In the hot seat: Off Limits’ Martin Stephens

How did you get into the industry?
With the help of individuals within management in hotels who seemed to recognise my potential, I worked my way up from House Porter to Conference and Events Co-ordinator. After booking several events for key clients I was attracted to the industry and the rest is history.

What do you like about the industry?
The meetings and events industry is fast paced and constantly evolving but essentially it’s a people industry and I love its diversity.

Are there other sectors you think the meetings industry can learn from?
I believe that other sectors can learn from the meetings industry, however, if I was to pinpoint one sector I would steer towards retail as the key component of our industry is service and this seems to be lacking in some instances – customer service is key.

What can the industry do better?
Work together to bring new talent into the industry – perhaps hotels and agents working together on apprenticeship programmes. In my day you could work your way through hotels and be recognised. This I believe is more difficult now and we look for talent from outside the industry. However, the talent is already there it just needs recognising.
Prediction for the future?
The industry looks like it is steering towards virtual meetings and people seem to think that this is the future, but I believe face-to-face meetings will be recognised as far more productive and virtual meetings will become a thing of the past.

Greatest achievement in this area?
What we have achieved at Off Limits Corporate Events. It was a tough decision 11 years ago and one questioned by others but I had faith in the company and my now business partner John Tarr. In the time I have been with the company we have increased full-time personnel from 12 to 65 and turnover from £1m to £7m with further growth planned in the corporate and leisure sector in the UK and Europe.

What’s the most difficult situation you have had to deal with in your career?

Dealing with the loss of business in 2008/2009 (the recession) – having to look at how we deal with redundancies and plan for the future – never a nice situation but one that was helped by the people we have around us who understood the situation. Fortunately we lost none of our personnel and managed to keep things going which enabled the business to flourish again.

What is the most irritating challenge you face on a regular basis?
I would say getting across the importance of risk assessments and insurance, as companies don’t seem to understand how important it is.

Funniest moment experienced at work?

While working in the conference office at Ettington Park Hotel,  my then manager Alison Groves and her colleagues taped me to my chair. The phone rang at my desk and I was unable to answer – Alison answered on my behalf and said I was tied up at the moment. It was one of my biggest clients from Decca records calling at the time. On reflection it doesn’t sound that funny but at the time it was hilarious.

The best use of an Off Limits product by a client and best ROI thereof?

Our Charity Apprentice event. This is such a great event as clients go out to obtain products from a charity’s wish list, which gives the greatest ROI as the charities then receive all the goods we gain on the event.  

How do you relax?
I enjoy staying in hotels and going out for dinner. I have been fortunate enough to stay at many of the finest hotels and have become a kind of hotel inspector. Other than that, it’s fishing in the South of France with my best mate Richard. Between us we put the world to rights.

Which new device would you flag as one to watch out for in teambuilding?
It has got to be the use of tablets and smart phones in virtual events. That said I am all for one-to-one interaction, rather than events being completely technology based. Technology can’t take over in teambuilding events but it can certainly play a part. Also I have seen a change in trend lately where clients are influenced by TV-based events and are asking for a re-creation of some of these programmes such as the Great British Bake Off and Dragons Den – this I believe will continue.

Time-saving tip for organisers?
Set targets; you can never do everything at once and start planning as early as possible, things will always take longer than you think.

Best advice to pass on to newbies in the business?

Be yourself – don’t be scared to want your boss’s job and realise that within our industry hard work is recognised. It’s a fun industry but be prepared to work at it. 9-5 no way!

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

Paul Colston


Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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