20110831-ABIZcover-0101Already a sell-out, LAGCOE 2011 will be Sally Ware’s last.

When the 2011 Louisiana Gulf Coast Oil Exposition comes to a close on Thursday, Oct. 27, it will be a bittersweet moment for Sally Ware, who will retire as executive director after working almost 32 years to build LAGCOE into one of the largest petroleum industry conferences in the country. Ware officially leaves her post at the end of the year.

Set to get under way Oct. 25 at the Cajundome and its adjacent convention center, the biennial show is a business opportunity like no other, drawing some 15,000 attendees and featuring exhibits by more than 400 companies from throughout the country and more than two dozen oil producing nations across the globe. The first show was held in 1955, and Ware joined the team that puts it together 25 years later, initially serving as executive secretary and assuming the top post of executive director in 1994.

Each year Ware and her staff of three, along with more than 250 volunteers, work to pull off the exposition, which the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission estimates to have an immediate economic impact of $10.5 million over the 10-day period — the time frame that includes set up, three show days and tear down. That estimate obviously does not account for the much bigger impact of future business generated by the contacts made during the show.

In 1995, with guidance from several past LAGCOE chairmen, Ware spearheaded the show’s relocation from Blackham Coliseum to the Cajundome. “The thing that stands out most for me was the 1995 show,” she says, because the new venue transformed the size and prestige of the show. Eight years later it took another giant leap forward with the opening of the Cajundome Convention Center. “Now we occupy both buildings. That added to the magnitude,” Ware says. In late 2010, LAGCOE invested in a new event management system, is also now automating all of its functions — including exhibitor, volunteer and sponsor lists — and will roll out a new registration system at this year’s show.

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 LAGCOE'S Sally Ware

The 2010 drilling moratorium put in place after the BP disaster created a bit of uncertainty for the show, but Ware says there has been no negative impact. In fact, by the second week of August, LAGCOE’s 28th show was already sold out. “I don’t think we ever doubted we would have a show,” she says. “And we’re feeling very optimistic about the industry going forward.” Ware says most of the industry officials she has talked with believe 2011 will end on a positive note and anticipate a much more vibrant year in 2012.

In 1985 Ware was honored by the Lafayette Business and Professional Women’s Club as one of Lafayette’s Outstanding Women in Business. In 2010, she was inducted into the Acadiana Business Hall of Fame and received the Richard E. Baudouin Award. This year she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission for her role with LAGCOE, which LCVC maintains has helped create more than $175 million in direct spending for the city of Lafayette and introduced the region to tens of thousands of visitors over the years.

A native of Duncan, Okla., Ware’s family moved to Lafayette when she was 8 months old. Because her dad worked in the oilfield service industry, she also lived in Sweetwater and Kilgore, Texas. She graduated from Lafayette High School and attended the University of Oklahoma and UL Lafayette, later earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas. After moving back to Lafayette in the late ’60s, she spent three years working for The Superior Oil Company and another 10 years with Lyons Petroleum, a small independent operator. She joined LAGCOE in 1980 and hasn’t budged — until now.

Ware will remain on for two months after the curtain comes down in late October to assist with the wrap-up. After that, she’ll be “enjoying life. I have plans to do a lot of things I’ve been wanting to do for a long time,” says Ware, who is just entering her 70s.

“I’m sure I will miss it. It’s been such a vital part of my life for so many years,” she continues. “But I am confident that I’ll adjust.”
As LAGCOE’s 28th industry showcase approaches, ABiz salutes Ware — and her success in turning it into the country’s premier oil show — by naming her the sole recipient of the 2011 Trailblazer Award. On the pages that follow we also honor the 10 local women who have followed in the footsteps of the Sally Wares of Lafayette by becoming leaders in their own respective fields.
— Leslie Turk

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