J. Grant Caplan – Procurigence, Inc.

J. Grant Caplan

President, Procurigence, Inc.

Houston, Texas

Describe your job.

I am responsible for coordinating our relationships with our internal team of experts as well as our supplier community. I help our venue finders and other experts build their sourcing and consulting practices to maximize their revenues.

What made you choose the meetings and events industry?

I grew up in business travel technology and sourcing. When Procurigence founder Steve Prats asked me to be president of his startup firm, I had to start learning about meetings and events from all angles so we could give expert and unbiased advice to our clients.

How did you get started and what got you from there to today?

I worked with a congressional committee with oversight on federal travel costs. My next job was at a travel agency, where I had a bank of agents working with me to serve corporate clients I brought in. From there, I had a series of travel software jobs, with the most significant being sales of the first-ever corporate self-booking tool. That taught me so much about the operations of travel and reservations technology. I used that knowledge as a consultant, and I have been giving advice to corporations since—sometimes even running their entire travel and meetings programs. Having to drink my own Kool-Aid helped me understand that procurement is an important foundational function of success for travelers and meeting organizers. Each satisfied client is a triumph when I find how happy we made them and how much effort we saved them.

How do you keep up with industry trends, changes, and cutting-edge developments?

I am a reader. I read the daily news updates on both the business travel side and the meetings and events side. I also attend educational workshops. Maybe the best learning I get, though, is from actually giving educational sessions myself; I learn from the attendees and from the personal discussions the sessions generate. People who think they know everything just prove they do not. We all can learn from each other.

What essential skills should every industry professional possess?

Our industry is a serious combination of human relationships and finance. It takes serious money to pay for the improvement of relationships, which is why meetings and events are so important. We need those relationships to sell goods and services, train our internal staff or clients, and even create research-and-development roadmaps. Our industry has to find ways to provide the conduit to that success within a budget.

What is the philosophy or approach to work that gets you through stressful times?

I always believe in success. Even if the challenge stops our activities entirely (sound familiar?), I maintain the belief that our services will help others. During the times when there were no meetings and almost no business travel, we turned to attending education sessions and then distributing our notes to our clients and others. We helped our clients gear up for the return. We even helped them re-examine their mission, vision, and values statements and realign their procurement so they could redo their programs and start fresh when travel and meetings started up again.

What is the best professional advice you ever received, and what advice do you have for others in the industry?

The best professional advice I ever received is to expect that we all do better together, and so we should work together for mutual success instead of in an adversarial game. I believe we all can profit if we work with more direct communication, letting others know what we need as a buyer or even as a supplier. Communicating clearly and honestly keeps our ethical level high and maintains our respect for one another so that we can continue to be one team.

Describe your biggest professional success.

I am most proud of having worked on a team for a European company that needed travel agency services for travelers residing in 54 different countries. My responsibility was the travel agency and booking technology. We made a manageable change that improved their entire travel ecosystem, both transient and for meetings and events. It meant cross-cultural communication; satisfying different missions, visions, and values; and giving travelers a bevy of new technology.

Share an anecdote about a meeting or event that did not go as planned and how you handled it.

I had to help with a negotiation in Beijing, China. The supplier had an experienced negotiator who had a background living in the city where my client had its U.S. headquarters. I was not sure how the supplier’s economics really worked, so it was a guessing game. When my client and I stepped aside to reset our objectives, I suggested we propose a 30 percent commission return but settle for 25 percent (in other countries, our standard was a 100 percent return, but I knew China was different). When we went back in the room, I got a wild idea: I told the supplier we wanted 50 percent. He agreed on the spot! After leaving, my client laughed and said he never expected they would agree but was impressed that I followed my gut and achieved more than he would have. I was so nervous and relieved.

What is the best part of your job?

I enjoy my clients and helping them succeed by relieving the stress of procurement. I like helping bridge the gap between the procurement department and the travel and meetings experts in a corporation or just helping an executive assistant provide a high-quality meeting that pleases the attendees.

What do you like to do in your free time?

Cooking, good wine, and entertaining are a big focus for me. It’s a way to share a part of oneself with others and show your affection for them by rewarding their presence in your life.

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