The Energetic Women Leaders of Huntington Place See a New Day Dawning

May 11, 2022

Currently, Huntington Place in Detroit is the only convention center in the U.S. where women serve in the three top executive roles including Chair of the Detroit Regional Convention Facility Authority (DRCFA, the five-person governing body of the center) and the two top leadership positions for venue operations, General Manager and Assistant General Manager.  The convention center is the 16th largest in the country.


“Diversity and inclusion make for a better world and hence better business. Our voices at the table bring a different perspective,” said Karen Totaro, general manager of Huntington Place/ASM Global. “I recently read an article talking about why women entrepreneurs are more successful in some respects than men. It showed how female-owned firms generate higher revenues, create more jobs, and showcase women as more effective leaders with a larger appetite for growth. We have been society's secret superpower all along. No more secrets, we are right here." 


Women now hold three of the five DRCFA posts with Canada as Chairperson for the first time since it was created in 2009 by the Michigan Legislature. The Governor of Michigan along with City of Detroit, and Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. Each appoint a person to the five-member board. 


“It’s exciting and refreshing to see more women in a position of power,” said Lisa Canada, DRCFA Board Chair and Political and Legislative Director for the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights. “Women bring a wealth of leadership skills that represent more than 50% of the population. Understanding the perspective of our all our clients and customers is a win for everyone.”


All three of these energetic women agree that to create more gender parity in facility leadership, executives need to promote women with a diverse background and train facility leaders on what a diverse workforce brings to the culture and how it cultivates success.


According to Becky Bixby, assistant general manager of Huntington Place/ASM Global, “Women create team environments that are inclusive and diverse.  It’s within these types of environments that the best ideas organically transpire because they are encouraged and cultivated.”


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The Huntington Place executive team is expecting a strong fall as they are already seeing a robust spring. Some returning shows are already reaching pre-COVID numbers. National, regional, and corporate business is growing strong, as international travel remains sluggish.


Automate, on the event schedule in June 2022 in the center will fill the entire venue. Previously this show was in Chicago, and Detroit now has a multi-year deal with Huntington Place.


In Aug. the venue hosts CONNECT, which is attended by over 4,000 meeting planners who make decisions as to where to host their future events.


The return of a redesigned North American International Auto Show (aka Detroit Auto Show) in Sept., Detroit’s homegrown hero of an event, could see half-a-million attendees over 12 days.


Huntington Place leadership will connect upcoming conventions with local thought leaders in Michigan’s major industries to potentially serve as speakers, connecting events closer to Detroit’s offerings.


“Huntington Place is coming out of COVID faster than many convention centers across the country due our strategic mix of business and we see a strong return of business,” said Totaro. “Fall is looking good as we are already seeing a robust spring and as we continue to reach pre-covid numbers for some shows.”


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