If you’ve ever been curious what it’s like inside a PPAI Board of Directors meeting, surrounded by titans in our industry and PPAI staff leaders, the conversations and healthy debates are riveting. The Board plays a critical role in shaping the future of the Association.

The surroundings themselves typically leave something to be desired, though. Most often we meet for eight straight hours in a room with no windows.

We wanted our January meeting in Las Vegas to be different. Seeing The PPAI Expo 2023 as a celebration of our re-energized industry, we scheduled the Board’s annual pre-event meeting to be held with an underwater view of the Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay.

To make the day even more memorable, I made private arrangements to go scuba diving among the aquarium’s marine life. I wanted it to be a surprise and only told our then-Board Chair Dawn Olds.

I entered the water with a large sea turtle greeting me. I swam for a while among the different species of predators, like sand tigers and white tip reef sharks – some pretty big ones – and watched the meeting room fill with early arrivals.

I saw the board members look into the tank with awe and could see it engage their creative side. I saw them greet one another warmly and eat breakfast together. And then, I saw fellow PPAI staffers looking around nervously and whispering to one another.

Later I would find out some had been calling and texting my phone repeatedly. They started to search for me, knocking on the door of my room, asking hotel staff for help finding me.

All the while, they never let the board members know anything was wrong.

Just as Dawn was preparing to slam her gavel to open the meeting (and begin the official search for a new president and CEO, some teammates must have assumed), I floated up to the window with a sign welcoming everyone to The PPAI Expo. Even then, most of the staff and the Board thought we hired a diver to hold the sign; it wasn’t until Dawn told them that everyone realized I was the diver.

We took a great photo together, and I got the incredible memory of diving with those beautiful animals. But for all the wonder and inspiration of being surrounded by sharks, I also came away inspired by my team.

My team looked out for me and kept calm trying to minimize the fact I had not arrived. They demonstrated what a strong, close-knit unit we’ve become. We can accomplish so much more when we get to work with people we trust. 

As I look at all the news about economic challenges and concerns, it’s clear to me that swimming with sharks is a great metaphor for thriving in challenging times. We should be prepared for danger but never forget to look at the beauty all around. Rather than only threats, search for opportunities. Calculate risks and move forward.

Most importantly, always surround yourself with good people.