Ellen Sinclair, senior vice president of operations at BENCHMARK®, a global hospitality company, is among the “Top 25 Women in the Meetings Industry” honored by Meetings & Conventions magazine. The current issue features a cover story on the visionary meetings and hospitality professionals who have demonstrated extraordinary talent, leadership, creativity and advocacy in the field. The list of honorees includes leaders from all segments of the meetings industry: hotels, conference centers, convention and visitors bureaus, corporations and associations.
“We are delighted to see Ellen, a transformational leader, honored for her immense contributions to Benchmark and to the meetings industry,” says Benchmark CEO Alex Cabañas. “Her vision, innovative spirit and leadership inspire her colleagues, and contribute so much to the experiences of our guests and the exceptional results we obtain for our owners.”
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Ellen Sinclair’s career spans several key areas of the hospitality industry that proved invaluable to her success within the conference space. She has held general manager positions with Radisson and Omni Hotels and at two of Benchmark’s most prominent resort and conference properties. As vice president human resources, Ms. Sinclair was instrumental in expanding and training Benchmark’s workforce and forging the company’s “Be The Difference” service culture, coaching and cultivating the talents of employee teams.
In her current role as senior vice president, Ellen Sinclair provides operational leadership to the conference center division of Benchmark and supports the growth and development of new conference center projects. She is responsible for the success of full-service properties such as The Ridge Hotel & Conference Center at Verizon, Deloitte University-The Leadership Center, the Wingspread Retreat & Executive Conference Center, and at customized hospitality services projects and day conference centers such as the Downtown Conference Center in New York City and the World of Whirlpool in Chicago.
These experiences and Benchmark’s independent, entrepreneurial culture informed her singular approach and impact on the meetings industry today. “When I joined Benchmark 23 years ago, much of the company’s focus was on delivering the best possible meeting experiences. In recent years, Benchmark has greatly expanded its portfolio, adding leisure properties, four distinctive hospitality brands and asset management services,” Ms. Sinclair notes. “As the meetings industry expanded globally and technology simply exploded, its demands became more complex and urgent.”
Benchmark’s Founder and Chairman Burt Cabañas saw the need for a global organization to support these facilities and with four other industry leaders, founded IACC (formerly the International Association of Conference Centres). Today, IACC represents 300 conference centers in 26 countries.
As part of this commitment, Ellen Sinclair chairs the ongoing IACC Meeting Room of the Future initiative. This comprehensive study shows how meeting professionals can stay on top of trends in meeting space design, technology, food service and other elements crucial to keeping conference facilities competitive and productive in a changing marketplace. Ms. Sinclair thrives in this rapidly shifting environment that affords opportunities to effect real change. “Meetings were once far more standardized and predictable. In today’s global arena, with diverse attendees and far more sophisticated technological demands, we must create customized hospitality services for owners and unique experiences for each guest,” she affirms. She also notes that the key to effectiveness is to carefully track trends, and, with the help of professional organizations such as IACC and MPI, distinguish viable trends from passing fads.
Ms. Sinclair’s management philosophy is based on Benchmark’s “Be the Difference” service platform that informs every aspect of Benchmark’s business and every employee at every level. “We stayed true to Burt Cabañas’ original vision of innovation, independent thinking and sometimes flying in the face of conventional wisdom,” she says. As hotel brands proliferated, Benchmark stayed the course with the concept of independent and individualized hotels that reflected the best a destination offered. Before the rise of experiential travel, Benchmark saw the value of creating authentic, curated and transformational guest experiences that showcased each hotel and destination.
“It’s be the difference, not make the difference,” Ellen Sinclair says of this cornerstone of Benchmark’s corporate culture that goes well beyond procedures or strategy. “It is a mindset, a way of life, always aware of how we can be the difference – to a guest, to each other, to our communities.”
Ellen Sinclair serves on Virginia Tech’s Board of Directors for the Hotel and Travel Management School. She is the recipient of the IACC Pyramid of Excellence, the Successful Meetings Mel Hosansky Award, and is the chair for IACC’s Meeting Room of The Future initiative. Having strong roots in Maine, Ellen loves spending time with family and friends at her cottage perched on Maine’s rock-bound coast, and traveling to diving and fishing locations around the world.
For the complete listing of the Top 25 Women in the Meetings Industry, click here.