I got to know Valerie from the time when I lived in London. She is always out and about and you can’t miss her big smile and contagious energy. Since 2013 she is the Managing Director at C – Wise, a UK based event agency and DMC and the driving force behind its global growth. Under her management, C – Wise has expanded into European, American, Asian and CIS markets, and that’s just the beginning as they have more plans to grow and diversify their products and services. It was a great pleasure hosting Valerie as a speaker at a recent Event Planners Talk session at the International Confex this year, and I was very impressed with her deep industry knowledge and understanding, as well as the ability to prioritise and identify business opportunities for her company. I was also impressed to know that she participated in the latest cohort of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses programme, a highly competitive and selective programme that supports entrepreneurs and small business owners with education and business support services. This programme is carefully designed to help entrepreneurs create jobs and drive economic growth within their communities. Here I’m delighted to share with you more about her journey and business advice.
Let’s start from the beginning. Can you tell us about your career journey?
I found myself in the events industry by a chance – just like best things happen in life. I was a 4th year university student, and I was looking for a part time job to get some office experience and earn some pocket money. I remember exactly how my very first interview went and I will be forever grateful to my first company and my first managers for introducing me to the professional world of business travel, events and incentives. It was definitely something I loved and very soon after starting as an assistant I was running client events all over the world. I was also a full time student for another two years until I got my master degree, and juggling studies and work at that time was a proper adventure.
As I moved to London eight years ago, I joined a small travel agency where I was tasked to start and develop MICE department. That was when I discovered my sales, research and team management skills and I wanted to develop them further.
It has now been over 5 years since I joined C-WISE as a managing partner, and it has been a real rollercoaster. We grew from one person business to a team of 10 and we are proud of our modest portfolio of corporate clients from all over the world. We built our B2B agency network by launching DMC division and we also strengthened our Global division by securing some strong corporate accounts. We have ambitious plans for the future and I hope my personal career journey will continuously stay out of the comfort zone.
What’s your typical day looks like?
One thing that I can highlight in my day is that I get up rather early, at around 6 am, and I absolutely love the first couple of hours of my day.
Otherwise, I would love to show off and describe my typical exceptionally organised day, but I am afraid that wouldn’t be me. Routine often bores me, so I need to approach this somewhat differently. I am currently working towards living through my ‘dream day’ which I have described in my personal little secret book. My ‘dream day’ includes exercise, breakfast in the garden, busy time in the office and dedicating a couple of hours to the extras like blogging, planning and dreaming. Ask me how I am getting on with my dream in a few months 🙂
What destination is currently most popular among your clients?
With our DMC division booming, Scotland is currently very popular for creative events and incentives. We surprise ourselves every time we submit a new idea to the client, as there are so many amazing things you can do in Scotland!
You’ve completed the Goldman Sachs 10,000 small businesses programme. Can you tell us more about how did you come about applying for it?
A friend of mine completed the Goldman Sachs programme and highly recommended it to me, as I was at the stage of growing business and facing many challenges. I also liked the idea of dedicating some time to take a helicopter view, update my business plan and enjoy the educational support from some of the UK leading business schools and universities. The application process went well, I passed the interview and got invited to become a part of the amazing programme.
Based on your experience and of other participants in this programme, what are the challenges small business are facing?
My favourite thing about the Goldman Sachs 10K programme was that I spent 3 months with 70 business owners from completely different industries: pharma, construction, F&B, IT, luxury goods, agriculture, retail etc., and each of us had exactly same problems. The top challenges that I would highlight are Human Resources, cash flow and business processes.
What were your three takeaways from this programme?
1. I met some great people who are now a big part of my life, both business-wise and friendship-wise.
2. I now know for sure that growing business is hard, and the programme gave me some tools and confidence that help me handle the growth.
3. I came out of the programme with a clear vision, structured business plan, reviewed accounts and thicker skin 🙂
You are very busy, and I see on social media that you are very active in the local and international event scene. How do you choose what industry events to attend? How do you set priorities?
Industry social life is my irreplaceable battery charger. I am very strict with my priorities though. My personal limit for the fam trips is 2 per year. I choose fam trips very carefully, taking into consideration innovative programme, hosting company, dates and destination. I also limit myself to one international workshop per year as a hosted buyer, and I usually choose the smaller events: ConfecRed, DBF All About People and similar. As for the large exhibitions, we take them as investment opportunities and have a stand at both IBTM and IMEX, so you can see about five people from C-WISE each year exploring the exhibition floor, running meetings, performing group presentations and dancing our feet off in the evenings 🙂
What trends are you seeing in corporate events?
Innovation is a must and it does not necessarily mean technology. If we manage to offer something new every time, even if the client is returning to the same venue, I would call it success.
I am also very pleased to see how much the industry is currently evolving around the ‘natural’ theme: meeting in the park, social responsibility teambuilding, marquee dinners in the middle of the field, corporate celebration in the farm, black board instead of screen and projector etc. Of course there is still an immense demand for flashy, modern and high tech, but trends are definitely changing.
What advice would you give to event professionals who have experience but want to take their career to the next level?
I have seen people want to jump to the next level without fully understanding what the next level really is. I have heard people complain that they don’t learn or grow at work. My one and only advice is commitment. Once you commit fully to your job, you will learn with every new enquiry, you will grow with your clients, you will jump from level to level without particularly intending to do so. Choose the company that grows, evolves, creates, makes mistakes, finds solutions and has a high word of mouth rate. If your values match, get focused, get committed and grab every single opportunity to learn and grow. That will become the next level of some great career journey.
Work life balance or integration?
I gave up on trying to find a balance a while back, it simply does not work for me this way, so it is 100% integration. I find it equally relaxing to spend Saturday afternoon cycling in the park, going to the cinema or scheduling newsletters in 5 different languages. Some may say it is sad, but to me this is happiness.
What’s your favourite business book?
Leadership: Plain and Simple by Steve Radcliffe.
If you could change one thing in the events industry, what would that be?
Majority of our day to day problems come from suppliers’ mistakes, indifference, short tempers, unprofessionalism. This leads to loads of unplanned work and time waste. If I could change that, I would be very happy!
How do you define business growth?
Business growth to me is succeeding in building life-long relationships with customers and suppliers. Some real magic stands behind this: customer service excellence, strong values, dedication and passion!