Melissa Harway is a manager of Event Logistics at ACAMS. She joined ACAMS in 2019 when she accepted a position to work on events held in the Americas. Since joining the ACAMS staff, Harway’s role has expanded to include project managing assigned conferences, which gives her the opportunity to work with marketing, sales and the product team to ensure that all requests and deadlines are met. Her role also requires being able to see where decisions intersect and offer advice on how a particular action will affect the different parts of the event. Before becoming a member of the ACAMS staff, Harway began working with ACAMS in 2009 through Hudson Event Group, a third-party planning company that contracted with ACAMS to head its meeting planning logistics. During that time, she contracted and planned conferences in Hollywood, Florida, Mexico, Panama, Uruguay, London, Amsterdam and throughout the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region. Harway was born and raised in Manhattan but moved to North Carolina six years ago. She studied commercial art in high school, where she was an honorary member of the theater club as a stage manager. She continued her stage manager role for both local drama and opera companies in New York City throughout the 1990s while working as an office manager for an artist, learning marketing and set-ups for gallery shows.
ACAMS Today (AT): What was it about ACAMS that drew you to work for the organization?
Melissa Harway (MH): While working on ACAMS events through Hudson Event Group, I became aware of and impressed by the work ACAMS does in the anti-financial crime/anti-money laundering (AFC/AML) field, and how it affects so many different industries and promotes humanitarian and environmental causes (human/animal trafficking). I was very proud to be asked to join the ACAMS team.
AT: You began working with ACAMS through an events contractor in 2009 and 10 years later became an official member of the ACAMS events team. What changes did you see in the events-arranging space over those years? How was the area growing and changing?
MH: When I began working with ACAMS in 2009, we were coming off a recession caused by banking failures. The first thing we needed to do was reset the expectations based on this new reality. After that, I was able to see the growth and expansion of ACAMS into the European and APAC sectors with the opening of local offices and the development of staff to manage their regional events.
AT: How did the events management business change after the COVID-19 pandemic?
MH: The biggest change brought by the COVID-19 pandemic was the switch from live to virtual conferencing. The technology to make this happen was not available in previous contraction cycles. It was a steep learning curve to accommodate the change in modality. Although virtual conferences may endure, they do not allow for the rapport that develops between attendees at live events, which continues to drive the return to in-person meetings and events.
AT: What does a typical workday look like for you?
MH: The best thing about being a logistics manager/meeting planner is that there is no typical workday. Planning an event takes place in stages. In the beginning, I am deep in venue research and selection, then the contract negotiation phase followed by detailed meeting space allocation, food and beverage selection, and determining audio-visual requirements. By the end, I am in the accounting world reconciling an invoice for hosting over 2,500 attendees. I spend quite a bit of time communicating between the various ACAMS departments to make sure everyone has what they need to create a great attendee experience. By knowing the entirety of an event, I can see where multiple points intersect and how decisions may impact the various parties contributing to different parts of the conference.
AT: How has your experience in theater helped you prepare for a career in events management?
MH: My theater experience is invaluable to my career as a meeting planner. In theater, “The show must go on,” and the same is true with events. If something unforeseen happens, a meeting planner needs to be able to pivot immediately and develop plans B, C and so forth on the fly without giving the audience (attendees) any indication that something has changed or has not gone according to plan.
AT: Which ACAMS conference is your favorite to attend?
MH: I don’t have an answer to this one. Any time I get to gather with my colleagues and see the fruition of our work is special.
AT: What do you like to do in your spare time?
MH: Other than chauffeuring my twins to their activities, I like to spend my time at home gardening and crafting (e.g., quilting, cross-stitching, crocheting). However, I am always up to traveling and seeing new places.
Interviewed by ACAMS Today editorial, ACAMS, firstname.lastname@example.org