President & Executive Staff

Meet the President

DAWN R. ULLRICH
President and CEO

Dawn R. Ullrich has been president and chief executive officer of Houston First Corporation since the local government corporation was established on July 1, 2011.

As Houston First's top executive, Ullrich directs daily policy and management for the Hilton Americas-Houston hotel, George R. Brown Convention Center, Wortham Theater Center, Jones Hall, Jones Plaza, Theater District Parking, Miller Outdoor Theatre and Houston First Outdoors. The corporation also administers contracts with the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, Houston Arts Alliance, Bayou Place and Hobby Center.

Previously, she was appointed director of the City of Houston Convention & Entertainment Facilities Department on February 13, 2002. The department's deputy director for 11 years prior to her appointment, she was also president of the Houston Convention Center Hotel Corporation for a number of years.

A native of Barron, Wis., she is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and the University of Houston Law Center. She is married with three children.

Meet the Executive Vice President

MIKE WATERMAN
Executive Vice President

Mike Waterman, a hospitality veteran with more than 26 years in the industry, became executive vice president of Houston First Corp. and president of the GHCVB in May 2015. 

Waterman joined HFC from Marriott International, where he served as vice president of sales for the Southwest region overseeing 100 properties, including a grouping of Marriott hotels in Los Angeles' convention district known as L.A. Live. 

Waterman has held a series of executive positions with Marriott International over the last 14 years and has been promoted five times during that period. Prior to that, he held director positions with Marriott affiliated properties from Chicago to Baltimore since 1993.

Executive Staff

MARIO ARIZA
Chief Operating Officer - Theaters

Mario Ariza supervises the management teams at Wortham Center, Jones Hall, Miller Outdoor Theatre, Talento Bilingue de Houston, Ray C. Fish Plaza, Jones Plaza and Sesquicentennial Park. He oversees the department's off-street parking operations and also works with Talento Bilingue de Houston, Wortham Center Operating Company, and Foundation for Jones Hall.

He began working for the city of Houston in 1991 as a maintenance supervisor at Wortham Center. A native of Colombia, he earned a degree in business administration from Centro Superior.

BRENDA BAZAN
Chief Financial Officer

As Houston First's CFO, Brenda Bazan is responsible for corporate finance, accounting, debt, financial reporting, human resources and procurement.

She previously served as deputy director of the Convention & Entertainment Facilities, overseeing accounting, budget, human resources, internal audit and procurement since 1999. She has also worked on citywide endeavors such as property insurance, energy procurement and management, and debt-related issues since 1999. She began her career with the city in 1993.

She received a degree in accounting from Western Kentucky University and is a Certified Public Accountant.

PAUL CASSO
Vice President of Event Services

Paul Casso joined Houston First Corporation in October 2014 as Vice President of Event Services.

With a wide-ranging background in the hospitality industry, Casso’s career has afforded him a variety of roles. Before joining Houston First he was food and beverage manager, catering manager, convention services manager and sales manager for Starwood Hotels and Resorts. Prior to that he was sales manager for the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, manager of worldwide event operations for BMC Software and senior account director for 2020 Exhibits. Casso holds a degree in business management from Texas State University and is a member of Meeting Planners International and the Event Services Professionals Association.

RICK FERGUSON
Senior Vice President, Executive Director Houston Film Commission

Rick Ferguson has worked for the Houston Film Commission since 1988, serving as its executive director for many years.

Under his leadership, direct film production expenditures in the Houston/Galveston area exceeded $100 million over the past six years. This figure equates to an economic impact of more than $300 million. With some 320 film commissions throughout the world working to bring filmmakers to their areas, the rivalry for production dollars is becoming increasingly more competitive.

He is a member of numerous civic and professional industry organizations.

JORGE FRANZ
Senior Vice President of Tourism

Jorge Franz is vice president of tourism and international group sales for the Greater Houston and Convention and Visitors Bureau.

He oversees the international promotion of Houston through sales, marketing and public relations efforts. He has also represented Houston personally in more than 22 countries.

He was born in Santiago, Chile, and has also lived in Venezuela and Spain. He has a bachelors degree in mass communications from the University of Houston.

JULIANNE K. GORTE
Senior Advisor, Tourism Development

Julie Gorte joined Houston First in 2011 to assist with the transition of the organization from a city department to a local government corporation. 

Before joining HFC, she worked for 26 years for Exxon and ExxonMobil Corporation in several capacities, including CFO of ExxonMobil Pipeline Company. She was also CFO of Longhorn Partners Pipeline.

She earned her B.A. from Georgetown University and MBA from the University of Chicago.

MARY ANN GRANT
Chief Information Officer

Mary Ann Grant oversees all aspects of Houston First’s information technology services.

Previously, she spent 28 years with the city of Houston, including various management positions in IT and served as a deputy city controller in the Controller’s Office. Before her tenure with the city, she worked for Texaco and Phillips Petroleum.

She received an accounting degree from Southern University, earned a masters in public administration from Texas Southern University and also attended Harvard University, John F. Kennedy Senior Executive Program in Government.

LISA HARGROVE
General Counsel

Lisa Hargrove has been Houston First’s chief lawyer since 2012. She joined the city’s Convention & Entertainment Facilities Department in 2007 and helped lay the groundwork to establish Houston First.

She began her career at Houston Lighting & Power Co., joining the city’s Legal Department in 1992. She played a key role in high-profile projects such as the Hobby Center, the Downtown Aquarium site and the Hilton Americas-Houston hotel.

She is a graduate of the University of Texas and earned a law degree from South Texas School of Law.

ROBERT JACKSON
Senior Vice President of Public Affairs

Rob Jackson develops political and community-related strategies for Houston First. He serves as the corporation's primary liaison with federal, state and local elected officials and governmental agencies. He is also responsible for helping to implement the corporation’s annual legislative agenda.

Previously, he served as chief of staff for Houston City Council Member C.O. Bradford. He retired as a lieutenant from the Houston Police Department after 25 years of service.

He is a U.S. Army veteran and earned a law degree from the University of Houston Law Center.

PETER MCSTRAVICK
Chief Development Officer

Peter McStravick manages the development and implementation of entrepreneurial and business development opportunities (new and existing) for the corporation.

Previously, he was Houston First's point person in implementing corporation strategy at the Hilton Americas-Houston.

He was responsible for all aspects of the Houston Convention Center Hotel Corporation's operations, from 2001 to 2011, and was deputy director of the Convention & Entertainment Facilities Department, deputy city controller for public finance, and an assistant director in the city's Finance and Administration Department.

He received a degree in finance from the University of Houston.

JUDITH T. QUESONOVA
Vice President of Client Services

Judi Quesonova serves as Vice President of Client Services for Houston First Corporation. Her team provides the tools and service components for conventions and meetings in Houston and she is the liaison for meeting professionals and the member partners of the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau. She joined the GHCVB in 1989 and has held various positions in sales and services.

Quesonova earned a degree in business education from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.

HOLLY CLAPHAM-ROSENOW
Chief Marketing Officer

As Chief Marketing Officer, Holly Clapham-Rosenow leads the strategic direction for marketing and advertising for Houston as well as the Houston First Corporation.

Since assuming the role in 2003, Holly has led the brand position for Houston as a Culinary and Cultural Capital. Under her leadership the marketing team has received more than 60 awards.

Prior to joining Houston First, Holly worked as marketing director for CBS Radio, Houston for five years. She has also worked as the promotions director for the Houston Museum of Natural Science and was the client services director for two Houston advertising agencies.

Ms. Clapham-Rosenow graduated with a degree in Radio, Television, Film from the Dan Rather School of Communications at Sam Houston State University. She is a member of the American Marketing Association and sits on the Theater District Association board and the Discovery Green Advisory Committee. She served on the 2004 Super Bowl Marketing Committee, the 2016 NCAA Men’s Final Four Executive Team and 2017 Super Bowl Marketing Committee.  Holly was inducted into the Houston Business Journal's "40 Under 40" class of 2013.

JOHN ROLFE
Chief Administrative Officer

Joining the Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau in March 2012 as COO, John Rolfe oversaw the daily operations of the GHCVB, including leadership of departments and programs to develop alternative revenue sources.

He currently serves as a Board of Director for the Texas Travel Industry Association and Destination Marketing Association International. Previously, he was the CEO and president of Go Wichita Convention & Visitors Bureau, in Wichita, Kansas.

He holds a B.A. in business administration from Wichita State University.

JOHN SOLIS
Senior Vice President of Sales

John Solis joined the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau as vice president of sales in 2010, after spending a year and a half consulting on sales strategy.

He retired from the San Antonio CVB as assistant executive director in 2008. During his tenure, he was involved in coordinating bids for citywide conventions and major events. His responsibilities included managing strategies related to marketing, public relations and the convention and tourism group sales and services efforts.

He earned a BBA in finance from St. Mary's University.

Roksan Okan-Vick, FAIA
Senior Vice President, Regional Product Development

Roksan works with various public and private entities in the Houston region to further enhance its quality place for both Houstonians and visitors. This entails leading creative efforts to improve the physical appeal of the region, defining and creating iconic places, and beautifying our freeway system.

Her previous experience includes 11 years as executive director of Houston Parks Board, 2 years as director of the Houston Parks & Recreation Department, and 6 years as the executive director of the Hermann Park Conservancy. Prior to that, she managed numerous architectural projects throughout the US.

A native of Turkey, she owns a master’s degree in architecture from Rice University and a bachelor’s in architecture and urban planning from Istanbul Technical University. She is also a life-time member of the American Institute of Architects, College of Fellows.  

LUTHER VILLAGOMEZ
Chief Operating Officer - Convention Center

Luther Villagomez has been associated with the city's convention center since it opened in 1987. He has directed day-to-day operations at the George R. Brown since 1990 and was promoted to COO when Houston First was formed in 2011.

He has been involved in many major events at the GRB, from its construction in the mid-1980s to the completion of a $165 million expansion project that virtually doubled its size in 2003. He oversaw operations of the GRB which served as a shelter in 2005 for many displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

PAMELA WALKO
Senior Executive Assistant

Pamela Walko directs a number of administrative duties in the office of the corporation’s president and chief executive officer. She also serves as the liaison with the board of directors.