“This is a business of relationships. Going to events and meetings is a necessity in our business, but it’s also like having a reunion with some of your oldest and dearest friends.”
Two years after retiring her post as executive vice president of the Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau, industry vet Karen Williams returned to the CVB as its president and CEO in early 2014. With more than 33 years of experience (including 23 in Louisville), Williams brings a wealth of industry knowledge to her new leadership role. We visited with Williams about her decision to return to the CVB and her new plans for Louisville.
What made you decide to come out of retirement? I really never retired from the industry. I left on July 31, 2012, and was in Puerto Rico with a client on Aug. 3. My business, KWG Inspired, allowed me to stay in the business working with industry association clients, like DMAI, Rhythms of the South and Schneider Publishing. Coming back to the Louisville CVB is like coming home. Just like Louisville, this is where my family is. This is where my heart is.
How has the CVB changed since you left? When I retired, the CVB was working on a study to expand one of Louisville’s convention centers, Kentucky International Convention Center. I arrived on Jan. 28 as the interim president and set out in partnership with Rip Rippetoe, the president of our convention centers. We spent the next eight weeks in Frankfort, Ky., pleading the case with our legislators on the many reasons why we needed the center expanded and renovated. We had a few bumps in the road, however, we found out on March 30 we had been successful. Many of the things happening in the city today were just in vision stage in 2012. Now we are seeing the execution of these great ideas, and it is exciting. We will have a new 600-room Omni in our city in 2017. We also have three boutique properties that will be opening in the next 24 months. We opened our first distillery with tours on Whiskey Row with the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience last fall, and we will see more very soon. We have believed in and branded the idea of Bourbon Country for years, so it is very rewarding to see how far it has come.
What are your goals for the Louisville CVB over the next year? With the addition of new hotel product and inventory, new venues, and an expanded and renovated convention center, we will have the opportunity to host new business that has never considered Louisville. It opens Louisville to new customers. My goal is to work with the LCVB team and our partners to secure that new business and keep our loyal customers happy.
What is the most fun part of your job? It might be cliche to say that I love the people, but it’s the truth. This is a business of relationships. Going to events and meetings is a necessity in our business, but it’s also like having a reunion with some of your oldest and dearest friends.
What is your leadership style? And how has it evolved over the course of your career? The best investment you can make in any business is to invest in your people. Invest in them, trust them and empower them to make decisions. That is especially true for the hospitality industry. Being a veteran of this industry, I have had the pleasure of seeing many wonderful professionals maximize their potential with a little encouragement and support.