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Tribute to a hidden hero

by EN

Simon Foster pays tribute to former UBM colleague and industry leader Penny Harvey, who passed away 7 February:

We talk all the time about the events industry being a people business. We say it’s the skills and the passion of the people working the event who make it come alive. This is as true of the people you see on the show floor as those behind the scenes – our less visible and often unsung team members. One of our industry’s hidden heroes, Penny Harvey, passed away from complications of Covid-19, 7 February.

Penny never built an exhibition. She never booked an exhibitor or planned a conference session. What Penny did was give us the skills, the belief, and the passion to ensure we were able to deliver our best. I, like many, knew Penny best as an executive coach and a leadership team developer, though she was also a management lecturer – and travelling singer, as I came to find out after karaoke one night. She taught many of us, around the world, how to develop our skills, our businesses, and most of all, ourselves.

When I first met her, Penny was a coach on UBM’s business leadership programme, and I was fortunate to work with her on and off for 16 years. She was a business management expert, there was no doubt about that, as she guided us through the course work that would significantly shape our careers, but there was so much more. She taught us how to develop as authentic and responsible leaders and people. Her true passion lay in helping individuals to fully access their potential, and there are dozens of senior leaders in the events industry today who have her to thank for their successes.

Penny was endlessly curious, by people’s stories, by a new way of thinking, or simply by the next challenge or problem to solve. Penny was always present in what she was doing, or who she was talking to, and that focus had a deep impact on us. One of the most enduring lessons I learned from her was to engage with people first, and to think about the planning and the numbers later. A strong team could do anything, she would have counselled.

In the week since she’s passed, I have spoken to many people who Penny influenced. Over and over, one of the main themes that comes out is that Penny often called us her ‘children’ – and yes, we may have gotten shouted at a time or two for disorderly conduct during an away-day – but predominately she said that because she genuinely cared about us all. She wanted what was best for us and to see us grow and develop. I have been in awe at the number of people who have told me they still were in regular contact with Penny, even though she hadn’t been their coach in a number of years. Even from the hospital, her generous spirit and considerate nature never waned, as she continued to send messages of love and inspiration to people across the globe.

She will be sadly missed, by her cherished husband, Joe, and all her loved ones, and also by so many of us for whom she had a lasting impact. She gave generously of herself, and we are in her debt. Her contribution to us as individuals, and to our industry at large, cannot be underestimated and never forgotten. Her legacy and influence will live on in so many of us.  I am grateful to have known her and am heartened to know that so much of her guidance lives on in our industry.

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