A strategy shift is commonplace in today’s quick changes. Leaders are navigating a pivot every time the market shifts. Pivots require all employees to get on board with the new idea. Today’s guest is Jeff Guberman, CEO at McVeigh Global Meetings and Events. Inc Magazine ranked his company #382 on the 2020 Inc 5000 list. Jeff looks at the recent challenges of navigating a pivot in the light of a tough year in the event industry. We talk about how to get all employees aligned to the new strategy.
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Jeff Guberman: The Transcript
About: Jeff Guberman is the Chief Executive Officer at McVeigh Global Meetings and Events. McVeigh Global Meetings and Events is an award-winning supplier in the MICE industry providing innovative, cost-effective meeting management and event production solutions on a global stage.
Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.
On a virtual event than it is on a live event because at a live event on board, I’m going to go out, I’m going to use the bathroom, I get a drink, and then I’m going to go back in a virtual event, I just hang up, I walk away. There’s nothing holding me, they’re tying me down. And so I have to keep you engaged. And so understanding the emotional journey that you’re on at this event is critical. And so I know that I’m presenting some pretty dry information. Well, before I’ve lost you, I need to, I need to figure out how to engage you again, I need to bring you back and get you excited, in a much shorter timeframe than I would in a live event.
Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs of the fastest-growing privately held companies. I am the host. My name is Gene Hammett. I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth. Are you ready to grow?
Gene Hammett [0:54]
Pivoting is such a hard thing to do. But it’s necessary as our companies have to navigate new pathways for, In fact, 2020 was full of pivots. And in fact, you probably had to pivot more times than you’ve ever done in a previous year. pivoting is a really important piece to leadership, because it’s not just the idea behind where do we go next. But it’s how do you rally people together. And that’s exactly what we’re going to be talking about is rallying the troops around your ideas. And there are some key elements inside my conversation day with Jeff Guberman he is the CEO of McVeigh Global Meetings. They are a very specialty kind of events company, they have a logistics side to their events, but also a strategic creative side that allows them to create more impactful and better meetings for their clients. But what we talked about today is Jeff’s experience of pivoting through 2020, the event business was completely up ended, and Jeff had to go back to the drawing board of what their company should be doing, and where they can actually continue moving forward. All of the things inside this interview will help you become a better company and understand pivots. Because you will learn how to rally together, Jeff share some very specific ways that he’s rallied the people beyond the strategy. And you get to tune in to get all of those details and unlock the power.
Gene Hammett [2:18]
When you think about your own leadership, are you very, very clear about how you’re going to evolve moving forward? But you’re very clear about what does it take as a leader to create momentum? And by and across your ideas? Well, if you want to join us, we have fast growth boardroom, which is a very special way for you to figure out how do you show up as a more powerful leader? How do you create a stronger culture or a team of eight players? And how do you increase the value of your company? How do you create self-managing companies that really do move the business forward? Well, it’s only fast-growth companies at fast growth boardroom if you want to get the details just go to fast growth boardroom calm, we only invite in 5000 so if you’re not on the Inc 5000. You can’t apply. But I’d love for you to check that out. If you are on the Inc 5000 to see if it’s right for you fast growth boardroom calm. Now here’s the conversation.
Gene Hammett [3:12]
Jeff, how are you?
Jeff Guberman [3:14]
I’m doing great. How are you doing?
Gene Hammett [3:15]
I am fantastic. We are going to have a great conversation today for the growth Think Tank podcast. And I would love for you to kick off with this. Tell us about McVeigh global meetings and what you guys are up to?
Jeff Guberman [3:26]
Thank you. So McVeigh Global Meetings is a full service, meetings, and events company that services. pharmaceutical companies are all life sciences companies, corporate clients, and then Association clients and we produce events around the world. We’re a little bit unique from our competitors in that we have the logistics side handled, which is your attendee management and managing the hotel, managing food and beverage, booking your airfare. But then we really approach things from a strategic place. And we have an internal creative agency, that we sit with the executives for our clients and talk about what’s really the strategy that they’re going to be used to solve their challenges. And sometimes it’s a live meeting. And sometimes it’s a virtual event. And sometimes it’s an experiential engagement or, or an activation. But we have a lot of tools that we can use to help our clients solve their problems.
Gene Hammett [4:21]
Well, Jeff, everyone’s had an incredibly tough year through 2020. It probably is looking a little bit better in 2021. But everyone knows that the event business was probably hit as hard as anything out there. You guys weren’t prepared for this. So walk us back to, you know about early March. Can you go back that far? realize what was it like in early March for you?
Jeff Guberman [4:48]
Well, let me take it back even a little further to early February. And we had a senior leadership meeting to talk about the fact that we were having our best year ever we First quarter was phenomenal. And we are looking to probably exceed the goal for the year. And we knew this already in the first quarter. And so coming into the year, it was with unbelievable momentum. And then starting mid to late February cancellations started to slowly come in clients were getting scared, the news was not looking so good. And everything happened very incrementally in that, in that first-quarter events canceled, you know, the remainder of those events canceled right off the bat, then second-quarter events all disappeared. And then the third quarter, but everybody thought the fourth quarter was safe. But there’s no way that the world wasn’t going to reopen by the end of the summer, beginning of the winter.
Jeff Guberman [5:43]
And so we were optimistic, we lost six months of the year, maybe eight months of the year. And we lost about 80% of our business overnight, really, that when it all collapses, and it was a terrifying time. So we reacted very quickly, we furloughed a lot of people, we laid off some people, and really just set down to conserve cash to make sure that we were going to survive. And our team was amazing. They jumped in, people were dedicated. There were pretty significant salary cuts, and people continued to work their hardest, despite the salary cuts. And we spent about six months just making sure we were going to live and we are and we’re in good shape. And because of the work that we did, our cash position is good, and we’re safe and healthy. But there was a lot of question because our competitors were going out of business around us. And there are even today still more competitors that we believe will be going under.
Gene Hammett [6:48]
Jeff, let me kind of interrupt here. What was going on inside your head, I understand that we’ve strategically got to conserve cash, cash, we’ve got to develop a pivot, but as a leader of this company that had been doing really well, what were How are you dealing with all this?
Jeff Guberman [7:05]
So it was trying to be a mixture of being as honest and straightforward with our team and our investors as possible. I feel very strongly that absolute candor is important. But being as hopeful as I can be, and making sure that people knew that I saw hope and that there was a light at the end of the tunnel. And that a certain measure of blind faith was important. That even though it’s hard to know what the outcomes going to be, and there are so many variables and so many questions. And things feel really dark, that despite the fact that I’m going to be entirely honest with you about our position, I need that blind faith and I have that blind faith that we’re going to get through it. And as more facts come in to verify my blind faith or justify my blind faith, I kept adding to insane See, here’s why. See, here’s why. Here are more reasons we’re going to make it but when no reason Sui existed in front of you, you still had to feel it and say it and make sure everyone else felt it.
Now Jeff just talked about candor inside of his own management style. You’ve got to have a sense of openness and transparency, that allows you to be candid, and it really does help you become a better leader more respected. And actually rallying people together. This whole conversation around the pivot involves you being candid with your people, you really telling them what it was really like, not trying to sugarcoat it, not trying to hold back, and really helping them see what’s really going on. I say really, so many times here, I want you to really get this. When I think about being candid as a coach, I have to say what I’m afraid to say, I have to sense it in my mind. And maybe I have to phrase it in a way that allows my clients to grow. But the same thing for you and your leadership. You’ve got to be candid, in order to get people to truly stay connected to this. This is what I believe in. I’ve seen the power of it. So I wanted to put a spotlight on that for you today inside this interview. Now here’s jeff.
Gene Hammett [9:09]
Well, I remember what it was like when 911 hit and you’re probably young. I was I was working. And it was such a scary time. That’s probably the biggest comparison because it happened very quickly. This wasn’t something that just kind of, I mean, I know you kind of shared the story and maybe it unfolded for you for a couple of weeks. But for many of us, it was like mid marks and like okay, kids are coming home from school and everything shifting. I work from home I record I’m recording this episode from home. But everything was shifting underneath this, but you were able to be calm, be steady, and keep your keep people calm as well. I appreciate you sharing some of that insight. I know what happened for most people that were in the live space because I do a lot of professional speaking well. We did know each other before today, so appreciate you being on the show. But how have these virtual events, been able to keep the business going is that a big part of what you’ve been able to do?
Jeff Guberman [10:11]
The vast majority of what we’re doing so we pretty early on invested in our virtual events team of pre-COVID, we did a little bit in the virtual world, we dabbled in it, it was something we did when clients asked us to do it. But I wouldn’t call it one of our core competencies. And I wouldn’t call it something we were excited about doing free COVID you get it when you had to do it. And we, we hired a couple of key people, to bring us to that next level and then devoted, I guess, 12 people from our team, specifically to virtual. And we became very good at it. And beyond that, we got really excited about it, we found ways to do virtual events in ways that were strategic, and that was engaging, and that our clients loved and the attendees love.
Jeff Guberman [11:01]
And so virtual became the vast majority of what we did for the last year. And we think it’s going to be here forever. I think live events are certainly coming back. And we’re seeing a lot of signs of that. But virtual is not going anywhere. And even the live events that we are doing are going to be hybrid or a mixture of virtual and live. And that’s here to stay. And so we’ve gained a whole new tool to work with.
Gene Hammett [11:24]
When you have been doing these virtual events, I get asked a lot of times about even small events that teams have to create culture and whatnot. What have you learned about virtual events? Can you give me a kind of rundown of two or three things that we could learn and do within our own business today?
Jeff Guberman [11:42]
Yeah, well, the first question that everybody asks me is, what platform do you guys use? And so it’s a trick question. There is no one platform that’s going to do everything you want it to do. And so there’s got to be a big discovery on the platform. And so then you realize that the platform is a commodity, it doesn’t matter what platform and some will have this bell, and some will have that whistle. But at the end of the day, the platform is somewhat irrelevant. It’s about what you do with the platform. And so it’s trying to think differently and think outside the box, and acknowledge that your attendee experience is more important on a virtual event than it is on a live event, because at a live event, funboard, I’m going to go out, I’m going to use the bathroom, I get a drink, and then I’m going to go back in a virtual event, I just hang up, I walk away, there’s nothing holding me, they’re tying me there. And so I have to keep you engaged. And so understanding the emotional journey that you’re on at this event is critical. And so I know that I’m presenting some pretty dry information, well, before I’ve lost you, I need to figure out how to engage you again, I need to bring you back and get you excited, in a much shorter timeframe than I would in a live event. And so, literally on paper, I will track the emotional journey and be like, Alright, we know we need to present this kind of dry and boring. But we’re going to go from that to something really exciting, something really engaging. And then I’m going to give you a 15-minute break because I don’t want you to go out on your 15-minute break straight off of this dry, boring thing because maybe you’re not coming back.
Jeff Guberman [13:18]
Or I’ve got this amazing dynamic speaker. Okay, how do I make sure that I’m not that I’m bringing them from the right place to this amazing dynamic speaker? The thing is, is that timeframes are so different. Before COVID, I could sit I imagine that your keynote speech was probably 60 to 90 minutes, depending on who it was for. And I would assume that you had everybody on the edges of their seats for the entire 60 to 90 minutes. Yes, here at my screen for 60 to 90 minutes, no matter what you have to say to me, no matter who you are. And so breaking that up into smaller chunks is really important. Because I know you’re on your email. And I know you’re on your phone. And even if you’re not working, you’re watching YouTube or Facebook while you’re watching me speak. And so really trying to break this into smaller pieces so I can hold your attention. And let’s have a little pressure relief. And then I’ll hold your attention again, and then give you more pressure relief. The other thing that we find really important is sending things to your home.
Jeff Guberman [14:24]
So trying to integrate something tangible that you can touch and feel connects you to that virtual in a way that is kind of unanticipated. We all watch TV all night, and you don’t feel connected to that TV show in any way. It’s fun, you enjoy it. You might be waiting for the next one to come out. And you might care about a character, but you’re not connected. It’s entirely presentational, but once I put something in your hand that the person is engaging with, it’s breaking that fourth wall and to have somebody say, Hey everyone, take out your boxes and open to open up that package in there, I’ve got a surprise for you in there. That’s exciting, and it brings them into your home. And it makes a big difference.
Gene Hammett [15:10]
Well, I appreciate you sharing some of those tidbits. The point of this interview wasn’t to talk about those. But I, we had this opportunity. So I want you to share with us what you’ve learned, because you’ve probably put together hundreds of these Now, over the last year. And I wanted to make sure we provide some level of understanding for those that are looking at virtual events. And of course, they can connect you and your team because I’m sure you talked about the creative elements that are inside your team. You’ve learned a lot over the years, you’ve probably learned what works, what doesn’t work. And anybody who’s interested in that, I’d love you to check out my phase global meetings. Jeff, I want to go into this concept of the pivot, because this is something where we’re zooming out a little bit, everyone has had to pivot. What are the core foundational elements of a successful pivot from your perspective?
Jeff Guberman [16:04]
So this was a little bit of a unique pivot in that our market dissipated, and we just entirely evaporated. And there, we knew that there was going to be money moving around the market somewhere, but we just didn’t know where. And so the first thing that we did was a lot with was we came up with test ideas to put in front of our clients and just gauge reactions. And so we looked at new products like mobile marketing. As I said, we work with a lot of Life Sciences clients. And it’s important to them that their reps get in front of people. And there’s a lot of ways that they do that. But that wasn’t it, that wasn’t possible anymore.
Jeff Guberman [16:41]
So could we do a mobile marketing campaign where we take products to a hospital, somebody who commands the parking lot and interact with these products, we looked at doing virtual moderators. And we have some clients that we supply virtual moderators, we did event boxes, both for our events, but for other people’s events, the physical items that I was talking about earlier, we looked at doing services for clinical trials, which is something very similar to how we treat doctors and some of our healthcare professional meetings, but different market. And then, of course, virtual events. And so we looked, we looked at putting together marketing campaigns against each of these.
Jeff Guberman [17:21]
So we can just ad test them, and see what are people interested in? Where are people spending their dollars? And where’s there less fear in the market right now. And two, we’re able to really quickly narrow down, where is the money really happening. And virtual events was certainly the biggest winner out of all of those, but there are others that we were able to gain some traction, and then others that we just realized very quickly, like let’s fail fast walk away from this. There’s not interest in not happening right now. And our industry typically has a very long sales cycle. You know, we work with Master service agreements with large clients. And it usually takes several years to get a master service agreement in place, after you know, from when you first start pitching them when we didn’t have that kind of time. So it was really trying to focus on what’s going to earn revenue.
Jeff Guberman [18:10]
Now, what’s going to be a quick move, what are holes in the market that clients are confused about, because as much as our world had flipped their head as well. And so we tried to find as much confusion in their worlds as we could and see how we can help with that. And we were able to find some big holes there. The other thing that was important to us was finding services that wouldn’t disappear. Once COVID ended. We had obviously no idea when COVID was going to go away. And so we wanted something that we have that we’re going to invest money in now. And we’re going to have a long life with and we feel like we’ve gotten there with that.
Gene Hammett [18:52]
How do you rally the team around these new ideas? Was there a lot of excitement? Or were there things that you had to do to get that excitement going?
Jeff Guberman [19:02]
So all of the ideas were crowd-sourced. So we brought the whole company together for two days, which we called innovation days. And everybody came up with a lot of different ideas. And then we voted on the best ones. And then the senior leadership team narrowed it down beyond that. And then we created task forces around each one to investigate it, develop some marketing materials for their marketing team and get it and get it out to the public. And so each one had internal champions whose job was to was to lead this team, motivate the team and get them excited about it. And so partner was picking the right people for the right product. And I think that the biggest challenges were willing to end one is and as I said fail fast.
Gene Hammett [19:56]
Jeff Guberman [19:56]
There were a lot of people that wanted to keep going keep you know, keep putting Because they believed in it. Without the evidence, though, we decided to end many of them. And it was the right choice at the time. But the challenge at that point was to give these people new initiatives that they were equally excited about and keep them going beyond that.
Now, hold on, Jeff just said something that’s very powerful. He talked about the ideas being crowdsourced across the company. Now, what this really means is that he wanted to make sure that people felt included in the direction of the company. And in fact, the very smart thing, because of all the research I’ve done. Inclusion is one way to make people feel a sense of ownership. When you have inclusion, people have a feeling of ownership, and that feeling translates and how they react and how they show up for every part, the work, and how they overcome challenges. But one of the things that you really want to understand about crowdsourcing ideas as you allow the best ideas to win, it’s not just your ideas. And in fact, if your company is predicated on you coming up with the best ideas for everything in front of you, it’s a roadblock. In fact, you are the bottleneck of the company, you want to make sure people feel like they can share those ideas. And you crowdsource sourced them in a way where people feel like the best ideas win. This allows the organization to grow beyond you. And this is very important in leadership, but also essential and fast growth. Now back to Jeff.
Gene Hammett [21:30]
I got to ask you about those crowdsourcing ideas, was that virtual? Or did you guys get together in person?
Jeff Guberman [21:37]
All virtual, all virtual, I’ve seen very few of our team members in person since last February. It was March.
Gene Hammett [21:45]
I wanted to ask you a little bit more about that. How have you guys weathered the storm of virtual culture? I know the event, people have this energy, and a lot of them are very outgoing, and they love to be around people, I could probably see that in your face, too. That’s one reason why I created an event business. But when you went to virtual, you were stuck, looking in a box, not getting very many hugs, not many, many high fives and fist bumps and things like that. So how have your team weathered the storm of virtual culture?
Jeff Guberman [22:19]
So we’ve made a really strong effort to bring people together. And it’s interesting because I think we’ve gotten to know each other better, virtually than we ever would have in person. So we’ve done this in a lot of different ways. In the beginning, it was extremely important because we’d also been furloughing a lot of people. And so 70% of our business review was either laid off or furloughed in a pretty short amount of time. And, and so keeping the morale up and keeping the family spirit that is so important to us, was really challenging. And so a lot of it was about togetherness. So we added a Friday, we called the family meeting, every Friday, we do a meeting that includes all of the furlough people that choose to join and are and as many of our internal team is choose, chooses to join them is not mandatory. But it’s just fun.
Jeff Guberman [23:14]
All it is is is something personal, and a different team member will lead it each time. And so it might be a game of Family Feud, and they break us up and we do a digital Family Feud, great game. for the holidays, everyone contributed one photo of memory from their childhood around the holidays that was important to them. And we put up all the photos and then everybody talks about a memory that was important to them. for Valentine’s Day, we did a game where people talked about different things in their history that were exciting to them or were endearing to them. But it was very much about getting to know each other on a whole nother level. There was zero business talked about at this meeting. And every now and then we talked about changing it from weekly to every other week. Just because everyone’s so busy. And the pushback has been no, this is valuable. This is who we are as a company, and this is important to us.
Jeff Guberman [24:11]
So that’s our Friday meetings. And then we have a Monday meeting. And we used to do a monthly several our town hall where we would talk about the state of the business, we would do some training, we were talking about different groups, and what’s the business there winning and losing and what are we excited about are proud of we change from this, this couple our monthly thing to a half-hour every Monday. And we do group updates where everybody goes around and talks about what’s happening. And then we do training on something we’re struggling with as a company or, or enough update on something specific in our industry. Or we’ll present a proposal that we’re really proud of or a creative solution that we’re really excited about. And so it’s allowed us to get deeper into our business in a way that we weren’t before. We get almost 100% attendance at our Monday meeting, you probably get 50 or 60% attendance at a Friday meeting. And I’m good with those numbers. Because the people that attend care, and they’re involved in, they’re excited about it.
Gene Hammett [25:24]
I love those ideas, appreciate you sharing, I knew that we would be able to uncover gold by talking to you, Jeff. And I really appreciate you being on the podcast.
Jeff Guberman [25:32]
Thank you for having me.
Gene Hammett [25:35]
So I want to wrap up a little bit offline here, Jeff is listening in but I wanted to just kind of dive into this. You don’t have to accept that your meetings can’t be incredible virtually. And what he just talked about at the end was some ideas that you could be, you know, mimicking and stealing. To create more of a connection, you can invite people who are no longer with the company that has been furloughed, you can invite people who, who really do want to stay connected through all of this, but also the Town Hall is a great way for you to do that. So you don’t have to accept that it’s just difficult and you’re not going to do the things and you don’t have to just do the work. We’ve talked about the importance of connecting personally.
Gene Hammett [26:16]
So I want to put a highlight on that for you. But if you are evolving into a better leader and a stronger leader, make sure you keep tuned in to Growth Think Tank. I want to help you be the best leader you can be and help your team excel in every part of the growth strategy. When you think of culture and you think of growth, think of Growth Think Tank, as always lead with courage. We’ll see you next time.
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