To David Beam, president and CEO of Insulate America, New Orleans is so much more than Mardi Gras. So for his company’s stockholders meeting last May, he wanted to show the attendees—300 construction industry business owners—the authentic New Orleans.
“For some newcomers, there’s a preconceived notion of what New Orleans is going to be like, and for others who might have attended a convention there, they’ve probably only seen that part of the city. We wanted them to experience the everyday life of a real New Orleans resident.” Over three days that’s exactly what they did, from sampling down-home Cajun cooking by one of the city’s top chefs to donning shrimp boots for an authentic Cajun Fais Do Do on the Bayou.
Surprises have become a tradition at Insulate America’s annual meeting. Beam never discloses exactly where attendees are going—they’re simply told what time to meet and what kind of attire to wear. So on the first of the two major event nights (arrival night consisted of a private party near the host hotel, The Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans), people were simply told to meet at 6 p.m. in cocktail attire. “At this point, believe me, they had high expectations,” he jokes.
They were transported to an old warehouse in a former sugar mill that had been transformed into a Baroque-style setting, with wrought iron candles, elegant décor and dinner prepared by local James Beard Award–winning chef Donald Link.
But the highlight was an auction benefiting Insulate America’s scholarship fund. As usual, Beam had a surprise in store. “I told everyone: ‘We have a friend we’d like you to meet’ and they had no idea who is was.” That’s when New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees took the stage to auction off a signed jersey and football. “The place went nuts,” he says.
Dinner in the Swamp
The final night, an evening at a rustic swamp tour terminal outside the city, was on its way to becoming a disaster when Beam got an afternoon call from David Rome, CMP, DMCP, director of sales from BBC Destination Management, who planned the program. The ground at the site was saturated with water from a previous rain. “If someone arrives tonight in nice shoes, they’re not going to have a good experience,” he informed Beam.
Rome snapped into action and pulled together a team to scour the streets and purchase every pair of rain boots in New Orleans. By the time attendees arrived, 300 pairs of rubber boots in assorted sizes, colors and patterns had been set up with a “boot valet” to help people choose. The group enjoyed authentic Cajun food, moonshine tastings, a Zydeco band, and moonlit swamp tours.
“It was impossible that they found that many pairs in such a short time,” says Beam. “For the attendees, it was a lot of fun to wear the boots with their cocktail clothes. It looked like we had planned it all along.” At the end of the evening, they donated hundreds of pairs to local fishermen.
The final evening event illustrates the goal Beam has for his annual meeting. “We try to do things that are authentic to the area we are visiting,” he says. “We want to do business with local people and restaurants and to put something back into the community.”