Meet The Team
Meet The Team
People Make The Difference
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Jeff O’Hara’s Story
CMP, DMCP, President
It is safe to say that I always knew I would follow an entrepreneurial path. As a young boy growing up in Upstate New York, I took on a newspaper route as soon as I was old enough, at the age of 12. Many kids didn’t think much of slogging through the snow in the dark for two hours after school every day, but for me it was an opportunity to gain some financial freedom. I used the contacts I made on the newspaper route to gain customers for my snow shoveling and lawn mowing services. Snow days were great – no school AND I could make some money! In the summer I hauled a model of perhaps the first ever gasoline powered lawnmower (My Dad must have picked it up at a garage sale in the 60’s. He was never big on “modern conveniences.” Still doesn’t have cable) around the neighborhood, knocking on everyone’s door whose grass seemed too long. That old mower needed a few tricks to get it started each time, but it was worth the effort to pick up spending and saving money. I saved enough money to buy a 1973 Plymouth Duster and drive to my first job at the Grand Union Supermarket in Kingston when I was 15.
After graduating from the Hospitality Management program at Florida State University, I forgot about the entrepreneurial instinct for a bit, figuring I was going to be the President of a big hotel company, and launched my career with Sheraton Hotels and Resorts (ITT Sheraton back in those days, for those that were around and remember). I began in the year- long Management Training Program at the Sheraton Bal Harbour in Miami Beach, which led to management positions at the Sheraton Inner Harbor in Baltimore and then at the Sheraton New Orleans. After three and a half years working for an incredible GM – Bob Foster – he left to open the Sheraton Chicago, and we got a new GM. It didn’t take long to realize his micro-management style and me were not going to be a good fit, so I left. Since 1996, I have started 11 companies – 3 Bed and Breakfasts, a hotel (in Bunkie, LA!), an internet reservation business, a car rental business, 2 real estate ventures and a couple more. Some were sold for a nice profit, some ran their natural course and a couple didn’t do so well. Terry Jackson and I have three active companies together and continually look for new opportunities while I lead the incredible team at AlliedPRA New Orleans.
In 1997 I founded Crescent Hospitality, which is the company that became AlliedPRA when we bought into the system in 2002. At first we were strictly dealing in hotel rooms – pre-internet (Yes, there was such a time!) – there was a great need for this service. As we grew, we added more and more DMC services to the mix, and from there AlliedPRA New Orleans was born.
The thing most entrepreneurs will tell you they like the best is the freedom, and I am no different. The freedom to take risks, make your own decisions and have some control over your fate. And not wear a tie. I also started down the road with the simple goal of making money on my own abilities. While it has worked out pretty well in that aspect (9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the Great Recession notwithstanding – I have become pretty good at restarts!), what I enjoy most is developing people and giving them great career opportunities. I love it when team members excel and grow into new roles. Some business owners dread payroll, but for me I love it because that money coming out of the bank account means people are living good lives and supporting families and lifestyles. I have paid out over $10 million dollars in payroll, and nothing gives me more satisfaction.
My team at AlliedPRA has grown into an Award Winning group of professionals. We are a five-time winner of the AlliedPRA Highest Client Satisfaction Award, named to the Inc 5000 Fastest Growing Private Companies in America twice and named to the Seminole 100 – Fastest Growing Private Companies owned by FSU Alumni. In addition, our team has taken home numerous personal professional awards. I have even been awarded a United States Patent for Transportation Technology that we developed! Large corporations have so much internal politics and silos it is maddening, but in an entrepreneurial business it is all about the team and making everyone successful. It is so much fun I doubt I will ever stop working.
Get in touch: Jeff Ohara
Cindy Hayes’ Story
CMP, DMCP, Director of Sales
It all started over 30 years ago when I graduated from LSU in Baton Rouge. I was the typical college grad needing a job. I had worked summers and breaks for major oil companies in New Orleans and Baton Rouge and thought for sure my part-time jobs would land me that high dollar position with a great benefits package following graduation. WRONG! Oil industry folks were getting laid off. Not the right time to get in! Swallowing my pride, I moved back home with my parents and accepted an administrative assistant positon with the Hyatt Regency New Orleans. Got my foot in the door! Yes, I had earned a B.S. in Business and my annual starting salary was $10,500 – enough money to pay my car note and $100 rent to my parents with little left over.
At that time, I was thinking this hotel job was just a temporary thing till I found something that paid more! WRONG again! My job was fun, exciting, and I enjoyed it! Work hard, play hard, and advancement opportunities are unlimited. I met the love of my life at the hotel. I was a Convention Services Manager and he (Billy, my husband) was an engineer. Despite advice from the general manager at the time that our engagement would never last, we got married. Our wedding reception was at the hotel and was one of those catering bookings that got booted out of its space for ballroom renovation! But, I’m happy to say the wedding was a smashing success, and we recently celebrated our 30-year milestone and have two beautiful sons, Hunter (born during hunting season) and Tanner (who was going to be named Fisher, but I couldn’t sign the birth certificate).
Little did I know then that I would be the appointed Director of Sales responsible for rebranding and repositioning a flagship hotel that had been closed for six years following Hurricane Katrina, and that I would be developing relationships throughout my sales career with major association and corporate clients like the NFL and NCAA. No need to bore you regurgitating facts about my career advancement. If you’re really curious, everything you want to know is on my LinkedIn profile. My passion for continued success both professionally and personally without leaving New Orleans lead me to my next chapter …..
That’s when I connected with Jeff O’Hara, our President and Owner in New Orleans. Our conversation about what he needed and what I wanted to do fit a like a glove. It’s been an opportunity for me to create lifetime memories for clients and their guests in a city I truly hold dear to my heart. Equally important, it’s been an opportunity to lead our next generation into amazing hospitality partners and to give back to our hospitality community through my leadership role as the Director of Education for our MPI local chapter. Who is AlliedPRA? Just ask any of our hotel partners in New Orleans or see what our clients have to say about us on www.nolameetings.com.
Erin Gremillion’s Story
DMCP, National Sales Manager
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by the idea of being an event planner! Growing up in South Louisiana, I loved everything about hospitality. Yet, it wasn’t until I enrolled in the University of Louisiana at Lafayette that I learned about destination management. While earning a B.S. in Business Administration there I enrolled in the Hospitality Management Program. I also became a Ragin Cajun for ULL Women’s Soccer Team! Playing college soccer was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I am thankful for the many gifts soccer gave me including mental toughness, how to be a team player and most importantly to never give up on yourself. I wasn’t aware at the time the vital life lessons soccer taught me, but now looking back I can appreciate every moment.
After graduation from ULL in December 2011, I began working with AlliedPRA in 2012 as a Sales Coordinator. I rose through the ranks accepting increasing responsibilities as Account Manager, Operations Manager and Sales Manager. I accepted the position of National Sales Manager in 2015 and have truly enjoyed my connections with clients in this role! I have been able to further my career path by selling one of the best cities in our nation and at the same time developing relationships with incredible people all along the way! My motto is’ “Do what you love, and you’ll never work another day in your life!”
During my first year with AlliedPRA, I had the privilege of working on several major projects including Starwood Rendezvous, Starwood’s highest profile and most important client event. I gained experience that then served me well as our team’s lead operations manager on the largest and most complex project our office had ever run: The Grand Opening of the Outlet Collection at Riverwalk, New Orleans. It is the nation’s first downtown outlet center. The event was historic for Howard Hughes Company and the city of New Orleans. As I stepped out of my comfort zone to meet the challenges of operating such an event, I was grateful that in the end it was a huge success!
As a team member who believes in “giving back” to the industry and my community, I am actively involved in several professional associations. I have served on the Awards Committee for ADMEI, and am currently the Director of Membership for our local MPI Gulf States Chapter. I am a member of the SITE Southeast Chapter and thrilled to be on the SITE Young Leaders Global Committee.
I love many things about our company and enjoy being a part of the AlliedPRA mentor and mentee program! I believe it is important to invest in people and I value my time getting to know my colleagues around the country.
Recently, I was recognized as the 2017 Outstanding Millennial for Hospitality during the Millennials Awards ceremony in New Orleans sponsored by the Spears Group. The evening honored the accomplishments of compelling individuals who have contributed significantly to their professional field and/or community. It was such an honor to be surrounded by such inspiring people during this celebration of a generation!
New Orleans is nicknamed “The Big Easy” and I feel it’s because of the charm of our culture. Walking in a second line parade next to a high school marching band, holding a baby alligator on an airboat tour and sharing some of my favorite New Orleans dishes with clients are some of my personal favorite experiences! Our city has so much to offer to the world and I am truly happy to call New Orleans my home!
Katie Poche’s Story
National Sales Manager
Most New Orleanians never leave. They attend grammar school, middle school and high school in the city before heading to LSU or another college within the state. Well, that was not the case for me. Early on I grew a strong love for the University of Alabama. Fast forward five years and there I was a freshman at the University of Alabama. Most 18 year olds have absolutely no idea what they want to do after college as a career. How could you? At that point in your life you are just excited to be out of your parents’ house and on your own. The one thing I was sure of was that being a part of a sorority was a must! I went through the “rush” process and became a proud Kappa Delta! A friend of mine majored in Restaurants, Hotels and Meetings Management, and she would tell me all about these fun event planning classes she was taking. I thought to myself “hmm, that sounds like a lot of fun, I enjoy planning parties; I am organized and this would be the perfect career for me.” I immediately decided to major in Restaurants, Hotels and Meetings Management and minor in Event. My classes were so interesting and really spoke to me. I definitely made the right decision to switch majors!
In a quest to continue my self-discovery, following graduation I moved out west to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. My plans to stay for the summer, were quickly thwarted when I fell in love with my surroundings and the easy going Western lifestyle! I will never forget the day I called my mom and told her I would be staying for the winter. She told me I was going to hate the winter and reminded me that I did not even know how to ski! Well, boy was she wrong. I became obsessed with Jackson’s winter and skiing! To this day I still return every winter! Yet I yearned for the beautiful year-round weather in New Orleans and as the ski season came to an end 3 years later, I packed my bags and headed South.
Once home, I was excited to begin my job search in earnest. But not just any job, I explored jobs that would resonate with me and evolve into an inspiring and passionate lifelong career. I accepted a part time job for a small DMC to experience in this fascinating industry. Within months I received a phone call from a friend, and she was happy to tell me that AlliedPRA was hiring and that she got me an interview. I was over the moon excited! I came in for the interview and was awarded the Sales Coordinator position at AlliedPRA New Orleans. My role quickly changed to Account Manager. I thoroughly enjoyed executing events and building relationships with suppliers, yet I was very passionate and motivated to earn a Sales Position. After three years of immersing myself in sales trainings, webinars and just hands on experience selling the destination and our services I was promoted to National Sales Manager. Although it took time to get where I am today, and I may have been several years behind my friends on the career path, I couldn’t be happier with my career path. AlliedPRA is a wonderful firm comprised of amazing people and I have grown in ways I could never imagine! We are a family here, and we love what we do and that is what I think is most important in your career!
Sarah Howard’s Story
DMCP, Senior Event Producer
First off, I was never supposed to be in the events industry. Growing up, I was an avid fan of Law and Order (the original) and I just knew that I was going to be a sassy ADA, working with wise-cracking detectives who always had the perfect one-liner. This was my dream until my junior year in high school when I was researching my US History Advanced Placement (AP) final paper. It was on the Supreme Court case Griswold v. Connecticut and I discovered I could not read legalese, not in the slightest. So now I needed a new dream to follow. While I was pondering this, I realized that, for some reason, a commercial from when I was six years old was running on a loop in my brain. (To this day, I can still sing the jingle for “Magic Potty Baby.”) And it dawned on me that I love commercials! During the Super Bowl, I’m more excited to see the commercials than the game. I write letters to companies to let them know how much I like their commercials. And I have spent hours traveling down the YouTube rabbit hole, watching ad campaigns that never even aired in the US. I love commercials. So, I thought, I’ll make commercials. Problem solved, new dream discovered, and I was ready for college.
I arrived at Loyola University in New Orleans. I joined the volleyball team, where I was the starter setter and floor captain for all four years; I also set the individual assist record and won various awards. I joined a sorority, Theta Phi Alpha, and served on different committees and for a term was the vice president. I fell in love with New Orleans as I worked towards getting my BA in advertising, planning to make amazing commercials that the world over would love. Everything was progressing nicely until second semester of my junior year (interesting that I make life changes during junior years) when I walked into my advanced advertising class. Our first assignment was to freehand draw and then digitally draw a print ad campaign. I learned, very quickly, that I have no artistic abilities whatsoever. After the initial panic, I pivoted to a degree in marketing. This way I could still be around commercials, but not have to draw them. Crisis averted, a new plan was in place.
I graduated Cum Laude with a BA in marketing in December 2008, three months after the market crashed. There were no entry level marketing positions open anywhere. I moved back home to Houston to figure out what to do next. Then a friend of a friend told me her friend had opened an events company and was looking to hire an entry level assistant. I didn’t have a hospitality background, but I had planned events for my sorority, so of course I could plan events. Right? My first day on the job, my company was producing an energy conference with load-in beginning at 4:00 a.m. My second day, I worked on a gala dinner for 700 guests. I was hooked! I soaked up all that I could, working on events of all shapes and sizes. It was always in the back of my head, though, that I could use these new skills to help me return to the city I love, New Orleans. Eventually, a college friend called to tell me that she was starting a graduate program at Tulane University and needed a roommate. Did I want to move back with her to New Orleans? Less than two months later, I was back in New Orleans, and by the end of September in 2012, I was the new Sales Coordinator at AlliedPRA.
During my five years with AlliedPRA, I have had the pleasure of working on programs big, little, and in between. I’ve worked on programs as small as 20 guests and as large as 30,000 guests. I’ve worked with groups that are in town for one day only and groups that are in town for over a week. I’ve worked on Partners Conferences, Incentive Programs, Sales Kickoffs, Product Launches, and Shuttle Programs, just to name a few. I’ve met some of the best people in the city’s hospitality and tourism industry, and I’ve worked with planners from all over the world. I am lucky to call many of them my friends. For someone who fell into the industry by accident, I couldn’t be happier with my chosen career and I can’t wait to see what’s next.
Courtney Fields’ Story
My name is Courtney Fields and I have been a socialite since I can remember. I am extremely extroverted and am happiest when I’m with other people. I found myself always hosting parties in high school, which led to my class asking me to plan our high school graduation for 600 people. This was my first taste of a large-scale event, and I never imagined it leading to a profession!
After graduation, this “born and raised southern girl” found herself stranded in the desert during college. While at the University of Arizona, I was involved in various organizations, and I somehow always found myself planning events. I must have planned 75+ events, but still never imagined it could evolve into a full-time career. During my freshman year, I decided to apply for the Leadership Consultant position for my sorority, Alpha Delta Pi. On March 6, 2013, my life changed forever when I was offered my dream job! I was so excited and couldn’t wait for the road ahead. I dedicated two years to training collegiate women on a variety of topics hoping to inspire them to become strong, independent women. This is my passion and I am thankful I am currently volunteering with teens and collegiate women in New Orleans to pursue my passion. June 2015 soon approached and I found myself ending my journey. I felt scared for the first time in my life because I found myself, this girl who loves a plan, without one. I applied for a variety of positions, including several non-profit event planning jobs since I have a passion for heling others. Yet nothing truly felt like the right fit.
Through family I was introduced to AlliedPRA and had my first phone interview. To be honest, I did not understand what a DMC was, but I was not going to let them know that. I researched and researched trying to make myself sound knowledgeable. During the interview process, I remember feeling excited and knew this was my chosen career path. And then, it happened! I received the phone call with an offer to join the team as a Sales Coordinator. I was so excited I couldn’t wait until my first day! The first few months were a blur. I did not go anywhere without a pen and paper because I wanted to make sure I was writing everything down so I could impress the AlliedPRA team and soak up every bit of this exciting industry. I ran my first large program in January 2016 and remember feeling so scared, yet so alive when it was completed. That program was thrilling, and I couldn’t wait for the next one.
Since my time at AlliedPRA I have learned a lot, and I know there is so much more to learn. I know each client is different, but each client teaches me something new and I cannot wait for guests to arrive so they can experience my passion through the hard work I put into planning their event so their experience is perfect. To this day, I am excited about the road ahead and cannot wait to continue to plan unforgettable experiences for guests visiting New Orleans! If you see a petite brunette running around the city in heels, that is most likely me. It’s a skill I have mastered, amongst other things!