Introducing….. Mike Anderson
Written by Tracey Duke
With over 25 years experience of organising some of the biggest trade shows in the South West, Mike Anderson knows a thing or two about pulling off a spectacular event.
From his roots as an industry apprentice, Mike now holds the position of Managing Director of Hale Events; the name behind some of the most prestigious trade shows, including The Source; the South West’s biggest trade show for the food & drink sector.
We caught up with the man at the helm, just two weeks ahead of industry’s premier event, to talk influencers, embracing change and trends for the year ahead.
Mike, it’s great to be here with you this morning, just a week or so ahead of your next big trade show here in Exeter. As usual, we’ll jump straight in and start with a little background about you, your early years and the path that led you to where you are now.
I grew up in Shropshire and initially started studying Hotel Catering and Institutional Management, in Manchester. Soon after signing up for the course I realised that it wasn’t an industry I really wanted to work in. I enjoy socialising and time with my friends too much and the hotel industry, while fantastic, doesn’t offer too many social nights out.
With that not having worked out, I looked for an alternative and I actually ended up selling Timeshare. I spent two years really grounding my sales experience on commission only basis; a year and a half in Manchester and then for six months in Tenerife.
That came to a natural end, so a friend of mine suggested I come and work on a trade show with them at Alexandra Palace. It was an incredible, on the ground experience, developing knowledge from every area of exhibition planning; security, cleaning, stewarding, hall management, contractors, and exhibitors. This all happened before exhibition degrees or qualifications even existed; it was very much an on the ground apprenticeship. It’s the understanding of all those elements that make the difference.
I completely agree. It’s amazing the number of people, working at the higher end of their businesses, who did start from the ground up as apprentices; it’s invaluable experience and ensures you know your business inside out.
It also enables you to empathise with the people you are working with; all the various members of the team who are essential in bringing together a great event.
As a director of Hale Events, you have some high profile events under your belt now; you’re working with some big names. That’s impressive, but it takes energy and drive, to keep going and keep growing.
I think it’s an interesting dichotomy, to be honest. On the one hand we’re on an endless cycle; as soon as we finished the event last week in Exeter, for example, we were already re-booking the stands for next year and we’d written up all our notes to improve the event for 2019; we’re always thinking in the future and remembering that we’re only ever as good as our last few days. It’s essential that you retain a fresh approach every year and keep improving. Other people certainly are. Other people continue to innovate, and add different elements to their events, to stand out from the crowd. So, while it’s repetitive, no two events are the same. You have to embrace change and I think that’s one of the biggest things; you have to enjoy change and never allow things to stagnate.
And how about influencers Mike? You’ve come a long way from those early days at Alexandra Palace; what are the main nuggets of wisdom that you’ve learned?
I’ve been incredibly lucky with mentors and influencers. The company that myself and my business partner; Mike, now own, was set up in 1991 by John and Jane Friswell. They had both been involved in the exhibition industry for decades, both from the perspective of contracting and operational direction. Both of them gave me very different, almost polar views of how to manage a business. John was more reactive in how he approached things; he would be very calm and laid back, putting things right when they needed to be put right.
Jane would, by contrast, pre-empt problems; she didn’t like things happening unless she was completely aware of what was going to happen, so she would address them before they occurred. I was fortunate that I had that balance between the two. I was able to look at both approaches and find a middle ground. Certainly pre-empting is valuable, but so too is allowing things to run and then adjusting them as they go.
Yes and I think that there’s something very powerful in understanding that you don’t have to wait to have all the answers. Ben Jordan from the Bear Trail recently suggested that an 80% perfect plan today, is better than a 100% perfect plan tomorrow because the circumstances will change and you will never have the perfect conditions or all the answers. It’s more important to be creative, decisive and, as you say, adjust as you go.
Being creative is key and in fact, that reminds me of the understanding that 80% of your really good, creative, ideas come in the first 20% of your thinking time. You could continue thinking about it a lot longer, but the good ideas wouldn’t improve by that amount.
I think you’re very right. A lot of people will say to me that they get their best ideas when they’re away from their office environment & getting some headspace; running or exercising in particular. It tends to be the time when they’re most creative. Do you find it to be the same? Is that when you get your best ideas?
I think that, sometimes, when you’re immersed in the hubbub of your working day, it can be difficult to be as creative as you’d like to be. Mindfulness is a term that comes to mind; I hadn’t heard of it until recently, but when you allow your mind to clear, the subconscious kicks in and connects ideas you would never have imagined before.
Meditation and mindfulness is something I personally practice every day; I find it invaluable. Taking that time out, just 20 minutes a day, can increase my productivity tenfold. The most important thing is just to find the time to relax.
For me, that’s in the kitchen; I love to cook. In fact, myself and some friends rear a few of our own pigs up here on the Mendips in Somerset. We make our own bacon and some of the guys get a bit more adventurous trying parma ham and some other cool stuff. It doesn’t all turn out 100% but it’s always enjoyable.
I’m guessing there’s an influence from work in there, with some of your biggest trade shows focused on food and drink and the suppliers here in the West Country.
Absolutely! It’s a great industry and part of the world to be working in; it’s a beautiful, vibrant part of the country.
In fact, we made a decision, some years ago, to keep the focus on the West Country. We love living and working here and value being able to get out and meet people. So rather than take existing products to other parts of the UK, we prefer to build relationships here. It’s also about being in a beautiful part of the country.
One of the areas of thought, that regularly crops up during my interviews, is that relationships really are the best investment you can make.
Definitely! Some of our most powerful and valuable relationships are the ones that have developed over time. We’re finding, increasingly, that collaboration and finding mutual benefits is the way forward. We can’t be expert in everything; we’re very good at organising trade shows and we’re very good at building relationships with organisations. A lot of the organisations, with whom we work, are experts in what they do, so it makes sense to collaborate and work with them.
One of our strongest relationships, in terms of collaboration, is with the regional food group Taste of the West who we’ve been working with for ten years. They bring a passion for food and a link to the food markets that we, as an organiser of shows, couldn’t possibly hope to do. What we bring to the table, is a vibrant, fantastically run, trade show; the balance between the two works incredibly well.
So Mike, what big events are you excited about in 2018?
I have to say that the most recent show; The Source, is the one I was most excited about. We started it ten years ago with just 30 companies but it’s developed, organically, into a trade show with 250 exhibitors. It’s fun, vibrant and packed with small producers and artisan products. It hasn’t had to be forced; we’ve just allowed it to develop and increase in size naturally. As always, it was a fun, non stop two days!
It’s been a fantastic platform to showcase the best of what the West Country has to offer in terms of food and drink; we have so many wonderful producers.
So let’s pick up on trends for 2018; what do you see happening?
Some of the trends that we’re seeing emerge, include the banning of single-use plastics within the hospitality sector; straws and cups.
We’re also seeing a trend towards Flexitarians; those millennials who are choosing to change their diet as they go along and be more experimental to see what works for them.
There’s also a move towards less waste and a slower approach to food; which I think is fantastic. Taking time to enjoy food and spending time together eating can never be a bad thing.
I think that’s even more relevant now given that we’re all so immersed in an online digital world. Whilst that’s wonderful, exciting, innovative and everything else, we should never lose sight of the fact that great conversation and food lies at the heart of our culture.
We, as a business, have to market and promote ourselves through all of the digital channels; but one of the things that we believe in, very strongly, is that face to face interaction. The online world is fantastic; it addresses a percentage of people’s needs, in terms of buying, but food and drink by its very nature, needs to be tasted and smelt. You need to meet the producers, feel their passion and actually look someone in the eyes when you’re speaking with them. I think that as digital interaction increases, so too will face to face interaction. It will become stronger and more focused if anything, because people will need that to balance the digital world.
Mike, thank you so much for your time today. It’s been an absolute pleasure speaking with you. I and all the team at Grow Exeter wish you a fantastically successful event this month and continued growth during 2018.