Karen Malone, the longest tenured HIMSS employee, will be retiring after a quarter of a century of service to the international health advocate. The Head of Event Strategies leaves behind a legacy of launching more than 25 successful HIMSS Global Conference and Exhibitions, which is no small feat.
“Karen was the mastermind and force behind our Global Conferences. She kept her fire and passion until her very last turn at bat,” said President & CEO Hal Wolf who invited her to the HIMSS23 keynote stage and gifted her a bouquet of flowers. “We extend a heart-felt thank you to Karen. We will miss her!”
As she prepared to leave HIMSS, she recalled a few indelible moments, including a peak of 44,500 conference attendees, and hosting international dignitaries and celebrities, by now too many to count.
One made-for dinner conversation was about a hotel chef who failed to cook enough food for the conference attendees, claiming, “This has never happened before!” Oh, but it happened a second time, and again, he said, “This has never happened before!” By then, the seasoned pro that she was, Karen was wise to this chef and had ordered 2,000 pizzas from pizza joints all over town for the hungry crowd.
Another time, a rainstorm had caused leaks in the conference hall and buckets were put out strategically to catch the drops. To Karen’s relief, the attendees were nonplussed. “It was funny to watch people just calmly navigating around the buckets to get to their next location.”
Karen bested a chef who couldn’t meet a headcount and dealt with unpredictable weather and porous buildings. She overcame, adjusted and went with the flow.
Organizing global conferences wasn’t in Karen’s original plans. The young, adventurous college graduate matured from job to job, until she matched her talent and strong suit with the one that stuck with her. At HIMSS, she came into her own.
With a degree in psychology and sociology, Karen had planned a career in social work. But her love of numbers and data led her to a job at a bank. After a few years, feeling restless, she sought a change of scenery and got a job with an association management company where she ran programming, logistics and content for several large-scale clients, including IBM and JD Edwards. She ran their trade shows and traveled throughout the United States. Around then, in 1997, HIMSS had shown interest in Karen several times, but it wasn’t until she met face-to-face with all 20 employees that she saw herself working for the then-small organization.
“I thought the company was on such a high growth and opportunity path,” Karen said, “and I really believed in healthcare and technology.”
She has been a HIMSS faithful since, as it continued to expand and become an international entity. Karen helped HIMSS make its mark in the world of healthcare technology, counting decades of first-class global conferences, drawing up to 44,5000 attendees in cities across the United States. Through Karen’s leadership, HIMSS has become the largest healthcare conference in the United States.
As the healthcare world continued to evolve over the years, for Karen, the global conference became a shape-shifting beast to conquer. “I’m a change junkie … I think that’s why I’ve been pretty successful in my role because I really enjoy change,” she said. “Every year we sit down and say, ‘what can we do better? What can we do different?’ We never want to rest on our laurels. We want to always look at how we can improve or do things differently or creatively and have more fun!”
As Karen makes her last run at the HIMSS 2023 Global Conference and Exhibition, she is excited for the future. Despite the challenges that may arise – from toilets that don’t flush to small fires in meeting rooms – Karen is confident her team will forge on and present the best of HIMSS. Elli Riley, vice president of events and exhibitions, will step up and lead the team after Karen’s retirement.
“Karen is an icon within the events industry, a powerhouse! Karen has had HIMSS growth at the core of everything she does at work.” Elli said. “I am lucky to have worked for Karen as long as I have; she has such a passion for the healthcare and events industry, her creative thinking is refreshing, and her drive for greatness is honorable. She is a force, and these are big shoes to fill.”
Karen’s longtime colleague, JoAnn Klinedinst echoes the sentiment shared by Trade Show News who in 2014 dubbed her, “Industry Icon of the year.”
“From a personal perspective, I found myself transitioning from health IT to HIMSS by leading conference education and more, and it was Karen who was so patient, kind and was always willing to share her expertise with me,” JoAnn said. “I am forever grateful to her for her mentorship and her contributions that have made the HIMSS Global Conference a ‘gold standard’ … I wish Karen my absolute best for wherever life takes her next!”
Karen will retire sometime this year. After 26 years, Karen said: “I'm ready for a break.”
It is a well-earned one.
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