Passion and commitment to hospitality drives Jefferson Lab conference manager, Anita Seay
Anita Seay credits a fortuitous college job with laying the foundation for a career in hospitality and event management that eventually led her to a full-time role as events services conference manager at Jefferson Lab.
When Seay was a college student in the late 1980’s, she worked as a hotel night desk auditor. She had discovered that by working overnight, she was able to close the hotel’s daily finances, welcome nighttime guest arrivals and then spend the rest of her shift studying.
“I fell into the hospitality industry when I was in college,” Seay says. “As a college student, being a night desk auditor let me work and study. Since then, I’ve worked every area of the industry—from housekeeping to management.
From hotel and hospitality to events and conference management
After graduating, Seay broadened her career in the hotel industry with management roles in limited service motels such as Travelodge and Super 8 Motels and realized her greater interest was in Group Sales and Service. She then worked her way into a sales manager role for Hilton Hotels & Resorts and Hyatt Hotels before moving into the role of senior conference manager for Colonial Williamsburg Hotels and Resorts.
“The hotel industry is not a 40-hour-a-week job,” she laughs. “It’s more like a 70-to-80 hour-a-week job. I had a son and a baby when I worked for Colonial Williamsburg Hotels and Resorts, so while I adore Colonial Williamsburg and their mission, my passion for being a mom overran the hotel business but not the industry. I left to start my own business so I could have more time with my family.”
Seay struck out on her own in 1997 and ran her event services business for 22 years until she joined the lab full time this past August. As a sole proprietor, Seay partnered with international site selection and meeting procurement company, HelmsBriscoe. Through the partnership, Seay held the roles of regional director and senior director of global accounts. In 1999, she enrolled in a six month study group to sit for the Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) designation. She proudly passed the infamously difficult test in 1999 and has recently recertified for the second time. Being a CMP in the hospitality industry demonstrates leadership and knowledge and is highly respected.
“I organized conferences across the U.S. and around the globe,” Seay explains. “I organized small meetings and large conferences, including the International Particle Accelerator Conference in Richmond in 2015 with the Jefferson Lab team that had around 1,200 attendees. I’ve done conferences as large as 3,000 attendees.”
Jefferson Lab had been Seay’s client for nearly 20 years before she joined the team full time to manage the lab’s breadth of events.
“It can take at least two years to plan a conference,” she said. “Planning a conference ultimately involves understanding your client and their attendees long before you even make your site selection. For example, for site selection—you want to choose a location based on who’s coming to the event, because some conferences would be good for a resort and others would be better in a city where attendees can explore a bit more.”
At the lab, in addition to managing large on-site and off-site conferences, Seay also manages smaller on-site meetings by making sure reserved rooms are prepared with audiovisual tools and anything else the attendees need.
“Meetings run all hours and receptions are generally later in the evenings,” she says. “I will be available whenever I’m needed—daytime, nights and weekends are all within the scope.”
Chances are good, though, that no matter what scenarios come her way at the lab, none will compare to a conference she managed in November 2008.
“I was at the HYATT Regency Chicago doing a conference with 1,800 people,” Seay recalls. “We had planned this conference for two years only to find out that Barack Obama was planning to be at the same hotel at the same time—for election night. Two weeks before the conference, we were asked to move the location, but we couldn’t. I had to reroute 1,800 guests through kitchens and back entrances, but we made it work. The group still remembers that conference as their favorite because it was the night Obama was elected President, and we were in the thick of it. We all felt part of history. The hotel felt like it was on fire—you couldn’t help but feel the excitement.”
As Seay embarks on her new role at the lab, she looks forward to bringing with her the same passion and hard work that has helped her excel.
“You have to love going to work every day and love what you do in order to do this job effectively,” she says.
When she's not coordinating events for the lab, Seay enjoys spending time with her family, which includes her husband along with children and grandchildren who live nearby and a French bulldog named Bourbon.
"My family is super important to me," she says. "I have grandbabies now and really enjoy Easter, Christmas and all of the holidays when they can visit. I'd have my family over all the time if I could. Most of my free time and energy goes into my family."
Additionally, Seay enjoys exploring Europe.
"My best friend lives in Nice," she says. "I go to visit her and then we go country to country. Of all the places that I've been, I love Paris. I like the walkability of it and the people watching. Plus, there's a great boutique hotel I like to stay at that's just a few blocks away from the Eiffel Tower. It's such a great place."