Given Three Months To Survive, Expertise Events Is 26 Years Strong

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Tell me about Expertise Events

It’s a 100 per cent Australian family owned business. Our core business is managing exhibitions and conferences, either ones we manage on behalf of an association or government or others we put on ourselves. We do B2C and B2B. From a consumer point of view we’re really big in the craft arena. There’s a misconception that it’s something that your nanna does but it’s the complete opposite. Our average user is about 37 with a high disposable income. Then we do events like the international jewellery fair the Society of Motion Pictures and Television Engineers then events with the wine industry. It’s a very diverse range!

At the very beginning, you invested $10,000 of your own savings to launch this company. What was that like?

At the time it was very tough. I was 20 and I’d failed my HSC. At the time in 1990 it was the recession we had to have so it was quite a daunting time. Plus you have an exhibition industry where Darling Harbour had just opened and that was the first real purpose built facility in the country of any scale. The industry frowned upon anyone entering it, let alone this 20 year old coming into the marketplace. One person in the industry said I wouldn’t last three months. Another organiser told a contractor that if he worked for me he wouldn’t be hired again. So it was a time when bias and old ways of doing things existed. But if anything it sharpened me to be a bit of a street fighter I guess and dig in!

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Now, you’ve generated over $350m for the economy and 40 or so jobs, is that right?

We employ around 40 people since we’ve been around, yeah and we’d be in excess of that as turnover. What’s more important I guess is the amount of match making we’ve done – whether it’s consumer or business – of bringing like-minded people together and how much of a rub that would have. When you bring them together that exponentially expands what people do.

How have you kept going?

It’s hard. I get to points where I wonder if the business has outgrown me. Ten years ago I established my own outside board because I felt I needed to be accountable. I need to have people that question me as I would question my staff. That was a really good move because it gave an outside objective view on business and markets and a bit of mentoring and help in terms of direction. When you’ve got your own business it’s pretty lonely. I’m constantly reading self-help books, biographies of successful people and try to hit my shortfalls front-on. If something’s not working, I don’t turn a blind eye or let it fester, I go and seek advice.

Is that your advice to other businesses wanting to be successful? 

Not that I’m one to give advice, but the lessons I’ve learnt are to be prepared to invest in people that can look at your business objectively. Last year we did an organisational review with Grant Thornton. They came in and looked at how we could structure the business differently to deliver better output and better return. That’s an investment because it’s not cheap. It’s one thing to get the report but you’ve got to have guts to implement it. If you’re prepared to get outside counsel you have to be prepared to go on the road of change. We’ve done that and that’s how you do survive. Be prepared to put yourself in a position where you’re reviewed.

You mentioned you didn’t know if it was time to take a step back. When do you let go a little bit?

That’s really hard. When it’s your business, a lot of the relationships you have are built on you as the direct contact but also your personality and your way you’ve evolved the business attracts like-minded companies. I’d love to be able to tell you that I’ve been able to step back and achieved all my goals. I’ve started looking at how I can do it but I don’t think it’s something I can achieve soon. It’s going to be a marathon not a sprint!

Every day, KBB’s Dannie Doughan chats with an entrepreneur and features their story on our website. If your business wants a ‘Date with Dannie’, email us a quick bit about your biz!

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