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04 | Carina Bauer, IMEX: Sustainability, Mental Health and Coffee

  • July 3, 2019
  • 37:49

Carina Bauer (CEO at IMEX) shares a behind-the-scenes look at the world’s largest events industry trade show and her thoughts on sustainability, mental health, and finding a good cup of coffee in Las Vegas.

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Top Takeaways

1

TAKING A THEMATIC APPROACH: Each year, the IMEX team takes a focused approach to live events. Each of these themes has a wide-reaching reaching impact on content, design, activities, and overall event strategy. Past themes include “Legacy,” “Strategy,” and “Imagination.”

2

SUSTAINABLE TOGETHER: Carina and her team have made strides in making IMEX a more sustainable event. A big part of this success stems from how IMEX secures buy-in from different event stakeholders. But there are smaller steps that growing events can take. “One of the first things to do,” says Carina, “is to look for a venue that’s going to help you achieve your sustainability goals.”

3

MENTAL HEALTH STARTS WITH COMPANY CULTURE: The events industry has long had a reputation for being one of the most stressful to work in. For Carina, this goes hand in hand with the culture of IMEX. In addition to a 24/7 phone line where employees can call in to discuss what’s on their mind, IMEX aims to foster a diverse and fear-free environment. “I think the main thing is about the culture, and is there a safe culture that they know there's somebody in the team that they can go to that they'll be supported.”

ABOUT Carina Bauer

Carina’s been named one of the 25 Most Influential People in the Meetings Industry and one of the Top 25 Women in the Meetings Industry. She has held numerous positions in MPI, is a winner of ICCA’s 2018 Inspirational Women Awards, and is a member of the board of directors at the SITE Foundation.




Episode Transcript

BRANDON:
We're honored to have you on the show today. Thank you for being here.

CARINA:
Thank you very much. Delighted to be here with you.

BRANDON:
So we kind of chatted about this already, but we're taping this episode right now, in two weeks IMEX Frankfurt is going to be kicking off. How do you feel?

CARINA:
Yeah, I'm very excited. Always excited before each of the shows. Every show is different and exciting and we always, I think if you are in events, you at this stage of the game, you're keen to get on site and to see everybody in and get it done. So that's how we're feeling at the moment.

BRANDON:
Perfect. So I'd love to start off with just a little bit of the backstory because you have a very, very interesting one. So flashback to 1998, you graduate from the University of Oxford with the degree and politics, philosophy and economics, and then you go on to open a wildly successful coffee chain. how?

CARINA:
Yeah, well I need to give my father credit really for opening the coffee chain. It was a little bit of a dream that we had as a family. We came out to the US quite a lot because obviously we've been in this business for most of his career. So our holidays were spent around conferences and so we saw a Starbucks and thought, well why can't we do that in the UK? So we did it in the UK. he actually launched that coffee shop chain just as I was leaving the university just a couple of months after. Then I started with him about six months after that. So I need to give him credit for starting it and then I put a lot of hard graft into building it with him.

BRANDON:
Excellent. So I think it's really interesting that after you ended up selling this coffee company, you took some time off, and you went over to Italy.

CARINA:
I did, yeah. I had a really nice time. I did about five, six months off and did something I always wanted to do, which was a ski season in Italy, and looked after school kids who were coming out and skiing. And just had an absolute blast doing that. So highly recommend doing something like that for anybody who ever gets the chance.

BRANDON:
What were your feelings leading up to that, because it was a time where you're taking a six-month sabbatical away from the work that you are building up in the UK. How did you feel?

CARINA:
Well, excited because launching retail shops over such a quick period is really hard. I really put everything into that and hardly had any breaks really. So I was tired, and I was excited to go and do something totally different, fun and just consider what I wanted to do. What I knew that I didn't want to do is go back into retail and catering. So it was an amazing experience and I learned a huge amount from it. But one of the things I learned was that that wasn't really my passion. Even though I had thought going into it that it sounded amazing and building a brand, and coffee shops, what could be better.

But actually, I learned that that wasn't my passion. So near the end of that period, it was much more difficult, because I was trying to work out then what to do, and all I knew was that I didn't want to do what I had built up experience doing. I was lucky it was still very young. But I think people go through it as a career change at whatever stage. That's quite a scary time. so I was very lucky really to fall into IMEX in a way.

BRANDON:
Sure. So you had a great time in Italy, you are looking after kids for some time?

CARINA:
Not my own, obviously at the time, but yes. So what I did, we call it like repping a hotel. So I would live in this hotel and any school groups that came into that hotel with my company, were mine to look after. They were my responsibility and so I would kind of look after them and the teachers obviously, and made sure they had an amazing week skiing.

BRANDON:
So would you be guiding them on the slopes?

CARINA:
No, I wasn't actually, which was one of the wonderful things about the job I had, which was that the kids said were not my responsibility on the slopes, they had ski lessons. So what that did that enabled me to ski for most of the day, whilst they were in ski lessons. So I started off as an intermediate tourist skier, and ended up at the end of the season taking my ski instructor qualifications. So that was like a really amazing, it wasn't because I was ever going to become a ski instructor, but to have that focus and to be able to develop those skills, I really, really enjoyed that.

BRANDON:
Fantastic. And Are you still able to get off to the slopes?

CARINA:
Yeah, usually just once a year, but loving at the moment that SITE has events now in ski resorts in America and Europe and so really super grateful to them, that I can do a bit of extra skiing in the season.

BRANDON:
Okay. So you have this wonderful interlude and Italy, taking a break from your career in retail. Thinking about the next steps, you end up coming back to the UK and working with IMEX. Could you tell us a little bit about that story?

CARINA:
Absolutely So my father Ray Bloom, obviously he's been in there meetings, events, exhibition industry since the mid-80s. He sold his previous exhibition EIBTM to Reed in '97. Then in 2001, he announced to the industry that he would be launching a new show in the industry, which was IMEX in Frankfurt, with the first show taking place in 2003. so I came back from Italy sort of May, June 2002. I was looking at what I might do and wasn't focused at that point about exhibitions or getting into the meetings and events industry. But it just so happened that one of the launch team got ill at that time and she wasn't able to carry on working. She is back with us and one of our key members of the team now. But I really stepped in to take on her role and that was an amazing experience because I really didn't know what I was doing at all.

CARINA:
But we had a really great team who were very experienced, and I was able to take that on and take on all sorts of the initiatives and projects and marketing, many of which we still do today. I promised her that when she came back to work I would go. But we're both still here at IMEX. I think what I did find was from having done retail and catering and then knowing that that wasn't for me, I really love this industry. So that was great actually to have had that experience because suddenly I knew that I'd found something that I really enjoyed.

BRANDON:
That's fantastic. And of course, you were with IMEX, IMEX Frankfurt and then as it expanded to the US as well, IMEX America at Las Vegas. Now I think the majority of our listeners by now should be pretty familiar with the IMEX brand, but in case they're not familiar, what are they missing out on?

CARINA:
I guess the best way to explain IMEX Frankfurt, IMEX America is that they really are the meeting and melting pot for the global meetings, business events, incentive travel industry. So what we do really bring the whole of the industry together, all the varied sub-sectors if you like into that week. They're both global shows in terms of the buyers who are there, and in terms of the suppliers who are there. As I said, we have partnerships right across the industry, so you do have all kind of sectors represented and you also have all types of suppliers represented. Then we have a really strong focus on what I call our extracurricular activities. Be that at networking, parties or really enormous education program now, with really specialist's education for saying corporate planners, or 101 sessions, or high-level leadership sessions, or sustainability.

CARINA:
So we just really cover all aspects of the industry, and I think the thing is when you're bringing together an entire industry like that, there's an amazing sense of excitement when people come together like that. so you're talking about 14,000-15,000 global professionals coming together. all with a different objective, but at the end of the day, they want to learn something. They want to do some business and they want to really feel like they know where the industry is going. So hopefully that's what we aim to do. That I think is why there's a really big atmosphere around shows.

BRANDON:
For sure. Although I have not attended myself, I know many people have in the past, it's always been a really rewarding experience for them. So I could attest to that second hand. So IMEX you've been involved with it since around 2005, how has it evolved over time?

CARINA:
Yeah, I mean it's evolved enormously. I mean obviously as a small business, when we launched IMEX in Frankfurt in 2003, there were about 15 to 20 members of staff. Now we've got 65 members of staff. I think that's really reflected in the depth of what we do. So for us, it's really been about aiming to drive the market, but also responding to the needs of the market and really going into depth on everything that we do. Whether that's the way we support our clients in a partnership model, whether it's the way that we work with industry partners, our policy forum events, and what we do around sustainability and diversity.

CARINA:
So in each area, I think what we've done over the years is really evolve and to be really the best in the business, if you like. So that's our aim really. And if you come to the show, whether it's for business or whether it's for education, that you can really get the top quality experience in there. So that's really how it's evolved. Obviously the shows, we now have a show in America as well as Frankfurt. The shows have grown massively in that time. But I think for us it's about more than those numbers. It's about that quality of experience and allowing people to personalize that experience. So whatever they are interested in, there will be something for them.

BRANDON:
I know sort of as a backbone for many events, there is a theme component to it, and going into IMEX 2019 the theme is imagination. So what does this year's theme have in store? And could you tell us a little bit about the history of previous themes?

CARINA:
Yeah, absolutely. So it's something actually we started three years ago. I mean there was always a loose theme, but we really decided three years ago, let's really anchor the shows, and all our efforts in a year around a really strong theme. So the first one we did was purposeful meetings. Really looking at how you create strategic meetings and business events, and really align them to the strategy. That was broken down into a number of areas from neuroscience to sustainability, and auto meeting design for example. So looking at all of those areas, and that had a massive impact not only on the industry, but actually had a massive impact on our own thinking. Because we did this research, we spent a year talking about it, and then it really let us look at our shows, and say, "Well, are we really purposefully designing the shows in the best way?"

CARINA:
So it led to us making a lot of changes. Last year we had a theme of legacy, which was an amazing theme, and so many of the executives and really able to get behind it and promote themselves, and what they do in their destinations, or in their companies; to really leave an amazing legacy. Or what individual say, associations conventions do in a destination, and to leave a legacy face on whatever their subject matter is. So that was really powerful. Then this year, imagination is a very big theme. But we're really enjoying it because it's allowed us to ask the industry, what if? What if we didn't use plastics anymore in the event industry? What if we work our competitors to actually transform a topic? I think that's really liberating to be able to just say, we used our imagination and we can all use our imagination.

CARINA:
The other thing for us is that we wanted to showcase the fact that, you know, everybody talks about digitization and automation. And there's obviously a concern around automation in the future, what will the jobs of the future be? But actually, imagination is a uniquely human ability that a computer doesn't have. So I think that was the other thing that we wanted to bring out and say, "Actually, this is unique to humans. We have imagination, so what can we do with it?" And this is where we differentiate, and that's also whereas event professionals, we differentiate as well because you've got to use your imagination to really elevate that event experience.

CARINA:
So lots of different reasons for doing it. We have again, really looked at the shows and said, "Well how can we really bring this out? So we have a new park feature in our food court. We have a whole new discovery zone in hall nine of the show, where people can go and really play with some cool tech, and also have some really fun experiences. Be that silent disco or painting parties. We've also got an imagination wishing tree where people can go and write down their "what if", and their big idea. So we've got a lot of different things and later in the year, we've also got some research coming out around this theme within the business events industry.

BRANDON:
That's fantastic. I mean it just hearing you describe some of the features, the stations, the activities that are going to be there, it makes me think of the relationship that you have with C2.

CARINA:
Yeah, absolutely. This year we're not working so closely with them but yeah, they really pushed us. Last year we did develop a relationship with C2, and everything they do is really asking, "Well, what if? Why do you have to do a business event in that way? Why can't we do it in this way instead?" I went to see two last year. I think the key thing that they do and that they did was create a really enjoyable experience. So it wasn't that everything is perfect all of the time, but the whole experience is fun and surprising and different and exciting. In terms of looking forward in the industry at the end of the day, live events and business events of whatever type, they have to really surprise and delight your attendees to be memorable. That's what attendees of the future I think do already demand, and will demand even more from event professionals. Which is, I can make contacts online, but I can't have an amazing memorable experience online. So that's got to be the differentiating factor and imagination is key to that.

BRANDON:
Definitely. Well, another thing that really strikes me about IMEX, you sort of mentioned this as coming up in an earlier theme, but I think it's been with IMEX since, is your commitment to sustainability. Could you tell us a little bit about that?

CARINA:
Yeah, absolutely. I mean it's something, our sustainability program is something that we have been committed to since 2003, since our first show. So we've built it incrementally over many years. But yeah, we've very proud of the fact that now Frankfurt show is powered 100% through renewable energy hydropower. We don't send anything to landfill in Frankfurt, and actually waste that is incinerated, then is cleaned and goes into power the local community. Obviously, we are lucky to work with fantastic facilities within that area to be able to do that. But we also have looked at everything that we do. So we cut out printing the show catalog for example, which I think saved like 25 tons of paper for each show. This year for the first time we won't be printing delegate bags, we've looked at all our signage and said, "Right, how do we take plastic out?"

We work with our supplies on site to make sure that all the service from the catering outlets is compostable. So all of those things are, and then all so you know, things that people don't see, like looking at how the waste is stored at back-of-house so that it can actually be diverted away from landfills, and it can be recycled or repack. So it's not perfect, but I mean all these things make a big difference and we measured the impact in Frankfurt and in America.

So we know what we've achieved each year and then we can create goals for how we want to improve that the following year. We work with all our partner hotels, our general service contractor, transportation providers, to try to do that. We're also really grateful to Costa Rica, one of our exhibitors. They offset all the flights that are hosted by us take to both of our shows, by planting trees in Costa Rica. I'm actually visiting Costa Rica at the end of the year for a family holiday, and I'm really excited to go and visit the IMEX forest.

BRANDON:
Fantastic.

CARINA:
We try to live that in the office as well, and we do a lot of recycling and sorting of waste in the IMEX office as well to make sure that it's not just something that we do when we get on site.

BRANDON:
Say I am an event marketer and I'm looking to get a user conference off the ground. What's maybe one baby step I could take towards this path of sustainability?

CARINA:
Yeah, I mean it is a really good question because actually, you're right, it is about taking the first baby step and then building on top of that. I think one of the first things to do that really makes an impact, is looking for a venue and being consistent about looking for a venue that is going to help you achieve some sustainability goals. Because I think that's also important if buyers are going to destinations of venues and say, "I only want to use you if you have good sustainability credentials," that will push destinations and venues and that supply chain to actually invest in that. So I think if you're taking a tiny baby step, that would be the first thing to do and to make it contractual as well. Then after that, it's just about picking one thing that's relevant to you and your events.

CARINA:
So maybe you work with the chef around the food and choosing products maybe that have less water content. So turkey burgers instead of beef burgers, that come from the local area. Or maybe if your event uses a lot of printed materials and plastics, you could look at that, like alternative products or what could you reduce? So I think there are actually a lot of baby steps that can be taken. I think that's the key thing. Not Thinking, God, I can't do all of these things. But knowing that an organization like us that has a really deep and integrated sustainability initiative, we've built that over like 16, 17 years. It didn't happen in one day and we were only able to do that by taking a baby step each year.

BRANDON:
Something that stands out about the plan that IMEX has for sustainability is the fact that you have so much buy-in from partners and sponsors. How did you bring that to the table and convince them it was a worthwhile endeavor?

CARINA:
Yeah, I think that there is a lot of will in the industry to look at sustainability and to be more sustainable, but it's not always been easy because sometimes it costs more. Sometimes it's a lot more effort, and that's why I think our collective voices are so important in actually saying, "Well, we only want to work with organizations that are sustainable or taking those steps." So it's about being persistent but also about recognizing that out there are lots of fantastic destinations, hotels, convention centers, who are really doing extraordinary things and if you ask then they'll tell you what they're doing and they can help you.they're the people that can really help.

Or talking to a general service contractor and at the end of the day, we said to them, "We don't want to throw the carpet away at the end of the show, so what can you do with it? And why can't we use recycled carpet?" And so in the end through those questions, they are the people that have found those solutions and of course, now they use them for other events as well. So that's a key thing. Ask the questions and don't take no for an answer.

BRANDON:
Wonderful. We've spoken a bit about IMEX's commitment to sustainability. I understand that on the office side there really is a family culture to it. It's a family business that has family roots. Could you share a little bit more about how this family mentality is reflected in the day to day?

CARINA:
Yeah, absolutely. Well absolutely, I mean it is a family business. My father Ray is so heavily involved. Obviously, I'm the CEO and a number of our senior management team and directors, have been with the business for as long as it's been going. So there's that family sort of consistency. We also have a really strong engagement program in the office. Obviously, we're 65 people now, so it's also a different business to when you're 15 or 20. So we do measure the engagement through a service called Culture Amp. We have monthly, we call it our wheel of fortune, so staff can nominate each other if they've done great things that aligned to our values, and they get little prizes. We have random acts of fun, so we don't tell the team about it, but you know they might come in and there's like chocolate on their desks or we might have a professional barista making them coffee.

CARINA:
Or we had a really great Easter bonnet parade a few weeks ago. So just fun stuff really. Then we also, we started about a year ago bringing in, well we have first Friday, say the first Friday of every month we just stop work a little bit early and have drinks and it's a time that we can catch up with each other and people in other teams. Then about every other month roughly, we bring in speakers and they come in to speak to us for a charitable donation. But the aim really is to bring in people who are from a completely different walk of life.

So the last person we had was someone who is a former aid worker and he ran charity supporting the mental health of aid workers. We've had professional footballers come in, a virtuoso violinist. So just people that can come in and give you a bit perspective about a totally different world. But there's always something that you can learn from their management style or leadership. Yeah, that's been really, really interesting to have those people come in.

BRANDON:
Something you mentioned there was a mental health worker and bringing somebody from that background into the office environment. I know that the meetings industry can be extremely stressful. I mean there's all sorts of statistics. One of the most stressful jobs out there. How do you create an environment that is perhaps more safe or supportive of those circumstances?

CARINA:
Yeah, I think it's a really good question because I think there are a couple of few issues that are becoming more and more important mental health and then linked to that, the whole idea of diversity and inclusion. So we do have a diversity and inclusion policy. We actually called Squad. So when there are issues like sustainability or and diversity and inclusion, which are sort of across the whole business, we have people within the business who want to influence that, come together in Squad. So from different teams, to help us make sure that we're getting that right. So we have got a squad for diversity inclusion, and so there are a lot of things that we do through that. We also have things like a 24/7 helpline we fund. So that any of our staff, even if they wanted financial advice or they want to talk to someone about their kids, or it might be more serious mental health issues, it's a confidential service, and totally independent service that they can call.

So we have things like that. But I think the main thing is about the culture, and is there a safe culture that they know there's somebody in the team that they can go to that they'll be supported. That it's not going to be frowned upon, and that they feel able to tell us really if they're struggling. That I guess is the key thing that I would absolutely hope that we do for people because ultimately you want people to come to work. We all spend a huge amount of time at work, that you can come in and feel that you're amongst friends and colleagues and people that you can confide in. Even if it's one person and that you won't be judged, and that somebody will listen to you. That's the main thing that people are fearful for their jobs really, for their job security, because they're going through those issues. So I hope that that's the culture that we provide, that's certainly our aim.

BRANDON:
Definitely. So you mentioned your interest in supporting diversity inclusion in the workplace and your commitments to that. I understand that you currently are a mentor in the Fast Forward 15 and this is a mentorship program which annually gives 15 women the opportunity to be mentored, encouraged and advised by event industry experts like yourself for one year. How did you get involved with this program?

CARINA:
So I met the lady who set up this program about five years ago, I'd known about her through the industry for a while, but I met her properly at 18 months ago. I was on a couple of speaking panels with her, and so when she was looking for mentors for this year's program, she's reached out and asked if I'd be interested. I'm really excited to take part in that. It's a great opportunity. We actually had the launch event yesterday in London and it was like the graduation ceremony of last year's 15, and then the launch of this year's 15. Just hearing the stories of those people who've been through that program was really inspiring. Yeah, I'm excited to be a part of it and to learn as well from the program how to be a better mentor.

BRANDON:
Wonderful. So what sort of tips would you have for say a young woman who is seeking a mentor outside of a more structured program, like Fast Forward 15?

CARINA:
yeah, I think the main thing is to not be scared to ask people actually. Even if you might not feel comfortable asking someone. First off, will you be my mentor? But I think to just not be afraid to ask for advice. Or if there are people in the industry that you really admire, reach out to them and say, "Would you mind having a coffee with me at this event? I'd really like to ask you about whatever." It won't all stick, but you will connect with some of those people. I find generally, we're event professionals at the end of the day. So we're a pretty outgoing, friendly industry and I think people really enjoy helping other people, and being asked questions and being asked to help. There are so many people out there here both qualified and happy to help. So I would just say, don't be too shy about it and pick people's brains, and just connect with people. Put yourself out there.

BRANDON:
Who's another influential marketing or events executive who you think is a leader in the field right now?

CARINA:
Certainly, there are so many, I mean there was just the Smart Women's Event I think yesterday in Las Vegas. There are so many influential and amazing people out there. But I would say having been to the launch of Fast Forward 15 yesterday, I would have to point to Faye Sharpe, who set up that initiative because to do that as a volunteer to the professional level that she is running that year on year, is really extraordinary and she's really impacting so many people's lives. So I just really think that what she's done is amazing.

BRANDON:
What's one thing you think that businesses do not focus enough on when it comes to events?

CARINA:
I'd say the key thing is probably strategy. I think we're getting better at it, but if you're a business and you want to put on an event, before you decide you want to put on an event in this location, really the question is, what are your objectives and then what's the best way to achieve them? And then a face to face event, will come into that and then you can work out what that event should look like. I think just flipping that conversation around would actually, it is much more valuable for the industry because at the end of the day, a good event should really uphold and move forward the business’ objectives and strategic goals.

If we position live events in that way, then we no longer are simply a cost center. When the economy is doing so well, it's no longer so easy to just cut out the annual event, because actually it's understood that that event is a part of achieving, or overachieving the business goals. I think that's really important for our industry and for businesses to understand. So I think if we can do that better, that would serve both businesses and also our industry very well.

BRANDON:
Yeah, I agree. So you've had a varied and interesting and successful career, but if you could go back earlier and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?

CARINA:
Yeah, I've thought about that a lot. There was quite a lot of advice I would probably give myself. I think certainly one of the things that I would definitely be better if I could do it again, is understand the value of not jumping straight into everything and just getting in the weeds and just doing it. But actually planning forward better and allowing myself time to step back and plan and really see things from the outside. Because when you do that, you just get a much better sense of what the priorities are, what they're not, and how you can take a business or an event forward. So just having that planning time would be really important.

BRANDON:
Definitely. Okay, so it's time where we get to, I think perhaps the most important question here in the whole entire interview. I understand that you know a lot about coffee. Coffee is a big deal at IMEX. Of course, you helped run a very successful coffee chain. And I know that whenever you're traveling, you typically have good favorite coffee spots. I'm going to be in Las Vegas next week. Where can I get a good cup of Joe?

CARINA:
Let's see. I would say that the Sands, if you're in the Sands does have a really good little brand of coffee, and I understand that Mandalay just got a new coffee shop as well, but I haven't tried it yet. But my favorite actually that I found last year is called Vesta Coffee Roasters, and it's in the Arts District, South Casino Center Boulevard. That was a fantastic coffee, and that's more like what I call European coffee. Do you know Blue Bottle?

BRANDON:
Yes, yeah.

CARINA:
So Blue Bottle.

BRANDON:
Yes, over in California a lot.

CARINA:
Yeah, exactly. Not quite Blue Bottle standard, but getting up there. So that's what I would recommend.

BRANDON:
Fantastic. And would you recommend just getting a plain coffee there, cappuccino, latte?

CARINA:
I always like either a flat white or a cappuccino, but I only like a cappuccino if it's a really small one. You know you have to have the milk and espresso balance just right. You don't want it too milky. So if it's a big milky one, then I would go for a flat white or a cortado.

BRANDON:
Okay. So definitely need to do some research. Final question. How do you stay inspired and keep your creative instincts fresh?

CARINA:
I think actually what a key way I do that is by going to different events in the industry, outside of the industry. Speaking to people outside of our business all the time, and reading as well, and listening to podcasts. Everything from Freakonomics to Harvard Business Review and just being involved in the different industry trade associations. I really get a lot from that, and it just exposes me to different people and different ways of working. We're a relatively small business, so to get insight from people in a big corporation, for example, is really interesting. So I think traveling and being involved in the industry, and going to different events really is what keeps the creative instinct fresh and being open to those different ideas.