Meet Katie Chism, the Woman Behind the BLC
NSCA GM and VP of operations brings passion for the industry and diverse career experiences to successfully manage day-to-day operations for one of the industry’s premier events.
Katie Chism started working for NSCA as director of education and tradeshows about six weeks before the first Business and Leadership Conference (BLC; back then called the Fall Leadership Conference), which has developed into a must-attend gathering of industry leaders in its 18 years.
She was thrust into fast-paced planning mode, since those six weeks included two weeks of vacation by her boss. Over the years she’s seen the event grow from 45 people in 1998 to about 380 this year.
Chism, 43, embraces challenges. She left NSCA in 2005 to put her elementary education degree to good use as a higher education administrator for a few years before a stint with the Women’s Food Service Forum, which helps to get women on executive boards of food service organizations, before returning to NSCA in September 2010.
Her return coincided with NSCA’s quest to revamp its brand, Chism says, so officials were trying to figure out, “Who are we? What do we want to be known for and not known for?”
Also See: Incoming President: There Is a Groundswell of Enthusiasm for NSCA
She manages day-to-day operations including membership, sales marketing and education. She also serves as the liaison with the board of directors. She is in awe of the evolution of the BLC since the first event, which included mostly CEOs of integration companies.
“To see the growth from the sponsors and the integrators has been something. … We saw it and still see it as a conduit and a resource to build better integrators.”
Let’s go Back Stage and find out more about Katie Chism.
Craig MacCormack: What brought you back to NSCA?
Katie Chism: I maintained a lot of my relationships with the people at NSCA when I left and kept in close touch with [executive director] Chuck [Wilson]. There’s just something about this industry that couldn’t be replaced. There’s just a camaraderie and a bond here that doesn’t exist in other industries. I wanted to go back to a place where I could be genuine.
CM: How do you develop the lineup for the BLC every year?
KC: The content planning committee talks about some of the challenges integrators are having and some of the successes they’re achieving. Our role is to take that and find the right speakers and right content. We’ve continued to ratchet up the level of speakers, so there’s always a little bit of pressure to raise the bar the next year.
We look at TED and Vistage and work with a speakers’ bureau to get who we think are the right speakers. Part of why we’re successful is we talk to the speakers and have them customize what they’re going to say for our audience.
CM: Why do you think people come back every year?
KC: It’s a combination of our passion, our volunteers, the prep work we put into it and a lot of trial and error. We rely a lot on the surveys we do to help tell us what people do and don’t want to see at the BLC. That’s what drives us. Our goal isn’t to keep all the information we gather to ourselves. We want to do whatever we can to help our members and their businesses.
CM: What about the size of the BLC? It’s certainly grown.
KC: The event was started to be intimate and to put owners together. At some point, that can get lost. We have to decide what we want to deliver and what the people who come to the BLC every year want us to deliver. We’re a little scared to mess with it. This is our crown jewel.
Of Note: Katie Chism is the mother of 2 sons – Colton, 12, and Cade 9. Chism’s sons are involved in Boy Scouts, chess club, tae kwon do, karate, football and basketball.
She sang throughout high school and college and is a former member of the Cedar Rapids Concert Chorale, which performs with the Eastern Iowa Orchestra. Despite this, Chism still has stage fright so don’t expect her rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” to open future BLCs.
“I’m not above hitting a karaoke place, but I’m not going to be Celine in Vegas,” she says with a laugh.