Name: Milena Santoro
Present: President and CEO of MS Productions International
Past: I’ve always been an entrepreneur. I work for myself, and event production has been part of my skill set for 25 years.
Specialty: Industry educator, keynote speaker, author, facilitator and global trainer.
Tell us about yourself:
I am a proud mother of three, first and foremost. My kids are my greatest achievement. Family is important to me, coming as I do from a rich Italian culture. We spend our summers in Italy, so I can immerse myself in la dolce vita, or the sweet life. I enjoy travel and the arts, and I’m passionate about cooking.
Tell us about your work:
MS Productions is a full-service boutique organization that offers three different, but related, services: event and destination management, education and consulting. We`ve worked with corporations, international associations, non-profit organizations, and social and lifecycle clients. We offer our services in Canada and Italy.
How did you get to where you are today?
I love to tell the story that I was born in the kitchen. It’s not really true, but the kitchen has been such a big part of my life and my Italian background. Growing up in the family business, my experience has involved restaurants, catering and cafes. It’s always been about hospitality, entertaining and making people happy. My natural inclination is to plan; even when I was little I was the one to grab for the pen and paper and organize. It’s no surprise that 25 years later, after a lot of elbow grease, learned and shared lessons, industry mentors, amazing clients, the best suppliers and vendors, this is still what I do.
Why are you good at what you do?
I love what I do. I create my own opportunities. My work is not what I do, it’s who I am. It’s the being. Whether I’m planning events or consulting, speaking or teaching, this is who I am.
What are some of the challenges you face?
A 24-hour clock. I could use at least three more hours each day, especially when new, interesting opportunities come up. But when I commit to my clients, I commit full throttle, and I don`t want to shift my focus from them.
Is there anything you would change in our industry, given the chance?
My goal as an event professional, educator and mentor is to encourage organizations to invest in their people to obtain industry designations, certifications and a higher level of learning. Together, we can raise the standards of excellence in our industry and speak the same language. Regardless if you are novice, intermediate or a seasoned professional, a commitment to life-long learning is so important if you want longevity in any industry.
Walk us through a typical day at work.
There`s no such thing as a typical day. I could be nose-to-the-grindstone in critical paths, on a conference call, Skyping with a client across the world, I could be writing my next keynote, I could be preparing curriculum for my next class, picking up the kids from school, travelling for business, meeting a client, attending a board meeting or giving a presentation. And that’s just one week.
What have been some of your biggest achievements?
My three children – period. But on a professional level, running a sustainable, international business for 25 years is up there. I`ve earned the highest designations and certifications in this industry and I constantly work on improving myself. Teaching the next generation of our industry is my professional legacy, I believe unshared knowledge is wasted knowledge. My biggest achievements are that I get to choose what I do every day, and I work with great people.
What do you like best about the meetings industry, particularly in your region or city?
I love the industry because it`s so varied. Edmonton event planners have many options in terms of what it is they want to do or specialize in. The industry as a whole has become much more recognized, whether it’s as a career choice or as an in-demand service. Edmonton is known as the City of Festivals, which allows MS Productions to offer so much to clients, all year round. Edmonton also boasts a rich culture that includes great restaurants and a lively arts scene, as well as a commitment to sustainability.
Who are some of your notable clients?
They are all notable. I lavish the same care, passion and attention on each client, from the people next door to foreign royalty or from small non-profits to international corporations. I’ve dealt with them all, and they like my services enough that the referrals continue to come.
How do you deal with the challenges of work-life balance?
I work hard to play hard, so throughout my career and life, I’m mindful about quality of life. I used to take on hundreds of events a year, which meant I was never home. With three children, this had to change. Now it’s not about how many events I can do a year. It`s about the quality of the event and how I can balance it with the rest of my life. On the other hand, I love travel, good food, art and design, beautiful things…la dolce vita. My work allows me to feed these passions, so for me this contributes to both work and life in balanced way.
What are some of your most memorable events and why?
Here are a couple of examples: In 1998, I took a trade mission of 60 delegates from Canada to Italy. The night before we were supposed to fly from Rome to southern Italy, we got word that the airlines were going on strike. Talk about challenging—my schedule had just blown up. Luckily, I have long-standing connections and relationships in Italy, and within about four hours I had a convoy of buses and mini-vans at my disposal.
In terms of spectacular, I organized a $150,000 Vancouver wedding that included a six-tiered wedding cake with more than 3,000 fresh roses. That evening, after the wedding was over, I gave birth to my second child. All in a day’s work!