Archive | May, 2012

Inspiring Women Awards 18/5/2012

28 May

Interviewing Clippy McKenna at the Inspring Women Awards

A room full of brave, enterprising and, obviously, inspiring women made for a very different tempo than the events I’ve been involved in this year. My role as MC was to provide a few introductions and perform a number of housekeeping functions, which was straightforward enough.

The biggest challenge, and thrill, if I’m honest, was to interview all the finalists on the floor of the main banqueting hall of the Midland Hotel in Manchester. These live conversations were then projected and broadcast onto the big screen so everyone could see the finalists and learn what they were all about.

There were different categories and therefore different types of women who I had to speak to. The thing with awards is, these are very important to the people involved. Some of the women were confident media performers. Indeed, the first lot were quite straightforward – all were media and creative professionals, including Maria McGeoghan, the former editor of the Manchester Evening News who I know and have appeared on the radio with her. The other was Nicola Shindler, who I have long admired from afar. I had a mental block on one of her programmes (Scott & Bailey) which made me look a bit daft, but I have to put that down to early match nerves.

The task with the other 9 interviews was to make these amazing women look and sould just that. I made it my job to go and have a quick word with them all – to make sure they knew what to expect and to “be themselves” and tell their story without being mawkish or inapprorpriate.

Inspiring Women Awards - the host, the speaker, the oraniser and the winners

Inspiring Women Awards – the host, the speaker, the oraniser and the winners

I enjoyed it, it was a terrific event – full of passion and emotion as well as supportive energy. Lots of spontaneous clapping at achievements. It’s not something you see at male dominated events too much. It also reminded me that although I don’t write as much as I used to and don’t do frontline news reporting – there’s still something to be said for my journalistic DNA.


Silicon Valley’s Secrets – 17/5/2012

19 May

Heather Lomas and Gareth Burton under the wings of Concorde

Heather Lomas and Gareth Burton under the wings of Concorde

I went to Silicon Valley in March with 17 extraordinary people from around the UK and made some incredible connections and developed some new fresh insights.

The opportunity to really evangelise this experience came at a brilliant event under the wings of Concorde at Manchester Airport. There’s a fantastic liveblog by Liz Weston here and it conveys the ideas we discussed and the superb presentation by my pal Scott Fletcher soon afterwards.

Pictured above are the organiser of the event, Heather Lomas, and one of the panellists from the event – Gareth Burton. There’s a video here which we played at the beginning of the event.

Insider Business of Property 17/5/2012

19 May

I hosted two sessions at this half-day property conference. The first was a panel debate on the top table, the second was a conversation with two chief execs of local authorities. 

I much prefer the latter format – it adds an informality and a conversational dimension to an event. Sat at a top table and delivering answers to questions might work for political debate, but when the discourse of the business event is so consensual, it can stifle opinion and create distance.

Another factor in this event was the need for positivity. Impressed as I was by the hard data at the DTZ event earlier in the week – the lack of questions may also have been due to the downbeat conclusions. The starting point therefore was, OK, different world, not much funding, but hey, what is to be done? Instead of driving to Abersoch and staying there for 4 years until the economy picks up.

The other presentations were from local authority people selling their towns. It’s important to link between sessions at conferences, to provide a mental bridge from one concept to another – it was useful then to introduce their likely strategies in the panel session before and to pull some thread together in the conversation afterwards.

Peter Salmon – MBS lecture 16/5/2012

19 May

Me and Peter Salmon at MBS

The Vital Topics lecture series at Manchester Business School was lucky to have Peter Salmon as the special guest this week. He delivered a visionary and passionate summary of the BBC North project. A copy of the speech is here.

My job was to direct the questions to him and come up ones where there were awkward silences, of which there weren’t many.

A terrific event and further evidence of the appetite for debate about the future direction of the city and the economy.

Money into Property 15/5/2012

15 May
DTZ's Money into Property panel and speakers

DTZ’s Money into Property panel and speakers: Bruce Poizer, me, Derek Bald, Dermot Power, Hans Vrensen, and at the podium, Martin Davis

Ken Bishop isn’t an easy guy to please. The veteran of the Manchester investment property world has been a frequent and critical friend to me over the years. In fact, more critical than friend when it comes to his views on awards events (he loathes them), or indeed any performance by a speaker at an event that he feels is long on cant and rhetoric. He’s one of those people in the business community who I fear and respect in equal measure. He also holds a bar very high that I seek to reach (he’s very tall, which helps).

Why do I mention that? Ken is a senior director in property consultancy DTZ, which puts on a regional “Money into Property” event each year to launch some fairly heavy research they do on global real estate investment trends. It followed a similar format from previous years: Martin Davis and Hans Vrensen, two heavyweights from DTZ, presented some data (very well, I hasten to add) and we then had a panel debate on the issues the data threw forth.

In the five years I’ve done this event, I have always sought to bring the debate to the local level – what will a shift in sentiment towards Grade B office stock mean for Manchester? What will bond yield variations in the Eurozone do to the appetite of non bank purchasers of distressed debt ridden property investments as Scottish and Irish banks de leverage? In other words – anyone fancy going head to head with a German insurance company to buy a shed in Widnes?

I chaired this year’s discussion with some trepidation. I had a set of quite detailed questions pre-prepared, with some much appreciated help from Bruce Poizer of DTZ. It also allowed me to tailor them to each panel member – Dermot Power, an insolvency practitioner with BDO; Derek Balf, a senior banker at Santander; and Hans Vrensen.

Strangely, and partly due to the presence of Ken, I was more nervous than at any other event I’ve done this year. It was also a large sparse room at the Hilton Hotel, even with a good turnout of about 200. There were also no questions from the audience on the two occasions I asked for any. This usually happens for one of two reasons – the audience are totally disengaged and bored; or they are in awe of the level of debate. I genuinely think the latter applied in this case. Not down to me, by the way, but because the panel were answering all the questions so well.

When I had things wrapped up, and handed over to Bruce to close the event, a couple of minutes early, the first person to offer his hand in thanks was Ken Bishop – “the best of these done we’ve done Michael, it really flowed. Well done.”

I’ll take that.


Young Professionals Awards – 26/4/2012

11 May
Young Professionals Awards 2012, the winners

Young Professionals Awards 2012, the winners

I’ve been involved with the Manchester Young Professionals Awards since we came up with the idea in 2004. It’s in a loose partnership with pro-Manchester, the body that represents the interests of professionals (accountants, lawyers, bankers and others).

For the last five years I’ve also been the event compere. I put my hand up to do so after toiling over a script for a trio of minor celebrities with a good line in wit and a pretty face, only to see them struggle over the subtle differences between trades and the definitions of corporate finance and chartered surveying. Like I said here, I’m not a professional entertainer like Gyles Brandreth, or a sporting icon like Austin Healey with a backdrop of stories. But I know the markets I cover and I do my research.

I approached the event with a mission to cheer everyone along and make sure we had a few laughs. But I wanted to make everyone in the room feel they were part of something special – a cadre of young succesful professionals who are building careers in Manchester, and not in London.

Awkwardly, the previous winner of the Young Professional of the Year, Joanne Dennis-Jones from Drivers Jonas Deloitte (JDJ from DJD) has moved to London. It is protocol to invite the previous winner back to make a speech and this year Jo presented the award too.

Her speech was honest and inspirational, without being preachy or in any way apologetic for moving to London.

I opted to have some on-stage chit chat with sponsors and presenters, but nothing flirtatious or overly chummy. There is a subtle mix at work too. Getting people to take the awards seriously without getting the people to take themselves too seriously. I did this by inviting each winner to say a few words – not a speech, but a response to my questions that played to their characters and experiences. This presented challenges, but I was delighted at how it worked out.

One category award winner created a problem when I asked him who he’d like to thank. He initially said the name of his boss (who happens to be a friend of mine), then said, drunkenly, “but he can f*** off”. Obviously he’ll regret that in the cold light of day, but I think enabled him to recover and remind him of his success and his responsibilities. On the whole, it was a tricky moment that I handled well.

I got the measure of most of them – the ones who would be ready to say something sparkling and the ones who were a little overcome and had just a few words to say – it’s their moment, they can do as they please. The overall winner, Andy Thomas from Royal Bank of Scotland made some really heartfelt pleas to work harder: “We need to find a way to say ‘yes’ rather than looking for ways to say ‘no’. Banks are a big part of the recession and we must do out bit to find a way out of it.” Full story is here.

I ended with a speech about Manchester’s virtues over London. Citing the roll of technological and cultural honours – including a long list of musical great from the Hollies to the Happy Mondays. And what, I asked, has London done to compare with any of that? “Hedge funds, derivatives. And Chas and Dave. Thank you.”

It’s a nod to him, by the way.

Food and Drink Industry event 3/5/2012

6 May

This was a private event for senior executives in the Food and Drinks industry. It was put together by accountancy firm Grant Thornton, lawyers DWF, the private equity firm YFM Group and supported by UK Trade and Investment.

My job was to manage a panel debate on the big issues in the sector after opening talks from three speakers. I have to say all three were excellent, showing insights and sharing experiences from expanding their businesses into international markets. The opening from Charlotte Bowker at Grant Thornton set the scene perfectly.

The panel discussed and shared their experiences of the challenges and opportunities facing the Food and Drink industry in terms of international trading and funding and financing options. Grant Thornton used the event as an opportunity to launch the Smart Money in Food Report which nicely sheds light on the characteristics of businesses that are most attractive to investors and considers which subsectors will invite most interest from PE over the next 12-18 months. The report also includes commentary on the key sector trends from experts and contacts in the sector.

We had a large panel on the top table and my job was to make sure everyone had their say, but that they also said something directly relevant to their experiences. This I do my creating a matrix with the names of the people along the top and the issues that are relevant to them underneath it. I also avoid general questions that give people an excuse to say something to generic and safe.

It is possible to overprepare for a debate like this. You can pre-script and stage manage it, but you mainly have to make sure you listen to what people say and give the next person a chance to layer on knowledge.

All in all, a really good event. The calibre of debate was excellent.