NEW JOB: NEW VISION | IBTM Meets: Sven Bossu

NEW JOB: NEW VISION | IBTM Meets: Sven Bossu

How is the new CEO at the International Association of Convention Centres looking to the future?

Shane Hannam, IBTM Events’ Portfolio Director, is joined this week by none other than the new CEO at IAPC, Sven Bossu, and they discuss all aspects of Sven’s new role, his journey through the events industry, and his ideas for the future.

Also, if you would prefer to read the interview instead of watch it, you can do so here:

Hello everyone and welcome to the next edition of IBTM Meets; a series of interviews with leading figures and senior members of our industry.

My name is Shane Hannam, the IBMT Portfolio Director, and I’m delighted to be joined here today with Sven Bossu, the incoming and brand-new CEO of AIPC.

Shane: Welcome Sven, it’s absolutely brilliant to have you here. Thank you for taking the time out – it’s great to have you here and I look forward to catching up this afternoon.

Sven: Thank you Shane and thank you for having me actually.

Shane: That’s no problem. Well, I’ve got a few questions. As I say, Sven, it’s mainly an informal and bit of a chat about your career views, on the industry and, obviously, now a very exciting new role that you’ve just undertaken. So, if it’s okay with you, without further ado, I will jump into the first question.

I think maybe just kick off by telling us a little bit about yourself and your career to-date, and how you ended up where you are now at AIPC.

Sven: So, actually, I am an anthropologist and I ended up in the financial sector by accident. There I spent about 20 years, first as a Program Manager at ING and afterwards I switched to Swift, which is the international telecommunication company connecting 10,000 banks with corporates throughout the world, and I was there for 10 years as well. The last five years, I was actually leading Sibos, which is a Swiss flagship event that brings together 8,000 bankers for four days.

Now, after having spent 20 years working for financial services, I moved to the Association roles. For two years, I was working as managing director at Estro. Estro is a completely different animal: it’s the European Society for Radiotherapy and Oncology and basically what they try to do is beat cancer.

But, at the time I started, a number of things needed to change. There was a need for a rebrand and need for a new web platform and also the need for the implementation of CRM – an entire change of program, which we successfully did over the last 24 months.

Then this wonderful opportunity, arose to become indeed the first-ever CEO of AIPC, which I gladly accepted, and then that beautiful thing of COVID-19 started, so that changed things slightly in the sense that it’s even more challenging now.

Shane: Indeed it is! Wow, a fascinating journey through financial services and into the association world via two of the most incredible events in our industry, quite frankly. I think you’ve probably seen both of those very closely and it’s great probably to have had that background initially and then now coming into this role, which I’m sure when you accepted it was probably a big challenge and then the dreaded Covid-19 happened. I think now everybody is in a constant world of flux, of change, of uncertainty and just trying to establish how we emerge from the crisis as an industry.

The one thing I do take heart from is its resilience, its desire to do what it needs to do to serve its economies and to be the successful industry it is and I remain hopeful that we will all find a way through this together.

So, challenging times ahead.

Sven: I’m sure we will and, from an AIPC point of view, what we’re trying to do is indeed support our community. So, we’ve been now through the survival phase. I think everybody has gone through the phase where we have tried to rescue business, reschedule meetings – that is done now.

There’s far more focus on how can we safely and securely reopen and regain that customer trust and that’s gonna be the first thing: we need to ensure people that event venues, hand in hand and in partnership with the event organisers, can organize safe and secure events which still offer great experiences.

Shane: Absolutely and that’s, you know, coming at it from our perspective, the brands that we’re responsible for are the IBTM brands, in terms of business events and the industry we serve, but in the wider Reed Exhibitions family, that’s absolutely something that we’re really focusing on.

There are many many questions coming down internally in the business and from our clients and everybody involved in the industry as to how we do that.

I think there’s no question the desire to meet and to hold events is, and will be, as strong as it ever was. I think there is that acceptance, however, that we need to understand how we can do them and, first and foremost, safely for everybody concerned. So, I think that dialogue is well and truly open but it is certainly something that is probably going to take a bit of time to figure out.

Again, some really good signs in the industry though. We look at certain countries, the way that events are classified, the way that some of our venues have really taken the mantle and really looked at the innovative way and the partnerships they need to do to be able to demonstrate that they’re able to do that.

I think that’s also emerging now. I’ve seen a few things in in terms of destinations as well, representing the convention centres and the rest of the industry.

There are many many good signs that that’s beginning to happen so we remain very positive and hopeful on that.

So let’s take it COVID-aside if we may, for a while, and ask: when you when you joined AIPC initially, what was it you were most looking forward to in this role?

Sven: To be honest, it’s changing sides, in a sense. I’ve been a client for a long time and worked with a lot of venues and venues have some great, brilliant people in there and AIPC is great organization.

Though, as the world is changing, and not only due to the COVID thing but, in general, events are changing. More and more we’re moving into a hybrid model that can have virtual aspects. Technology will be more important going forward.

So what I liked about this role is that I could use all the tricks and tips that I learned from the other side, the customer, and actually bring them to the side of venues. And, together with them, think about new business models, new ways of reaching out to event organisers, and then for closer partnership, even more than we did in the past.

That was really attractive for me and then, to be understood, the board we currently have is really eager for change. If it were to be a job where everybody said “come aboard but don’t touch anything for the next ten years”, most probably I would never have accepted it.

But here, the mandate is: “look at AIPC, there’s no taboos, move us forward and make us grow together as a community” and that’s a really brilliant thing.

Shane: Yes, definitely, and I think that change, you’re right, was already in place and I know AIPC is one of the more forward-thinking organizations. We’ve done a lot of work with your board in that regard and it definitely seems like that.

Interesting, as well, you mentioned two words there: partnership, collaboration and moving forward. Three phrases, sorry. And I think that they’re probably more pertinent now than ever for sure.

We started on the journey but that the road has changed somewhat and now we have to go faster.

Sven: You mentioned that that one of the things which came out is resilience out of our industry. To add to that, the other thing which we clearly see is an intense collaboration, not only between venues on sharing knowledge and best practices but also, if you look at the global associations – UFI, ICCA and ourselves – we’re working together and trying to provide guidance to our members.

So we created three guides: one on COVID-19 in general; one on how to transform your venue into a hospital, which happened to quite a lot of our members actually; and now the third one, which is going to be launched next week, is how to reopen the venue in a clean, safe and secure way.

So, instead of bombarding our members separately, what you see now is that, on an Association level, you grow together to become a unified voice and we bring that to our membership.

I think that something which is really appreciated by the members and by the industry as well. Not to be bombarded but to have a unified message, unified guidelines, which then can be applied.

Shane: Absolutely and I think that is what the industry is crying out for, quite frankly. In these times of uncertainty, I think we’re very unique as an industry as well in the sense that we are very very global in our nature. I mean, we all travel extensively when we’re able, the business is a truly global business and I think that makes it difficult sometimes to have a single voice and a single recommendation of doing things.

Of course, as an event organiser I can speak for the fact that we are UK-based but we’ve run many events all over the world and then you already tend to have conflicts in government advice, for example.

If you can look to associations like yourselves, and UFI and ICCA, to give that guidance I think, due to the nature of the fact that we are not a fragmented geo-based industry, we are a global industry, that that will only help. That’s really important.

Ok, so we’ve talked a bit about that. Is there anything else in terms of what the future might look like for AIPC, in the very few weeks you’ve been involved?

Sven: Well, we actually had a board meeting last week where we went through a plan for the next 6 to 12 months. What we’re going to do from our side is launch six projects.

We’re gonna have a look at the new business model for venues, you can’t avoid that, that’s something we need to look at.

We’re gonna have a very good look at the membership offering: what do we offer today? What do we need to offer? What are the needs of our venues? What do they need in terms of research and education?

The other thing we’re gonna do – we’re going to do something fun – is create a Leaders Fit For Future group. It’s really looking at, if you look at the future, what do you see? What is innovation? And not innovation only from a technological point of view, but also sustainability, CSR, all those things need to be looked at as well. At the end, and you know this far better than I do, events are part of a really big ecosystem with a massive impact on all levels all our society and that’s something we need to look at as well.

So, it’s quite exciting what we’ve got planned. It’s an immense amount of work but I’m really looking forward to doing it. If there’s if there’s one industry where we can do it, it’s this one.

Shane: 100% I couldn’t agree more. I think sure that we’ve had a few conversations, I’ve been talking to a lot of people recently and the many quotes that you see whenever people are delivering webinars is the “trying to find the opportunity that comes out of challenging times” and I think it really is a great opportunity to reset.

The one thing that I’m hopeful of and I think will happen is that our industry, hopefully, will begin to get the recognition it deserves as the legacy driver that it can be, as the sustainable angles that are available from events, the benefits of hosting and holding and managing and running events, and the economic driver that a lot of events provide for industries to help them begin to re-emerge from a crisis and to really drive growth fast.

I think you’re right sustainability, the way events look and a consideration for the way that events come together, I think that will be the bit that the probably changes and it’s not quite certain how it will be but certainly I think it will change. I think that’s exciting. We just need to embrace that as an industry and I think that’s a really good thing.

Sven: Well, let’s be clear, physical events will come back. There’s no doubt. It’ll just be a little bit different and that’s great.

Shane: That’s how all of my conversations goes, Sven, and then it comes back to the point of: “okay so how will they look?” and then we get to the questions that have no answers.

Sven: I think there’s two things: they will come back but protocol will be different. It’s gonna be a bit more difficult for event organizers to really create great experiences. You’ll need to be a bit more creative around that.

The other thing is that the hybrid element will be unavoidable. Yes there will be physical and there will be virtual but that also offers an opportunity. If I take the case of Estro, where I just came from, typically they have 6,500 people during their Congress. Imagine that you say:

“Okay, the Congress is about networking and about sharing but there’s also a big educational part which you need to look after.”

“Fine, it’s about radiation oncology and cancer treatment.”

“So, how about creating a virtual part that does not reach out to the 6,000 people who can afford to be there but that reaches out to the 50,000 people who need education and then you’re into a different story altogether.”

Shane: Yeah you are, and we talk about how impactful events can be. That virtual opportunity for people that aren’t able to invest in that but still need the access to the knowledge, particularly in the medical field, that that can really drive things and actually can make a big difference to healthcare infrastructure, to the way the science is approached and the way that people can move more quickly and, in this case, help stop cancer.

So it’s incredible. Great, thank you for that Sven. It’s very very insightful and actually, in a world where we’re surrounded by lots of negativity at times now, it fills me with a lot of positivity and confidence. Hopefully people viewing this will share the same sentiment.

We’ll maybe change tack slightly now and come back to yourself. We talked about your journey briefly but are there any top tips you have for somebody who has maybe about to or just started in a new role in an organization?

Sven: Spend some time listening to people before you start doing things. It’s what I did. I had the pleasure of talking to all my board members first, talking to our partners, talking to quite a set of members and get a better understanding what they’re looking for.

Yes, this is an investment in time and, for somebody like me who is very impatient, it takes bit of effort. But, it is the thing to do. You can’t barge into any organization without understanding not only the heart elements – like how many members do we have? Or what’s our P&L? – no,  it’s the soft things – what are the values of your association? – because that’s the thing you’re going to be building on and that takes time. It’s unavoidable.

Shane: Yes it is. Really good advice though because I’ve actually had similar advice myself and I think, if we look at from our perspective the events, there’s no physical tangible product in an event per se. The value is in the knowledge, is in the connections and it’s in the community that brings it together.

I would imagine it’s similar for yourself as well. That’s really key so taking that time is very worthwhile.

Great, thank you for sharing that and then maybe, Sven, we’re sort of running a bit short on time so maybe one final question, if that’s okay? In your mind and given your vast experience across the globe and in many different sectors, what would you say are maybe the three or four traits that makes a good leader?

Sven: Empowerment and trust your people. That’s one.

Have a clear view on where you want to end. So, this is the starting point and this is where I want to go.

But, also be agile and nimble. Be able to move.

Don’t always stick to the plan because plans can fall in to pieces, as we’ve seen.

Shane: Okay, that’s great. That, I think, is a good place for us to finish up. So, Sven, thank you very much for taking the time out today. We’ve learned a lot about yourself and your background and I think it certainly feels like there’s no one better qualified to take AIPC into the next era.

Congratulations again on the appointment and we’re very much looking forward to continuing our relationship with yourself and moving forward as we navigate the future as one big large industry.

Thank you again for taking the time out, stay safe, and I look forward to catching up with you at an event hopefully very very soon.

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