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2024 BizBash 40 Under 40: Emily Yao

Emily Yao, 37, is manager of event services at CTC Destination Management.

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Emily Yao, 37, is manager of event services at CTC Destination Management. She's based in Chicago. A quote from her nomination: "Ask anyone in the Chicago corporate event industry, and they'll tell you Emily Yao is a force. She has worked in all areas of the hospitality world and knows her stuff. She is fiercely dedicated to being an advocate for her clients, collaborating with them to create and design multiservice programs that are unforgettable, logistically sound, and creative."

My career journey: "I've had an interesting career path to get to hospitality. I actually studied radio, film, and television when I went to DePaul University and ended up working at Radio Disney Chicago for a few years, but working in their events and on-air departments. I fell deeply in love with the logistics of the events we hosted and was trying to figure out how I could get more involved with events in the Chicagoland area.

Ironically, a former colleague of mine at Radio Disney was working in off-premise catering and recruited me to be on her team! So, I started my true hospitality career working weddings, corporate events, and drop-off catering at Berghoff Catering. From there, I moved into venue management at Chicago Union Station, then did a foray back into catering at Paramount Events. Then, I moved into the DMC space with 360 Destination Group Chicago before I landed at CTC Destination Management.

Along the way, I have been highly involved with our local MPI chapter, which has introduced me to all facets of the industry and fellow hospitality friends who have reached out for opportunities based on my work in the MPI/volunteer arena."

Yao moved into the DMC space with 360 Destination Group Chicago before she landed at CTC Destination Management.Yao moved into the DMC space with 360 Destination Group Chicago before she landed at CTC Destination Management.Photo: Edward Fox Photography

My greatest career accomplishment: "This was at a catering company I worked for, where there was one local account I was determined to cater their large gala. After four years of researching the event, winning over the client by exceeding expectations, and asking the right questions, I finally was awarded the business. I did a very happy dance once that contract was signed!"

My most memorable event: "When ART on THE MART in Chicago was announced, the planning company that was organizing the opening event had reached out to me to see if I could put together a proposal for the food, beverage, and staff components. We were operating a full-scale, 1,000-person event in a location that had never hosted events, had minimal back-of-house space, was uncovered, and had one sink with running water.

We also had to balance the elements of the public, media coverage, and local politician needs. There were a lot of odds stacked up against us, but we saw a successful event where the first-ever video-mapping was being projected onto the Merchandise Mart, and we catered passed appetizers and full bar needs for a large number of people. I walked away from that event with happy tears because that event was so special, unique, challenging, and will never happen again!"

Yao on what's next for her: 'I am hoping to run up the ranks at CTC Destination Management and gain more responsibilities for helping train the team, attend larger conventions, work with high-value clients, and help make decisions for business development.'Yao on what's next for her: "I am hoping to run up the ranks at CTC Destination Management and gain more responsibilities for helping train the team, attend larger conventions, work with high-value clients, and help make decisions for business development."Photo: Gold Grid Studios

A time I averted a complete event disaster: "I feel like all events have a little drama that happens behind the scenes, but the one that always pops into my head when asked this question: I was working one wedding, where the cake was the pride and joy of this wedding. It was made by someone related to the family and apparently the thing everyone was looking forward to the most.

Once the cake-cutting ceremony was over, I was helping the catering team roll a seven-tiered cake off the dance floor, and someone forgot to lock the table's leg in place. The cake table completely collapsed as we were starting to move it, and it fell right into my arms! I just hulked it out of the room with a smile on my face, trying not to drop it as that cake had to have been at least 100 pounds, plus the weight of the table and linen. Needless to say, the cake was ultimately saved, but my arms were sore for days!"

What's next: "I have been in the hospitality industry for over a decade but have been in my current role for about a year. I am hoping to run up the ranks at CTC Destination Management and gain more responsibilities for helping train the team, attend larger conventions, work with high-value clients, and help make decisions for business development. On a personal level, I just got married! So I am excited for our new adventures together, whatever they entail!"


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