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sHeroes: How Karen Chupka, the EVP of CES, Is Helping To Push The Boundaries of Innovation in Technology Across The World

First, you have to pace yourself, which means that you have to understand how to set an example. You can’t tell your team to go home and to not worry about work if you’re going home and worrying about work. Sometimes it’s as simple as showing your team that it’s ok to take time to […]

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First, you have to pace yourself, which means that you have to understand how to set an example. You can’t tell your team to go home and to not worry about work if you’re going home and worrying about work. Sometimes it’s as simple as showing your team that it’s ok to take time to be with family so they can come to work refreshed the next day. You also have to be willing to stand up and protect your staff. They need to know that if someone, whether it’s a vendor, customer or someone that you’re working with just that day, isn’t treating them the right way, you’re going to make sure they’re protected. Your staff needs to know that you’re not going to let them be treated unfairly. That is an important role leaders need to play.


As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Karen Chupka, EVP of CES, Consumer Technology Association. Karen Chupka is Executive Vice President, CES for the Consumer Technology Association (CTA)™ the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,200 consumer technology companies and which owns and produces CES® — The Global Stage for Innovation. She oversees the sales, marketing, production and management of CTA’s events and conferences including its annual tradeshows, CES® and CES Asia™. At CES 2018 in Las Vegas, more than 4,400 exhibitors filled more than 2.75 million net square feet of exhibit space and showcased the latest products and services to more than 182,000 attendees from more than 150 countries. Under her leadership, CES has been named as the largest annual North American tradeshow by Tradeshow Executive magazine and Tradeshow Week since 2001. Chupka has been with CTA for more than 28 years and has held numerous roles within the organization including Vice President of Business Development, Director of Industry Relations and Education, and Director of marketing for CES.


Thank you so much for doing this with us Karen! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

When I joined CES, now known as the world’s gathering for technology professionals, my first job was doing registration for the event. This was in the 1980s, and there were only about 70,000 attendees that came out to CES each year at that time. It has obviously grown quite a bit since then, but it was a great opportunity for me to show that I could handle a lot of responsibility by managing an event of that size early in my career.

At the time, it wasn’t necessarily my goal to grow the conference or show, but I had a passion for technology that ultimately led me there, and I got my foot in the door by having the relevant skills for the open position. That’s how it all started.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

As a leader, there are times when you are out in front of a group, but need to monitor something that’s going on behind the scenes at the same time. One example of this happened at CES 2018, where we had a power outage due to heavy rain. At the time of the outage, I was about to go on stage to introduce one of our keynote speakers at one of our show venues. Just as I was getting ready to go on stage, I got the notice that the power was down in the Las Vegas Convention Center.

I needed to process a lot in this moment. Especially because at first we didn’t know why the power was down. I couldn’t get the power back on, but I needed to be ready to implement whatever we needed to do next. At the same time, I had to speak in front of a group of about 1,000 people who didn’t know that any of this was going on.

I think that was probably one of the most interesting things that has happened to me as a leader because it shows how varied the role can be. One minute you can be doing a very public speaking engagement, but you’re also responsible for dealing with a potential emergency. And you need to know how to balance those two things. And remain calm while doing so.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

We had a mayor from another country coming to visit us at our office in Washington D.C. We were friendly with this person and he also had a relationship with our president and CEO, Gary Shapiro.

We were trying to plan activities around his visit, which included hosting his team at our office and taking them to a restaurant down the road for lunch. This person happened to be the mayor of a town where a local beer had recently been produced, and we wanted to have this beer served at the lunch. We went back and forth a lot of times with the restaurant on this because we wanted to make sure the mayor felt comfortable and appreciated. Finally, the restaurant said they would serve the beer, but because of rules of their alcohol license, that would be the only alcohol they could serve during the lunch.

We thought it was perfect because everyone on the mayor’s team lived in the same town, so we thought they would appreciate the thought that went into this planning. Well, on the day of the luncheon, the mayor ordered a glass of wine, and we had to tell him that beer would be the only alcoholic beverage served. He told us then that he could not drink beer due to a health condition. The mayor graciously sipped some beer, so as not to offend us.

What I learned from this is that it’s important to not lose sight of your goals because of the little details. Planning things out to that level of detail can often lead to disappointment, so it’s important to keep everything in perspective.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

CES has always pushed the boundaries of innovation, but one moment I remember in particular was in the late 1990s. My role at that time was to plan our keynotes. By chance, we secured both Bill Gates and Scott McNealy to keynote at CES. They were such rock stars in the industry, so having them keynote was going to be impactful. The desktop computer had not been out for a while and CES was known as being a show primarily for TV companies. When those two gentlemen took that stage, it suddenly became real that computers were going to be a big part of the future of the consumer technology industry. That’s one of the moments where things really shifted for us. We were positioning the show to be the demonstration of where technology was headed and a predictor of the next big thing. That enabled us to grow, and ultimately make CES what it is today. Our company stands out because we have a global stage.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

There are a couple areas that we’re looking into that I think are really exciting for both the future of CES as well as humanity in general. One is the overall development of smart cities, and how connecting cities, products and people can help improve the quality of lives. Technology will enable us to take better care of our families and loved ones.

A second element of that is the future of health technology. Technology is being used to help solve health conditions, monitor patients and even help them increase their mobility. You couple that with what AI can potentially do for health, and it will dramatically change how diseases are treated going forward. We’re also bringing leaders together to focus on resiliency — using technology to build redundant systems to enable quick recovery in a disaster. Rebuilding communities after a life-altering event will be even more important in the future. All of this will transform how people live in the future.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

There are a couple of things. First, you have to pace yourself, which means that you have to understand how to set an example. You can’t tell your team to go home and to not worry about work if you’re going home and worrying about work. Sometimes it’s as simple as showing your team that it’s ok to take time to be with family so they can come to work refreshed the next day. You also have to be willing to stand up and protect your staff. They need to know that if someone, whether it’s a vendor, customer or someone that you’re working with just that day, isn’t treating them the right way, you’re going to make sure they’re protected. Your staff needs to know that you’re not going to let them be treated unfairly. That is an important role leaders need to play.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

This goes back to the story that I was talking about with the mayor and the beer. You can’t sweat the small stuff. Your team members might have different ways of going about things. Sometimes, you might not agree with their approach. But, if the results are there, you shouldn’t question them. It helps them find their own path, which is very important, but it also empowers them to try things, make some mistakes, in some instances, and learn from them.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I was lucky to have many people that were there for me at different times when I needed it. Some of them were coworkers or bosses who were very direct and gave me feedback that helped me improve. In a lot of instances, I think the female leaders that I had were actually stronger at doing this and helped me grow.

I’m also very lucky because I get to be at the table with a lot of entrepreneurs and CEOs and work with them to develop new ideas or projects that will help shape the future. Most of that is hands on, and I would have never been able to get that access if certain individuals didn’t invite me into the room in the first place.

One story in particular that comes to mind is related to a group of customers. I was working with other CEOs who invited them to sit down and talk about a certain challenge we were going through with them and how we could improve. The industry these companies were a part of needed to figure out how to get to a point where it could grow. I was probably the only female in the room. I knew that this group was going to give a lot of negative feedback.

One of the CEOs took me aside and said that we were going to start the day by having everybody share all of their concerns. We would write them down so they understood that we heard them. And after that, we change the conversation and ask them to help us build a better future. It worked like magic and was one of the most amazing things I’ve watched. This was because we started the day on a very negative note, enabled some catharsis by letting people feel heard and then ended in a very positive place. I learned that you have to take each moment as an opportunity — sometimes the outcome might surprise you.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

CES is a platform for companies to make a global statement. As the head of CES, I get to see and hear about new and emerging technologies in their early stages and we get to give them a global platform. Look at our emerging categories at CES, for instance healthcare and resilience. We can bring the global leaders together in these two areas, and, as a result, new partnerships and new ideas will be created. This is one of the really unique positions that I have. We get to take a story and put it on a global stage where people from all over the world can learn about it and take it to the next level.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. Be realistic.

This was a hard one for me when I was younger. When running tradeshows, things obviously need to be completed by a specific date. When I was younger, if somebody brought me an idea six weeks out, and I thought that it was something we needed to do, I would have done everything possible to get it to come to life. These are the types of things that burn you out, burn your staff out, and ultimately, you’re not able to do a great job at them because you didn’t put enough time into thinking them through. It’s better to wait for the right time than rush and burn your team out in the process.

2. Know when to say, “No.”

This is sometimes a hard thing because ultimately you’re trying to make everyone happy. But, if an idea isn’t going to work or if you know you’re not going to be able to accomplish something in time, you have to be able to say no.

3. Trust your gut.

There are so many times when I look back and I’ve realized that I saw signs that things weren’t working, but I tried to push through anyway. Instead, I should’ve trusted my gut and taken a different approach that might have yielded a different result. This is really important, especially as a leader, because having the confidence to say, “I don’t need to explore this more. This isn’t working,” and having the self-assurance to walk away can be really hard. But, you have to be able to do it.

4. Treat people with respect.

At the end of the day, everybody really is trying to do their best. You need to treat your employees with the most respect that you can. Sometimes, that can even be helping them understand that maybe the position they’re in isn’t the right position for them. When that’s the case, they will always be able to walk out with their dignity, and in most instances, go on and find something that they will be really good at. They’ll also remember that experience with you in a positive way.

5. Always lift people up when they’re down.

Especially in this day and age, it’s really important that you recognize when something is happening to somebody on a personal level. As a leader, it is important to reach out to them and be there for them. When you’re the one going through something, you really would love to hear from somebody that just says, “I recognize what’s going on here and I’m here for you.” I think that’s something that we don’t do often enough for each other.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

We have something coming down the line that I’m excited to share, but it will be at a later date.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Don’t sweat the small stuff. When you’re in the middle of trying to manage a bunch of things that are happening, you need to understand how to prioritize. It’s really easy to get distracted and lose sight of what’s important.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I have two answers to this. The first would be Queen Elizabeth because of everything that she has seen throughout her life. I would also love to hear more about what her role was when she first took the throne because everything has changed so much over those years. The second person would be Anna Wintour. This is a woman who has kept a publication thriving at the top of an industry. She has had to change and reinvent the publication while the mediums themselves have changed and reinvented, and she somehow seems to always stay ahead of it. I think she’d be a really fascinating person to talk to.

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