The ‘go-to’ for meeting planning
David Hinnant’s meeting planning expertise helps makes Huntington Ingalls Industries’ events a success, company leaders say.
As corporate meeting planner for Newport News-based Huntington Ingalls Industries, the largest shipbuilding company in the U.S., David Hinnant is focused on the details that will make an event a success, such as guests’ dietary restrictions if food is being served.
“All those little things really go a long way when you’re planning a meeting,” says Hinnant, who began his career more than half a century ago with Newport News Shipbuilding and today works for its parent company, Huntington Ingalls Industries. During his tenure, Hinnant has planned hundreds of events, ranging from corporate board meetings to ship christenings, and welcomed notable guests on behalf of the company, including presidents of the United States and members of Congress.
In recognition of his expertise, Hinnant has been named the first ever Virginia Business Meeting Planner of the Year, a partnership between Virginia Business and the Virginia Society of Association Executives, which serves the commonwealth’s association management industry. Hinnant will be honored at VSAE’s 2016 Educational Symposium & Expo Oct. 6 at the Greater Richmond Convention Center in Richmond.
“There are many things for me to worry about in my current role,” HII President and CEO Mike Petters said when nominating Hinnant for the award. “Given Dave’s capability, our ability to host guests and create the right level of hospitality and professionalism for an excellent meeting environment is not one of them.”
Scott Stabler, HII’s vice president of internal audit, notes that part of what makes Hinnant an effective meeting planner is his insight when planning events. “One such occasion was the Christening of the Aircraft Carrier USS RONALD REAGAN (CNV 76) on March 4th 2001,” he says. “Mrs. (Nancy) Reagan came to Newport News (to christen the ship.) The former president (was unable to attend as he was) dealing with the progressive effects of his Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Dave had a jeweler create a special charm (and bracelet) for Mrs. Reagan, which both commemorated the former First Lady’s participation in the Christening and celebrated the calendar date of March 4th – the Reagan’s wedding anniversary. Mrs. Reagan was quite moved by this gesture.”
The Meeting Planner of the Year award comes at a monumental time for Hinnant, who is retiring Oct. 31. He started working at Newport News Shipbuilding in 1962 after graduating high school. He held several roles before becoming a meeting planner for the company, including pipefitter, marketing representative and a variety of jobs in the production control department.
“In production control my responsibilities were planning and scheduling and sequencing the building of the ships,” he says. “I think that really helped me with the event planning responsibilities — to look ahead and think ahead as to what was going to be needed.”
But Hinnant is quick to credit the entire team tasked with ensuring HII’s events run smoothly, which ranges from two other meeting planning professionals to the company’s security team.
“We try to do a lot of forward thinking and forward planning,” he says in order to have everything covered in case something goes wrong.
That includes being on a first-name basis with senior leaders where events are being held. “He is not reticent to use these connections when necessary,” Stabler says. “He also has an uncanny knack to sense when something is not right and to quietly remedy the situation before anyone is aware that something was awry.”
Hinnant never expected to become a meeting planner.
“I am truly blessed to have been a part of such a great company,” he says. “When I look at where I started and the transformations that have taken place with the company and in my life, in what to me seems such a short time, it’s amazing and nothing short of divine intervention.”