, the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation and the Congressional Medal of Honor Society (“Society”), to name a few.
As one might imagine, the opportunity to work with and for our country’s highest decorated military heroes, the Medal of Honor recipients, has been an extraordinary privilege, one that came to TWG by way of yet another wonderful supporter, Robert Monahan. Bob had a dream of hosting the Congressional Medal of Honor Society’s annual convention in his hometown of Gettysburg to mark the150th anniversary of the great battle and year President Lincoln conferred the first Medals of Honor – 2013.
Working with Bob to submit a plan for the convention to the Society and also to the U.S. Park Service, including a fundraising plan to pay for his dream, we were thrilled when Gettysburg was chosen to welcome the recipients and their family members and special guests. Lockheed Martin’s CEO at the time, Robert Stevens, was recruited and served as a dedicated convention chair. The week culminated with a spectacular concert on the Gettysburg battlefield by the “President’s Own” Marine Band, West Point Glee Club, a reading of the Gettysburg address by former defense Secretary Robert Gates and fireworks…an event we will long remember not only for the majesty of the location but for the people, living and departed, we honored that night.
Over the years, we’ve proudly produced large events across the country for clients such as Susan G. Komen, MD Anderson Cancer Center and the Lupus Foundation of America, each dedicated to eradicating terrible diseases that affect our lives. TWG has also planned and produced two of the most prestigious inaugural balls – the Green Inaugural Ball during the 2008/2009 political season and the Texas State Society’s Black Tie & Boots Ball during the 2008/2009 and the 2012/2013 political seasons.
At the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC we participated in the historic gathering of four living presidents in celebration of President Bushes’ dream of creating a worldwide organization that encourages and rewards service, the Points of Light Foundation. And, at the close of this past year we worked with the United Nations (UN) Environment Programme and National Geographic on an evening dinner and luncheon to honor international awardees for their dedication to improving their own and others’ impact on our environment.
Several years ago we began to increase our work with in the government sector and began the process to qualify for the U.S. Government’s GSA schedule. Since then we have worked with the U.S. departments of State and Transportation, USAID, USTDA, U.S. Coast Guard and last year were selected by the U.S. Navy as a preferred bidder. Work has included the commissioning (during a massive coastal storm!) of a Coast Guard cutter outside Oakland and domestic and global trade missions, meetings and conferences. We began working on our first Reverse Trade Mission – Chile: Magallanes Region Coal Gasification Reverse Trade Mission – in June of 2013 and have continued this work around the country and the globe, including planning and executing workshops in India and Turkey with the USTDA.
The Webster Group was founded, in large part because neither my husband nor I had the financial capacity to donate large sums of money to the many important causes we have long admired. A great source of pride for TWG staff and me has been the ability to look back year after year on how we’ve supported so many essential charities, government organizations and corporations that are doing extraordinary work around the world. Like in the movie, It’s A Wonderful Life, we’re pleased that we’ve played important roles over the years yet our impact, like our clients’, will never be fully known; it gives us great pride to know that over the past 20 years, our work has had meaning.
So, as I’ve reflected over 20 years’ past, we have been blessed by a number of ‘angels’ who have presented opportunities I never imagined possible. I have no doubt that there will be future angels, people and work that will stretch us further, teach us more. We move forward into the next decade of TWG history with heartfelt appreciation for the staff, clients and organizations who have enriched our lives. We are energized to know that there will be future patrons, supporters and hardworking organizations doing impactful work—and that we will be richly blessed to play a role in all.