March is mad for business forum coordinator

By Kara Blomquist

To Julie LaStrape, March Madness is not a college basketball tournament. It’s a time of year that is so insanely busy, it can drive you mad.

LaStrape is one of the main organizers of the annual Global Business Forum, which brings speakers from areas such as academics, business and public policy to explore issues facing the world economy.

March is one of her busiest times of year because of her involvement with the forum, said LaStrape, office manager and program coordinator for the McBride Center for International Business.

LaStrape helps with all of the details of the weeklong event, from getting flowers onto tables to picking up speakers from the airport, she said.

She also works on publicizing the forum, getting the speakers parking passes and making sure the rooms are set up correctly. She has been working on the forums since they began in 2007. Hotel rooms, menus and microphones are just a few things LaStrape has overseen.

Every year something goes wrong, she said. This year a keynote speaker couldn’t come. The potential speaker is a member of the Kenyan government, where there was some confusion with the last election, which took place March 4.

The electronic voting machines failed, and the votes had to be hand-counted. The results were extremely close, and the potential speaker couldn’t leave until one party clearly received more than 50 percent of the vote.

“So every year there’s something,” she said. “The philosophy is we do as much as we can to make sure that everything that we can control is perfect, or as perfect as it can be, and deal with what comes.”

Dr. Joseph McKinney, associate director of the McBride Center for International Business and professor of international economics, said he believes LaStrape has done a great job with the forums.

“She takes a tremendous burden off of Dr. Gardner and me,” he said. “Most people don’t realize how much work goes into organizing a conference.”

Dr. Steve Gardner is the director of the McBride Center, chairman of the economics department, and one of the organizers of the event.

LaStrape said she enjoys working on the global business forums.

“When it’s over, I kind of have that sigh, you know, ‘It worked again,’” she said. “But I miss it because we bring in such wonderful speakers that it’s kind of like it’s a sigh of relief, but it’s also like, ‘Oh, they’re gone.’”

LaStrape has helped plan other conferences, including a free trade conference and an ethics conference.

But she is not a one-trick pony. Her responsibilities extend far beyond conference planning.

LaStrape is the only administrator for the Baylor in Great Britain Program, for which her duties include answering students’ questions and handling all of the necessary paperwork, she said.

“I love sending students abroad,” LaStrape said. “I didn’t go abroad when I was a Baylor student, and so that’s kind of why I felt this job was perfect, because that’s one of the regrets I have, that I didn’t go abroad.”

LaStrape also makes sure the McBride center runs smoothly. The McBride center coordinates and supports the international activities of the Hankamer School of Business.

“I do everything,” she said. “If they ask me to do it and I have time to do it, I do it.”

She is the only administrative assistant the McBride center has ever had. She became the office manager in 1999.

The McBride center is made up of three employees, McKinney, Gardner and LaStrape, who have worked together since LaStrape joined the staff.

Gardner and LaStrape had an instant connection because both studied Russia, LaStrape said.

LaStrape majored in Russian while at Baylor, and Gardner focused on Slavic studies and economics at the University of Texas at Austin and has lived in Moscow, Gardner said.

“We don’t hang out and speak Russian a lot around here, but that sort of appreciation for foreign languages and cultures is a very important part of working in this area,” he said.

LaStrape’s interest in Russian actually helped her get the job in the McBride center, Gardner said.

She can still remember her interview for the position, LaStrape said. It was two or three hours long.

“It was August, and I was wearing a wool suit,” she said. “Surprisingly, I still got the job.”

She has helped edit textbooks and makes copies for classes Gardner and McKinney teach, LaStrape said.

Despite all of the responsibility, LaStrape said she loves her job.

“I don’t know if I would love the business school at other places, but where I am, with the faculty that I work with and the staff that are around me, they’re just amazing,” she said.