Big Interview: Excel London’s Jane Hague

I remember doing video interviews for the MIAList awards in 2013 and asking each nominee questions designed to tease out their achievements. It was a long day and not all were chatty to camera.

With Jane Hague, however, my interview technique was quickly decided for me: Simply saying ‘Hello, Jane, how are you?’ in fact. The Excel dynamo then proceeded to cover all bases, pretty much interviewing herself.

Jane Hague is one of the industry’s doers, a real events live wire. Underneath the bubbling exterior there is also a bedrock of Yorkshire grit and she is proud of her ‘creative’ Sheffield roots.

Nevertheless, she says leaving to come to London in 2001 was the best decision she ever made.

“I was born in Sheffield and studied there until I migrated to London in 2001. Sheffield is a creative city,” she says, pointing out that 7.2 per cent of its working population is employed in the creative industries (the national average is 4%). “Maybe it was this culture that led me to my career in the events industry,” she says. From an early age she had people facing jobs, working in bars, restaurants and hotels. “I knew I liked people and have always had a strong sense of what good service looks like”.

Those experiences came to influence Jane’s choices, although she admits she may have come into the meetings sector more directly if event management degrees had existed when she went to University. “Hotel Management was the obvious choice, instead,” she says.

Jane considers her early mentor, the late Vanessa Cotton, to be the person that had the biggest impact on her working life.

“I’d never met anyone quite like her and I was flattered that she saw my abilities and encouraged me to continue to apply myself and carve a career in the event industry. One of her mottos was ‘always keep your powder dry’ – her way of saying be prepared for any situation.”

Jane is one of few who have worked on several sides of the rubic cube that is the UK meetings and events industry. She admits she’s been fortunate to work with many talented people, from Excel to Sportsworld, De Vere, Davies Tanner and the International Special Events Society (ISES).
“In every role I have been able to take a wealth of knowledge, experience and valuable contacts with me to the next,” she notes.

She remembers her role at Excel a few years back, having  to find new business without all the surrounding hotels and restaurants there are today. “Canary Wharf was a small business hub, nothing like the 100,000 people that work there today. I found my niche selling to the corporate events world and built some great momentum for the business. I like to think that my work then helped lay the foundations.”

Her philosophy is about “building a strong network, learning from all experiences, positive and negative, and not being afraid to try new things”.

Becoming the President of ISES was definitely not achieved through luck. “Having nearly completed my tenure, it has definitely taught me a lot. Not just about the creative events industry but about myself and what I can achieve. It’s also given me new skills. I remember being terrified of public speaking and now I have to stand up in front of 100 industry peers every month, something I now enjoy. I never thought I’d say that.”

G.I. Conference Jane is on a mission: “My ambition is to make a big impact on London and the UK’s reputation for hosting large scale, international corporate conventions. These are the game changer events that, like associations, bring significant economic value to the destination and create great opportunities for event service suppliers. Watch this space?”

She says has always enjoyed feeling part of something bigger than a 9-5 role: “That’s the difference (for me) between a job and a career. It is extremely motivational to network with successful business people and entrepreneurs and an association can provide a real constant as you change roles through the years”.

She also believes it is fine to have different associations as long as they have relevance. “The meetings and events industry is multi-faceted so why not provide communities that appeal to different people and businesses?” she says. 

Helping grow ISES as the ‘principal association for the creative events professionals, globally’ is what she is currently trying to do. “We are growing our community in the UK and we have got our messaging and content right, and importantly we are delivering value.”

She says ISES UK has also taken the decision to work with businesses and brands rather than get too involved in government relationships. “We have also grown our community, which in turn provides a valuable and expansive network for members”.

And creativity is no good if it is not given a stable financial platform from which to thrive. “From a management perspective I will leave the role with a stable financial position that enables the new Board to continue to invest in the future development of ISES UK & EMEA.”

Jane lives on the South Coast and says she feels lucky to live by the sea, seeing it as a plus for the work/life balance. “I’m also just 30 minutes from Gatwick Airport so that really helps,” she adds.

Long and often unsociable hours don’t phase her. “I think if you chose a career in the events industry, you are not subscribing to a normal working life. We are lucky to experience things that other people would never get access to; beautiful hotels and venues, the best catering, new destinations and unique experiences?It’s worth the hard work don’t you think?”
(For the record, Jane, I do!).

Jane’s work has taken her right across the industry. “I think it’s beneficial to see the industry from varying perspectives; it makes you appreciate the differences. The skills I learnt previously regularly come in to play, be it writing copy for a marketing piece, organising a client event or managing yields.

What advice would Jane give to today’s students considering a career in the industry?

“It’s really tough for graduates starting their careers with such a shortage of job opportunities. At ISES we try to provide an inclusive community for students to network and hopefully find work.
“At our recent ISES E20 Debate, we discussed the importance of more industry placement opportunities to give students real work experience.”

She believes much more can be done and has been leading a Board effort to talk actively to Universities with Event Management Degrees as well as those with Creative Sector Degrees to encourage new talent to come into our industry.

What issues does she think the Business Visits and Events Partnership (BVEP) should be prioritising and championing?

“The BVEP is a really great platform for all the associations to share thoughts, trends, best practice and issues. This is important and means we can sit next to associations representing everything from business conferences to festivals and means we can play our role by having ownership of the creative sector in these forums.

“I also think the work the BVEP has done means the industry has a voice and influence in government. This was not the case a few years ago. Our industry needs a champion.”
Is the UK good at delivering conferences, events and tradeshows compared with what she sees abroad?

“The interesting point here is that the international conferences and tradeshows I visit are predominantly delivered by UK organisations. We have undoubtedly got world-leading talent in our agencies and exhibition companies in the UK, we just need to be better at owning this message.”
Five years on and Jane says she would like to be able to look back and see that she “made a difference to London and the UK’s reputation as a world-leading events destination by attracting high profile corporate events to the city”.

For that to be realised she sees more hard work required to raise the profile of the industry and to demonstrate its professionalism and diversity. “I would like to see live events being recognised alongside traditional creative industries like design and advertising,” she says, adding that the ‘Live Experience Creatives’ initiative supported by ISES was set up because creative professionals have been overlooked and under-represented. “We’re determined to change all that,” she says, with a steely determination forged in Sheffield. I, for one, would not bet against her achieving that before the five-year plan is out.

This was first published in the July/August issue of CN. Any comments? Email Paul Colston

Paul Colston


Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

Up Next

Related Posts