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2024 BizBash 40 Under 40: Sasha Smith

Sasha Smith, 37, is chief operating officer of Plannernet.

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Sasha Smith, 38, is chief operating officer of Plannernet. She's based in Raleigh-Durham, N.C. A quote from her nomination: "Sasha's impact extends well beyond Plannernet's financial performance. She has been instrumental in shaping and optimizing our operations, streamlining processes, and fostering a culture of efficiency and innovation."

My career journey: "My career journey feels like a fortunate mix of luck and timing, mixed with some grit. While a student at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I worked in hospitality and supported a few events at local hotels. As college ended, I planned to take a gap year before returning back to school to pursue a career in law. In the gap year, I landed an entry-level role at Professional Meeting Planners Network, now Plannernet.

My timing was a bit perfect because over the course of the next 15 years, the company would grow quickly, providing countless opportunities for me to grow along with it. Along my journey, I had the opportunity to lead a variety of departments, from Customer Success to Strategic Account Management to Supplier Relations to overall business operations. Each position offered unique insights, frequent learnings, and occasional challenges, building the foundation for my current role as COO. And each opportunity was guided by incredible leaders and mentors—all of whom truly shared remarkable guidance and wisdom along the way. Safe to say that I am thrilled with where I am today."

What inspires me: "One of the most profound sources of inspiration for me at Plannernet is the incredible potential and value of the freelance economy, especially in our industry. The way it aligns freelancers with companies is not just beneficial, it’s transformative. By integrating small-business freelancers into our operations, we bring depth and balance to overworked planning teams, offering strategic scalability, flexibility, and diversification to organizations.

This model also advances a variety of social goals—from boosting local economies and fostering community connections to supporting diversity initiatives and reducing environmental impacts through less travel.

And on a more personal note, the stories of how our model tangibly impacts lives are incredibly inspiring to me. Whether it’s helping a freelancer fund their child’s college education, providing a familiar face at local patient programs, or saving the day when event setups are jeopardized by travel delays, these moments remind me of the real, human side of our work."

My leadership style: "My leadership style is rooted in recognizing and harnessing the incredible talent and motivation of our team. I often work to build diverse and versatile teams, where individual members are aligned with roles that play to their strengths. From there, I focus on establishing a clear vision and expectations around critical goals, but I also value giving my team of 40-plus the freedom to determine the 'how' of achieving these objectives. I appreciate their creativity, ownership, and innovation."

Impressive stats I'm responsible for: "Throughout my leadership, Plannernet has achieved a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 50%. And in my time leading operations, we have provided more than 300,000 opportunities to small businesses."

My most memorable event: "Undoubtedly a patient program organized by a life sciences customer. I attended this event earlier in my career and it stands out not just for its impeccable planning and execution but also for its profound impact. Being able to directly see and understand the unique experiences and needs of patients and realize the significant value the program brought to their lives was incredibly enlightening. It served as a powerful reminder of the positive influence our industry can have."

The advice I would give my younger self: "Stay hungry, driven, and endlessly curious. Embrace every opportunity that comes your way, even if it feels a bit out of your depth.

And, most importantly, consider your impact. How you show up each and every day has a direct impact on everyone around you."

My ideal day OOO: "Simply spending time outdoors with my family and friends in Yosemite or on the coast of North Carolina. It's my favorite way to recharge and get reinspired!"

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