Navigant International last week merged its two associated business units that manage corporate meetings, with the goal of creating a single entity that handles all meeting functions, from full consolidation programs to incentive strategies and special events.
Wholly owned Navigant subsidiary Cornerstone Enterprises Inc., which managed incentive travel and special events, merged with the agency's meetings management and group air provider Navigant Meeting Services division to create Navigant Performance Group. The new group will operate as a wholly owned subsidiary of the parent company and will offer all services previously provided by both companies.
Cornerstone president Jonathan Danforth will serve as president of the new entity and report to Navigant International president and COO Thom Nulty.
Since Cornerstone and NMS operated as two separate companies, the move will offer the combined NPG better purchasing power, but the impetus for the merger was the confusion the structure caused for customers who needed services from both, said NPG vice president of marketing Laura Yates.
"We realized we were doing a disservice to our customers," Yates said. "Now there is a single source for all meeting needs, and we offer a broader base of options for customers who need à la carte or full service."
Navigant International's meetings operations have been less centralized than most other mega agencies, since the acquisition of Cornerstone in September 1999 changed the company's meetings strategy, christened by the creation of NMS in early 1999 (Meetings Today, Feb. 22, 1999).
NMS initially was created with the goal of pooling the talents and technological capabilities of 11 acquired agencies to share and fully service corporate customers. However, when Cornerstone—a longstanding company with a relatively well-known brand name—was acquired, the company chose to integrate incentive and special event management under the Cornerstone name, leaving NMS to handle smaller meetings and group air. The result was that customers had to use one company for one type of service and the other for another, a situation Navigant executives decided to eliminate earlier this year, Yates said.
"We will provide full consultative services," Yates said. "That includes meetings consolidation and full incentive travel management, including helping executives frame their programs." She said the company does have some meetings consolidation clients.
The integration began this summer, Yates said, as the two companies refined best practices and organizational charts. NPG has no official headquarters, she stressed, but Danforth and two other top NPG executives are based in Marlboro, Mass. The parent company is based in Denver, and Yates said the NPG leadership has a great deal of autonomy. On Navigant's organizational chart, Cornerstone was considered on par with Navigant's seven regional agencies.
"The executive management team at corporate Navigant understands that our core competencies are different than theirs," Yates said. "Our executives have had many years of experience in this industry." The relationship between NPG and Navigant's corporate travel management groups will not be particularly integrated. The two have separate salesforces, but account managers from one will refer clients to counterparts of the other when needed.
This year, Yates said, Navigant's meetings business has slowed. However, other services have helped buttress the bottom line.
"Our meeting business has waned, but incentive business has remained quite strong, as companies see the need to motivate to increase sales," Yates said. "It depends on the industry. The manufacturing industry's meetings dropped, but the biotech industry has launched new products throughout the year. We have a broad base of clients, so we move ahead."