Leaders of the future at the UK’s biggest privately owned events organiser, Easyfairs, are being nurtured for the top – with some unexpected help from a former England footballer – as Emily Wallin found out.
Not every strategy meeting starts with a training session from an England footballer – but leaders of the future at the world’s biggest privately owned exhibitions company were treated to an inspirational lesson from former player and manager Kevin Keegan.
Keegan led a module for Easyfairs senior leadership training programme at the companies Twickenham offices.
While the connection between successful exhibitions and scoring goals might not be obvious, Keegan showed the team how the challenges of successful leadership were comparable.
Team of twelve
Twelve of Easyfairs’ brightest stars were picked for the course – training them to become the company’s senior leadership team of the future.
Keegan was full of praise for his pupils. “They were very attentive,” he said.
“You can only tell them how you did it, every leader’s different. The key from the day is you learn from everybody you meet. They will all have something to say that’s worth listening to.”
For CEO Matt Benyon investing in his people is a no brainer – not only are they supporting and nurturing their staff – but giving them the encouragement to retain them.
“We launched our Easyfairs Leadership Development Program as succession planning at the end of the day,” he said. “It’s learning to empower our heads of sales, heads of marketing, heads of operations, heads of technology. We put a program together, which is our senior leadership team of tomorrow. We want to train them and empower them now.
“We’ve obviously been on a really steep growth curve since we launched. We’re still a young company, 17-years-old, and we are now the largest privately owned company in the world, in exhibitions.
“I think every exhibition organiser will tell you that we lost people. And recruiting now is not easy.
“If you’re entirely selfish about it, it’s about preventing you from having to find new people, it keeps good talent within the company. We want to retain our team.
“So, we want to make sure that we’re giving the right opportunities to the right people. So we’ve got 12 of our senior managers on this six module program.
As part of the programme three top class leaders – including Keegan- will run training sessions with the group.
“Ben [Grover], our CFO is a crazy football fan and said it’d be fun to bring in a guy who’s been at the absolute top of his game. [Keegan] has won all sorts of accolades, played for England, managed three clubs. It is obviously a completely different industry, but we thought ‘let’s bring him in and understand what made him a great player and what made him a great leader and also to find out how he got the best out of his people’.”
Benyon said the biggest lesson they learnt from Covid-19 was about supporting their staff’s mental wellbeing. He says the 12 trainee leaders were chosen for a variety of strengths, including integrity, creativity and fun. But most importantly they all had empathy.
“We need our managers to be empathetic, so they understand the people in their team.”
Describing the programme, Easyfairs head of talent Richard Ainsworth said: “We knew we wanted to introduce an aspiring leaders’ course to accelerate the growth of people below the senior leadership team.
“When we opened it up 20% of the UK team applied. We originally intended to have 10 – but went with 12 because the quality was so high. It was important in the application process to get a real mix of function, expertise, skill sets, and represent sales, marketing, data, finance, operations and editorial. We thought that would really raise the group.
“It is developing leadership style, creating and leading world class teams – which is what we’ve been doing with Kevin Keegan. Looking at how different functions of the business contribute to success, strategic thinking and understanding the impact of financial decisions. It’s really interactive.
“We want to bring out the best in people. Whether they have been in the industry a long time or are brand new. We want to bring people in and nurture them. We are known for talent development and known for giving people opportunities. This programme will accelerate the personal development of individuals and ultimately will position them for senior opportunities in the future.”
Hat trick of future leaders
For the Easyfairs team the investment in their futures felt like recognition of their hard work.
Former EN 30 Under Thirty winner Amelie Degueldre started at Easyfairs as an intern eight-years ago.
She never returned home to her native Belgium, after being offered a full-time role and is now on a trajectory to the top.
Degueldre, and her colleagues, said being selected for the Leadership Development Programme made them feel “valued and empowered” by their employer.
She said: “All of us have progressed quite quickly, gone through the ranks quite quickly and they clearly saw potential in all of us from when we first started. That’s what Easyfairs does a lot of – recognising talent in people. Promoting from within and nurturing talent. We’re all now being prepped as the next SLT and that’s really exciting.”
“It feels like a real achievement. When I joined it was such a small team. I moved to the UK with no one and Lorda [Derry COO] and Matt [Benyon CEO] really looked after me and trained me. I made my way up. Now being part of the leadership program is an honour.”
Aleiya Lonsdale, head of marketing added: “It really feels like Easyfairs is investing in us. This is the most exciting experience.
“I would 100% recommend people to work at Easyfairs over any other exhibition company, and I’ve worked in other companies. The culture is so positive here.”
Head of marketing and intelligence Samuel O’Connell said adding the star experience to their training was a reward for their efforts – but also for paving the way to reach their individual goals.
“Easyfairs is a demanding company,” he said. “They want you to work hard and put your heart and soul into it, because that’s what we are, we’re a family. But that recognition, I sit there now in this program and think ‘wow’ I’ve put in the work and been recognised for that’ and supported to get to my goals of where I want to go