In the hot seat: BDC’s Max Bull

How did you get into the industry?
Like a lot of people in the industry I sort of stumbled into it. I was taking a year out before committing to University to continue my studies in Art and Photography and took on a catering summer job with Sodexo working at Kew Gardens. Obviously, it goes quiet in the winter so one of its other contracts was at the Business Design Centre.

I was lucky to have a great first boss, Sue Creed, who really challenged and supported me and I worked my way up to became the Banqueting Manager. The highlight was being trusted to look after the winners’ lounge during the BAFTAs in 1999, it was shortly after this that I was approached by Dominic Jones to apply for a role which had become available at the venue in the sales department.

If you weren’t in events – what other job would you have done?

Well it would be nice to think that by now I could be a three-time F1 world champion driving for McLaren!
 
What’s been your favourite event at the BDC?
The BAFTA Awards that I mentioned hold great memories for me as it was the event that kick started my career, but hosting the Czech Olympic House in 2012 was special. The whole country spent years gearing up to the Games and we as a venue felt the same with so much planning going into what was a unique and successful couple of weeks.

More recently we have hosted several conferences with Terrapinn – they run innovative events with original formats and it’s refreshing to see that they pay attention to the small details to add extra depth.
 
Which sectors provide the strongest events income streams now at the BDC?

We have always worked to achieve a wide demographic of clients which helped us particularly after the downturn in the public sector several years ago. However, one area I identified that continually bucked the trend of falling delegates numbers was in the technology and mobile sector.

Subsequently we invested significantly in our Wi-Fi infrastructure back in 2010 to ensure we could work with and attract these events and the results have been pleasing. We have a healthy number of high profile tech events, including the UK version of Devoxx, one of the most attended events in Europe.  
 
How is the event business faring in general?

It is still fairly erratic. We see periods of more relaxed spending followed by regression and then higher caution. Thankfully, we are faring pretty well and we have worked extremely hard on supporting our existing clients to ensure a high retention rate which has been key for our continued growth.
 
What is the USP of the venue for organisers?
There are a few areas which we feel gives us an edge. Firstly the building itself – it’s a stunning venue and with our new gable ends, unveiled a couple of months ago, the main floor is now flooded with natural light which gives a great impression when delegates first enter.

Our location also seems to be a real bonus for conference organisers – down the road from Angel & Kings Cross station and in the middle of Upper Street in Islington – with access to numerous bars and restaurants in a vibrant area. Finally, I like to think our staff – we consistently get exceptional feedback on our customer service. It’s an area we are extremely proud to say that we do excel in.
 
What has been the most difficult situation you have had to deal with during your time at the company?
In 2006 the CBI Conference was being held at the BDC. Moments into Tony Blair, the then PM’s speech, protestors climbed onto the iron work in the building’s roof and started heckling and throwing confetti. We had to react quickly to the incident and while security dealt with the protestors my department had to organise moving the Prime Minister, all the delegates and world’s press and set up in another area of the venue to ensure the much anticipated speech took place – the logistics and security issues of readying the other conference space along with all the personnel was extremely high pressure and not one of my more enjoyable days at the office. We did, I am pleased to say, deliver this and managed to retain the event for a further two years which each went without incident.
 
Funniest moment experienced at work?
Not long after I joined the sales team I met with a local ‘event organiser’ who was a fairly colourful character and a little ‘out there’. I had my reservations, however I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt and tried to buy myself some time before proceeding despite his insistence.  A week later my suspicions over the event came true when a flyer for his show was delivered to our reception with an impressive guest list of speakers that included Nelson Mandela, John Lennon, Bill Clinton and even Elvis was going to pop in. We politely declined the opportunity to host his event and moved on and many laughs at my expense were had by all! 

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

Paul Colston

Author

Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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