Meeting planner profile: Andrea Wagner

Andrea Wagner, Supervisor, Conference and Event Services for Health Canada – Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA)Name:Andrea Wagner

Present: Supervisor, Conference and Event Services for Health Canada – Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA).

Past: 15 years of client service in the hotel industry, Government Contracting and Procurement Officer; PMRA Recognition Awards Coordinator; Co-Chair – Employee Events Committee.

Expertise: Over 20 years in providing top-notch client service and planning resources and advice to both external (stakeholders and suppliers) and internal clients (employees).

Specialty: Planning logistical details and offering creative and cost effective ways to conduct meetings and events to the management and employees of PMRA while abiding by the policies and procedures set out by Treasury Board.

CM&E: Tell us about yourself.

I have always been client service driven, even from a really young age (12 years old) when I used to answer the phones in my Dad’s office and work the bridal shows for my Step-mother who worked at Wedding Bells Magazine. My payment was usually being taken to Harvey’s for lunch – there are days I can still be bought with food!

In 1989 I got my first job in the  hotel industry working the switchboard of a large hotel here in Ottawa. I fell in love with the industry and chose to study Hotel and Restaurant Management at Algonquin College in the Fall of 1990. Just after graduation, I moved to Kingston, Ont., and worked as a guest services representative, in one of the best family-owned hotels in the city. In 1995, I moved back to Ottawa and got a job with the Ramada Hotel (now the Holiday Inn and Suites). In 1997 I left there and over the then next few years bounced back and forth between Kingston and Ottawa holding management positions with three different chains. In the Spring of 1999 my mother was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and I took a leave of absence from the industry I loved so much to care for and spend time with my mom. It’s a decision I have never regretted. In the Fall of 1999 I was offered a Temporary Help contract with Health Canada at PMRA as their receptionist. The rest is history. I have been here ever since. I have been married to a great guy for 11 years and have two very wonderful and insanely energetic boys (nine and six years old).  Although I was born and raised in Ottawa and work here, I call Arnprior in the Ottawa Valley home.

Tell us about your work.

My job has changed over the years I have been with Health Canada. My main function is to plan and facilitate large meetings and events for PMRA. My hospitality and client service background has served me well. I organise everything from meeting space to guest room blocks, AV requirements and hospitality, always keeping in mind that I have policies to follow and that I must remain fiscally responsible to the taxpayer. I’m always negotiating for a better deal.

How did you get to where you are today?

I always thought I would have a career in the hotel industry. My original career goal was to work and manage a catering department in large hotel or convention centre. I never thought my expertise and knowledge could be transferred to the federal government. I have been very fortunate that my career has taken the path it’s on because I had a great boss that gave me opportunities and saw my potential.

Walk us through a typical day at work:

One thing I can say for sure is that no day is typical for me. It’s government after all. Policies and procedures seem to change on a daily basis. With the conference that I’m currently working on, I’m constantly looking over details, reviewing hotel room pick up, planning out the meeting room set up and AV / Interpretation requirements, getting contracts reviewed and signed. On top of that, I supervise three individuals who assist with travel plans for participants, help coordinate group activities and work closely with me to ensure I have answers for my assistant deputy minister. My section sets up internal training for the PMRA as well as employee social and recognition events. We have roughly 500 employees in my branch.

Why are you good at what you do?

Throughout my career I have had great managers and mentors that have seen my potential and have allowed me to develop the things I love doing. I’ve never been afraid to take on a task, make mistakes or ask for help. Having been on the hotel side of things, I have an understanding of the industry that maybe some others don’t. Good client service is extremely important to me. Also, I try not to sweat the details if something doesn’t go quite right. I look to the experts to help find a solution and move on from there. I love getting out and meeting suppliers and developing a personal rapport with them. It just makes it that much easier when trying to facilitate a meeting or event. I’d like to think that I’m pretty easy going and fun to work with as a client.

What are some of the challenges you face?

Budget, budget, budget – or lack of it these days. Being fiscally responsible is not a challenge, it’s a requirement of working in government. It’s finding creative ways to do what needs to get done while staying responsible to the Canadian people. The suppliers in the industry that are conscious of this fact are great to work with.

What have been some of your biggest achievements?

Every event that I plan is a huge achievement especially when there are outside participants in attendance. A conference that I’m planning for the fall is a first for our Agency. Participants are coming from all over the world to attend this and it’s exciting to see it all coming together. This will certainly be my biggest achievement to ensure it runs smoothly and that my Assistant Deputy Minister is happy. I also love planning events for the staff like our annual Summer Kick-Off BBQ, August Corn Roast and our Christmas Lunch. To see everyone relaxing and having a good time is the best reward. At Christmas our agency runs a food drive for the Ottawa Food Bank. We turn it into a competition between the different divisions within the PMRA to see who can raise the most food items and cash. The winner gets bragging rights and a coffee break for all of their employees. As the lead for this event, I push all employees to get involved. This past year our Agency raised over $13,000 for the Ottawa Food Bank. If I had to pin point one achievement that I’m most proud of it would be that one.

What do you like best about the meetings industry?

I enjoy the people aspect of this industry, dealing with the suppliers and getting out and researching interesting and unique venues. It’s great when everything comes together and how no two events are ever the same. Through MPI Ottawa I have had a chance to meet so many great people and have made great connections. There is still so much I can learn and I can hopefully start working towards my CMP. This is definitely an industry I hope to be in for a very long time whether I stay in government or return to the private sector.

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