The Events Experience

Events Industry Outlook and Innovations with Michael Dominguez

September 15, 2022 Bishop-McCann
Events Industry Outlook and Innovations with Michael Dominguez
The Events Experience
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The Events Experience
Events Industry Outlook and Innovations with Michael Dominguez
Sep 15, 2022
Bishop-McCann

During this interview, Rob Adams speaks with Michael Dominguez, President & CEO at ALHI and event industry expert. Discussing the industry's outlook, innovations, and much more, the pair have an in-depth conversation covering various topics affecting our industry today. Topics include: 

  • Current economic conditions and their effect on the event industry
  • Increase in mergers and acquisitions
  • Innovation in meetings and events
  • Outlook on virtual and hybrid events

Subscribe to The Events Experience, and create JOY wherever you go! 

Show Notes Transcript

During this interview, Rob Adams speaks with Michael Dominguez, President & CEO at ALHI and event industry expert. Discussing the industry's outlook, innovations, and much more, the pair have an in-depth conversation covering various topics affecting our industry today. Topics include: 

  • Current economic conditions and their effect on the event industry
  • Increase in mergers and acquisitions
  • Innovation in meetings and events
  • Outlook on virtual and hybrid events

Subscribe to The Events Experience, and create JOY wherever you go! 

Hi, and welcome to The Events Experience, where we take a deep dive into everything event planning. I work for Bishop-McCann, an agency devoted to creating JOY through meetings, incentives, and events for big name brands. On this podcast, myself and our company's experts will discuss all things events, so keep listening to hear all about the latest tips and trends for virtual, live, and hybrid events.

Hi, everyone! I am so excited to be joined by our President and Co-Owner, Rob Adams, who will be interviewing Michael Dominguez, President and CEO at ALHI and an event industry expert. Today, our discussion is going to cover the industry's outlook, innovations, and much more. Thank you both for being here, and I'll let Rob kick off the conversation!

Rob: Thanks, Brenna! I mean, there's one title that you missed for Michael, and that title is "friend." So, Michael, I think about the many years that we've known each other, and you've got some big titles, but the one that I'm most proud of is the "friend" title. So I just want to thank you for joining today. And I read on your Instagram that you don't need an inspirational quote; what you need is just coffee. So I thought what we'd do is, you know, send you a little Bishop-McCann mug. I don't know if you got your mug, but there's so many topics that I want to cover with you. I feel like with you, we can't do a podcast without talking about the word "economy." So I would like to get your perspective of, as you think about the industry outlook and mirror that with the economy, there are so many headlines that are happening right now.

Michael: Oh yeah.

Rob: Right. Some would say that we're getting ready to go into a recession. Some would say we're in a recession. Some would say inflation is at its peak. Some would say it's at its lowest. So my question to you is, what is your outlook on the economy? And then what is the correlation between that and the impact on our industry?

Michael: Well, first, Rob, thank you for having me! And yeah, "friend" would be the most important title. I had somebody point out to me, you've seen me in my emails or when I send you a text, it's like, "How are you, my friend?" I use that in my language, but it's not used lightly. I do appreciate that call out. Yeah, the economic nerd in me has been going down a rabbit hole for sure during this time frame because it's an interesting topic that we've been talking about within our organization. I'm actually doing a presentation on the industry right now, and I've labeled it, "It's an Important Time to be Decisively Indecisive." And I say that because I want people to understand, please do not make definitives about what we think has changed and what this environment looks like because there were artificial inflators that have gotten us to this point for a variety of reasons. When you think about it and look at it, you know, if you think about some of the corrections happening right now, why is Peloton struggling from a stock perspective? Why is Best Buy struggling? Because they had this artificially inflated buy during a shutdown, during the pandemic, that is now settling. Even though it looks like they're tanking, they're just getting back to where they were because we're getting to some normalization. And that's happening from an economic standpoint.

So let me answer the question as I tell everybody: we're in a recession. You can't change the definition after 40 years. The definition of a recession is we've had two declining periods of gross-domestic product growth. Not all recessions feel the same way. It may not feel like a recession, but it doesn't mean we're not in a recession. That's where I think people are struggling, and that's why you said, there's so much noise coming at us. Are we in a recession? Yes, we are. Is it stopping spending? Not really. Are we having a lot of pullback? Not really. One of the things that makes me very optimistic moving forward – I just showed this slide literally before I jumped on here to our Head of our Strategic Consulting Services, Dr. Lalia Rach, because we were talking about the economy. What I was showing her is this one chart that shows you right now, dramatically, corporations are cash heavy and debt light at this moment. While if you go back to 2008, the lines were completely reversed. They had no cash, and they literally had a lot of debt service that they had to pay. So the reason I think we're not feeling it and not really seeing it, you hear people being concerned, but you're not seeing this dramatic slowdown that you normally would. It's because everybody's sitting on a lot of cash. By the way, if you go one step down, the consumer is sitting on $2.5 trillion worth of cash more than a traditional savings rate and where they should be, most of it government given, by the way.

But I'll circle back. The very true definition of inflation is we have more monetary supply than excess demand. This was self induced. We've given out so much money over these last couple of years. If you think about it, it was compiled by not only was I giving money away, but at the same time, I'm not spending because I'm on lockdown. I couldn't go anywhere. I couldn't travel. I couldn't eat out. And by the way, my one pair of sweatpants that I bought lasted me six months because we're doing everything on Zoom. I mean, literally the spending went away, and I had the extra cash. That's what's normalizing right now, and I think it's interesting because we keep talking about the Fed. The Fed keeps raising rates, and they're raising rates to slow down and nothing is slowing down. Why isn't it slowing down? Because raising rates has nothing to do with what the issues are. People are sitting on cash. Usually when you're in a regular environment, I'm borrowing as a consumer. I'm pulling out debt. So raising rates slows down my borrowing. Well, if I'm sitting on a lot of cash, you can raise rates all day. I'm not going to slow down my spending because I'm not borrowing.

It is the most unique environment, and I am geeking out about it. It's kind of fun for me to look at all the data points and try to put them together. But I'm trying to explain to people, that's why it feels very, very different right now because there's just a lot of cash. And by the way, cash broken down doesn't matter which wage category you're in. There are billions and billions of dollars in every wage category. Even those that earn under $30,000 a year, there's over $70 billion in extra savings for those people in that category. That's why I said, a lot of that was government stimulus, and it's going to take a while to cycle out. That's kind of my point. So inflation is here, definitely going to impact our meetings industry. Food and beverage has never been at higher cost. I'm glad we're slowing down. But Rob, it's going to be here a while. We are going to be well ahead of any norms that we've seen because that norm is always in the 2.5-3% range. We're going to be well above that for at least 12 months, if not longer. Yes, energy is coming down, but 70% of the inflation, it's in other core products in our lives. And food and beverage is unfortunately one of the highest around, and that's going to continue to press us.

Rob: So, Michael, you're talking about these are not typical times. So as you think about just the meetings industry, one of the things that we're noticing is – I call it – the rhythm of meetings. Right?

Michael: Right.

Rob: There was definitely a rhythm for larger meetings. We would know about those meetings potentially a year prior to a large meeting happening. We now have some of our largest meetings that are giving us three- to six-month time periods to be able to execute on that. And I was just curious, are you seeing that with clients of yours? And if so, what is your explanation for the reason that is?

Michael: Yes, we're seeing it. The reasons for it are actually quite simple. I think one of the best examples, I had a corporate client, they did a survey. One out of every five employees in their company had never met anyone else in the company. So coming out of this, I believe it's going to take us 12-18 months to normalize back to that rhythm, Rob. But right now, there is this need that people are saying, "We just got to get people together."

Rob: Right.

Michael: We haven't been together; we haven't connected. You have a lot of new leadership and a lot of different situations that they're trying to figure out how do you bring cultural adhesion together? How do you bring a community together? Like I'm talking to you right now from our PGA National Property because I have an all-company meeting every 90 days, and I was even doing that all through '21 while we still had some pandemic issues. But I bring the entire organization together. I think it's important for us to get together because we're not all in the same place.

Rob: One of the conversations I've had with some of our clients is the situation when you think about budgets being created. They were created last year when we were still in COVID times, right? And then, to your point, CEOs and C-suites are saying, "We got to bring people together," and they're saying we need to get together like now.

Michael: Right.

Rob: So this disconnect between the corporate planners and the c-suites is one of the things that we're seeing. Is that consistent with your other clients?

Michael: Without a doubt. And Rob, you just mentioned this, I think part of the disconnect right now is (especially when you're talking about face to face, how much of it's going to be hybrid, what virtual components are we going to have?), our budgets were baked, the environment's changing, and there's not enough budget for both of them right now. I'm almost seeing an overcorrection, and not in a good way. The overcorrection is we're meeting face to face. I'm doing nothing in a hybrid environment. You're either showing up, or you're not. Well, that's not necessarily because of need or purpose; it's because of budget. I was budgeting for maybe a virtual environment. Now I'm bringing everybody together, and it's not cheaper to do both. I would add too, everybody is short staffed.

Rob: Right.

Michael: I haven't talked to a meeting organization yet that says, "Oh, I got plenty of help." So when you're trying to do both of those, it's also more work. I go back to the beginning. It's going to take 12-18 months for all this to settle down, but we're seeing the exact same thing. I would add, the other thing that I think is interesting, we're seeing a lot of new meetings, not the normal rotation. Because people are just having to get people together for a variety of reasons. But it's not my national sales meeting. It's not my annual. It's like, I've got 300 people. I need to get them together right now, and that is the surprise that's coming in.

Rob: We're getting ready to come on to budget season now as people are thinking about their budgets for 2023.

Michael: Correct.

Rob: Do you think we're going to have the same situation we're in now, or do you think there's going to be some adjusted assumptions in place?

Michael: I think it's important that planners right now with their stakeholders are asking for more money. It's my advice to all of them, and this has been our conversations over the last six months at our executive events. I have planners raise their hands and say, "Help me explain to my stakeholder." I said, "Well, there's not a single CFO in the world right now that doesn't understand inflation has impacted everything." It is the only time in my history that I've seen an environment that you know inflation is everywhere. So it's a great opportunity to go into a budget cycle, to be able to tell the CFO, "I'm going to need an additional 7% on food and beverage because of what's happening from an inflationary perspective." The worse they're going to do is tell them "no." The best is you're going to get some extra money to be able to pad it. Here's the best thing, Rob. If you ask for it and all of a sudden we get out of that inflationary environment for some reason, you have some extra padding. It doesn't mean you have to spend it all, and you still get to look like a hero to your CFO because you save some money when it's all said and done. But if it stays (which I do believe it's going to, at least for the next nine months or so), you at least have enough money to work with as you're going through it.

But I've also put the responsibility on hotels. I've told all of our hotels in ALHI, it is your responsibility for everybody that you have on the books for '23 to get to them now and tell them what they should be asking for for budget increases. Because if you're not, candidly, you're not serving them as a good partner. We should be arming them for those discussions. And I have a food slide I've got to send to you guys. It's probably the most requested slide I've done yet. It's from Statista, and literally, it's a picture of a burger. And I go, "Simplest thing I could put up here." It's a hamburger, right? You look at it, and just off the top of my head in that burger, lettuce is up 15%. The tomato is flat. The bun was up 17%. The meat is up 14%. Bacon was up 13%. And the condiments in that burger are up 9.2%. That is the visual that planners are like, "I can take that to my CFO because that they would understand. Very simply, these are the pieces you're not understanding that the hotels we're going to go to, everything has increased." When you're telling me condiments are up 10%, everything in the margin has increased across the board. Then I have one piece of advice. I had a client who said it was very helpful. She goes, "Tell me where to start." And I said, "Well, your company has done a budget, and your company has inflationary costs, as well, in running their business. I promise you, you have a budget that didn't go negative. You have a revenue growth to offset those expenses." What is that number? Is it 5%? Is it 6%? Is it 7%? Because I would start there. I would go to my CFO and say, "We raised our pricing and revenues by 7%. Why would you expect the hotels not to do the same?" I think that's logical, and we haven't had those kind of business discussions with our stakeholders. That's where I think we can help.

Rob: Michael, I'm smiling right now because one of our clients is McDonald's, and I was just imagining that every planner, what they should do is get a McDonald's cheeseburger and bring it to their CFO to have this conversation you and I are having.

Michael: Well, and there's a great example. McDonald's in their earnings report has talked about they've increased pricing by over 12% on their products. What a great example to go back and use your own methodology within your own business to say, "This is why I'm asking for more money because those businesses we're working with are asking for the same increase you just asked for."

Rob: You and I have talked so many times about the industry in this M&A world that we're in. I saw an interesting stat that if you go back eight years, M&A was growing at about 12-15% year over year. If you look at mergers and acquisitions activity today, it's up 3,000%. With mergers and acquisitions comes so much opportunity I see as an industry but also some potential challenges. When you think about mergers and acquisitions happening in our industry, what do you think are some of the opportunities for innovation? But also I'd like to hear from you, where do you see some caution points or red flags as we're thinking about consolidation?

Michael: That's an interesting one because I couldn't agree more. I always call it survival of the fittest. It's Darwinism kicking in. Because these mergers and acquisitions are happening because they're necessary. I think it's interesting, even in my own little world, we're a company that when our investors are saying, "How do you grow?" Well, you either grow by organic growth, or you grow, sometimes, in purchases because those are your big growth steps. So it's good for the company. We know we do that because there's the economies of scale that come into place, and it's going to make us more efficient. I've never heard anyone say, "I'm going to do a merger and acquisition, and it's going to cost me a lot more money while I make a lot more money." It's always, "I'm going to be able to save because of some of this that's already built in." I think that's the positive of this environment. We're becoming more efficient. The really good companies, Rob, are when you become more efficient, that money you're saving goes into more research and development. It's not that you save it; you start to grow the company with new innovations and new deliverables. I think that is really impressive.

I think we run the risk (not saying it's happening), but you run the risk that as we continue to merge - the airlines are a great example of this. If these last mergers go through and you're down to only four to five airlines, you are limiting competition. You're gaining efficiencies, but you start to eliminate competition. Sometimes because you're so efficient and making so much money, there's not this push to innovate. There's not this push to keep growing. I think that's a risk long term. Not short term, but that's a risk long term. Some of the development starts to get buried just because we're being really successful financially. Eventually, it'll catch up because that efficiency doesn't last forever. Same in the hotel business. Same with audiovisual. You see DMCs that all come together. You run the risk that you start to become insular in thought and insular with ideas, and then we don't have the innovation. The beauty is you're having all this M&A because there are a bunch of disruptors out there. There are small disruptive companies that have been really good for our industry, and they're getting sucked up by other, larger groups. That's good, but it also comes with cautionary tales. Fortunately, I just don't think you're going to see a lot of that really impact us for five years. It takes a while for us to get static or to get stagnant, but then we're going to wake up. We'll have a wake up call, and that wake up call is, "I've got to innovate. I've got to grow." And we do it again.

From a meeting standpoint, I think it's a wonderful opportunity, by the way. When you merge companies, you've got to merge cultures, and there's more meetings that are born out of that. That's really exciting for us, but it's a little disruptive for our environments as well.

Rob: So you said the word "innovation" - another word that we have also talked about often. You know, you and I talked about it the first time that we met. This comparison of my prior life coming from Microsoft (the technology world) coming into the meetings and events industry, the degree of innovation that was happening in technology in comparison to our industry – our industry was lacking so much. One of the things that I have seen that I've loved about our industry the last couple of years is just the amount of innovation that I am seeing. I wanted to get your view on what you are seeing around innovation, and of all the areas of innovation that you're seeing, if there's one or two that excite you?

Michael: You know, it's interesting that you and I, when we've talked about innovation in traditional senses, it's always been about technology. I think innovation right now and where it needs to go in our industry is around our process and around our architecture, not technology. I think too many people throw out technology and say, "We've innovated." No, you're using technology. That's like buying a color television in the 1960s and saying, "I innovated my house." No, you bought what had changed from a technology perspective. You know, I just joked with our team at this meeting. I go, "We're all impressed with ourselves." And to really start to dig, I think we've done the easy part of it. Even though it seems like heavy lifting, Rob, I think it's easy because the technology exists. But when you think about what I'm excited about, where are we going from an innovation (truly an innovation) standpoint, from a sustainability standpoint? Where are we going from a diversity standpoint? What does that look like in our process? I used to joke – we changed the furniture in a meeting room because we put in couches and highboys, and we're like, "Look how we're innovating." You changed the furniture. Now, "why did you change the furniture" to me is the innovation we have to talk about. What are you trying to get out of it? What is the engagement? You're trying to make them more comfortable. Why? Did you want more interaction? Did you want more engagement? What does that look like?

I tell our planners often, we spent two years trying to figure out how to meet. We need to go back to remembering why we're meeting. I'd love the innovation to really be focused around the objective, the engagement, the interaction. Where I was really excited (you know, I have a passion around this), when we talk about wellness, we've always partnered with Delos and Delos Living and what they're doing because they're the founders of the International Well Buildings Initiative. The idea is how do physical environments impact us as human beings, but how does that impact our mental acuity? How does it impact our alertness? Because that's going to impact engagement. So what I'm most excited about is that wellness is the term right now. I do think health and wellness together need to be separated, just like I think diversity and inclusion should never be included together. They're different. Diversity and inclusion, by the way, I say diversity is inviting everyone to the dance. Inclusion is actually asking them on the dance floor. I think when we've combined them, unfortunately, people think they've checked the box, and we're doing what we should be doing because we invited everyone to the dance. That's not the same. And I think it's the same with health and wellness.

Health is really about our physical being while wellness is really about our mental being and engagement. It comes down to the people side of it. That's what I'm excited about. You know, I geeked out about light. We still have hotels that have crappy yellow light everywhere they are, and that's not a criticism. Before LED lighting, that's all we had. Today, it doesn't cost me a penny more to have a daylight hue. Daylight suppresses melatonin while yellow light increases it. So why do you get sleepy in an eight-hour meeting in a boardroom? Because you're sitting under yellow light, impacting and increasing melatonin throughout the day. Melatonin makes you sleepy. It's why you have a night feature on your phone to be able to read at night that goes yellow because yellow is going to make you sleepy while blue (and they tell you not to look at your blue screen) is suppressing melatonin, making you awake.

That's the stuff I'm excited about because I cannot go to a hotel right now where they're not talking about wellness and starting to understand the science behind it. I think for too long, health and wellness was a marketing campaign while now there's a real initiative. I hope that's a silver lining of the pandemic: that health and wellness came to the forefront to say air quality matters, light matters. We should have plants like crazy in most rooms because biophilia in all research makes us feel better. It calms us. It'll allow for better engagement. I know that's probably a different innovation answer than you would expect, but that's why I'm excited about innovation because now we're talking about the human experience and the human condition. That's what I get juiced about.

 Rob: Technology, you know, let's go back to that word because technology definitely was something that we saw a shift in as it relates to virtual meetings. You know, Zoom is getting a lot of headlines right now with some of the layoffs they have gone through and what looks like a challenging future for them as they see it right now. As I hear about some of those headlines around Zoom, thinking about the impact of things like virtual meetings, what do you see as technology platforms, as it's related to how we meet virtual and live?

Michael: Yeah, you know, I'll go back. Two things, I always like frame of reference. You remember I talked about being over inflated because of the pandemic. Zoom's a great example of that. So if Zoom's numbers right now were a normal number from a growth rate of where we were before the pandemic, Wall Street would be buying them up like it was candy because the growth rate would be phenomenal based on their 2019 numbers. The reason they're getting hammered is because they grew to put up with the demand that was artificially inflated because we were all at home and this was the only way we could communicate. We're kind of normalizing, and that's my whole point. I think Zoom has a bright future. Unfortunately, they're laying off all the people that they had added on during that time frame. You know, what doesn't get as much news is Amazon having major layoffs because of all the people they added to the warehouse. They don't have that kind of demand and growth anymore. It's happening everywhere where we are artificially inflated.

I think if anything, the positive out of the pandemic is that virtual meetings and hybrid experiences caught us up with some of the largest tech companies in the world. They've been doing this for a long time. You came from one of them when you talked about Microsoft. It's not new that they had some virtual activity going on, and there's this hybrid experience. When I was in Vegas, I mean, we saw it with some of the largest companies in the world, whether it was Cisco coming in, IBM coming in, or Microsoft when they brought in their program.

You know, SAP Sapphire Now, when I was chair of MPI, we had just released the study of that program because it was two continents coming out of two different broadcast studios using social media. I actually play this clip when I speak. It's a joke for me because it goes, "Welcome to SAP Sapphire Now 2010." And I'm reminding everybody, it's not new, but what did happen is it became mainstream. There were so many affordable options that the people that have always either had the time to do it or were afraid to do it are no longer afraid. Rob, that gives me a lot of hope for the future on how virtual and hybrid start to play in because people now don't have to be afraid of it. I think what we have to figure out as an industry is where this lives. The beauty to me around Zoom, I will never have a conference call again around a little black box. That is the crappiest experience you could ever have for a conference call. I will always be in this kind of platform now. That is a place that is anchored and set, and it's going to retire the black boxes of the world, which is great.

Then I think about moving forward. Then we have the more dynamic uses of it. What does that look like? I still think there's a learning process. There's too many people coming out of the pandemic that believed having a live stream of a meeting happening live was a hybrid experience. I go, "No, that's called a broadcast. You were broadcasting the meeting." A hybrid experience is a hybrid experience. It shouldn't look and feel completely the same as what you have in person, and that's what I'm excited about. I think we have an opportunity to have a really dynamic experience with hybrid, and the issue is you have a three-day meeting. A hybrid experience doesn't have to be three days, eight hours. That's not effective anyway. But the hybrid component of that might be two hours a day of a three-day meeting. That's where I think our industry still needs to settle in. And I love when people said, "I had record attendance with virtual." I go, "They had nothing else to do." You were locked at home. You've binged every Netflix series you could. You had nothing else to do. I think that settlement is what we're still trying to figure out, but I'm really hopeful that we're going to understand that we can have a really dynamic hybrid experience program, and we should have it for those that aren't able to attend it. But to know that it doesn't look and feel like a regular meeting. If we do that well, I just think that is a huge opportunity from a marketing perspective for our industry when it's all done.

Rob: How about the cost of that? The conversations have been conceptually we love the idea. But to be able to do a hybrid meeting, it's almost like doing two separate meetings, and a lot of clients are having a challenge trying to rationalize why to do that.

 Michael: Well, and here's my best point. Does it have to be at the same time? Because that's where the cost is. Because if I package the content afterwards, I have a great keynote. I've already filmed it. I'm going to take that package and put it together later, and your hybrid meeting is a week later. Where's the extra cost? I could do that online. I could do it on a website. I could literally put it in this environment. I think we overthink it, and we're putting the challenges and the barriers in front of us from a cost perspective because we're not figuring out, "How do I take the content and make it live?"

This isn't pure hybrid, Rob, but I'll give you my own example. When we're having our executive programing now, I have these wonderful keynotes that are sponsored and some big ones. I mean, later today, I'm speaking to Chris Gardner again because we've been friends – you know, The Pursuit of Happyness, the real Chris Gardner. He joined us because he had released a new book, and it was really cool. But the point to that is, what we've learned is, I've got him in my program. I've got him speaking. Well, now part of their program is they come onto our podcast. I get to repackage that as well into our blog on our website. It continues into more of a holistic approach. That doesn't cost me anymore. I could say to Chris, "I'm going to film you while you're there. By the way, we're putting together this other program." And we could run it in a Zoom format if I wanted to. I've got a keynote that's not costing me anymore because it's already packaged, and then I'm going to have other educational content. But that may be a two-hour meeting that is summarizing some of what happened in the larger meeting.

I think we're too much trying to duplicate the in-person meeting because we didn't understand that's not a hybrid experience, and that's what I mean. I really think in COVID, that's what happened. So many of us were forced into this environment. We really thought a virtual meeting or a hybrid experience is me taking what we did in a three-day program face to face and shoving it into a computer program, and it doesn't work. I really think that's the opportunity for us, and the excitement for us, to me, is that we'll start to figure that out and figure out there's a real place for it.

Rob: It makes me think of, I was reading an article a few weeks ago, and the article said, "To think different, you've got to think different." Right?

Michael: Haha, I like that!

Rob: You know, "To think different, you've got to think different." And when I think about doing hybrid meetings, it's not just about, "Do we do a live, virtual, or hybrid?" If we're going to do the hybrid, we literally have to think differently about how we traditionally do a meeting.

All right, so we're going to go a little more personal now. What I love about you, Michael, is that you always have facts, figures, and good insight on industry, technology, and innovation, all the things that we've talked about. But one of the things that I love about you is you bring it back to feelings. I think about COVID. You know, there were so many lessons. I haven't had the opportunity to talk to you since I came back from India, but I just did that around November. One of the things that I learned personally was, we make life too complicated. You know?

Michael: Without a doubt!

Rob: We make life too complicated, and I think about just that one lesson I learned. So I have to ask you, what was the one takeaway that is top of mind for you?

Michael: I think more than anything, it was the human condition that stood out above all else, and what I mean by that is the human condition took so many facets. Where I had everybody in a different headspace. I had everybody in a different emotional space. We really had to focus on the individuals as far as, "How are you?" And that was the question we were asking every day. We were asking, "How are you, and where are you mentally?" You know, even coming out of COVID right now. I'm having this all-staff meeting, and my Chief Sales Officer, Ashly Balding, had told everybody that we all have struggles in life. We all have things that we're dealing with individually that we all bring to the table. You know, we need to understand that, give ourselves some grace, and accept that. Then I followed up when I was kind of closing out, and said, "And please don't forget – look around you. You've got an entire community to give you a hug. We're here to hold you. We're here to support you." And to me, that came out of COVID. It connected us globally. It connected us locally. It connected us more on a human level than I think we have in a long time, and we miss the human connection because that was taken away from us.

If there is anything I stress with my team today, I remind them often, when I say we're really impressed with ourselves, we're filling hotel rooms. We're not curing cancer. Let's keep it in perspective because I hope I'm creating a culture in an organization that nobody in that room loses an ounce of sleep around work because it's just work. And yes, we take it seriously, we deliver well, and we're extremely professional. But it's just work. I want you to focus all that energy on your family, your life, and your personal well-being. To me, that was my greatest lesson coming out that I have more work to do coming out of COVID to keep that momentum going and focus going. Because it's too easy – to your point – to overthink and get back into our old ways immediately.

Rob: Absolutely. One of the things that I always tell every new hire is that I don't micromanage anything, except one thing, and that's vacation. Every quarter, I have our head of talent and culture pull everybody's vacation. I want to see those people that are not taking vacation because if anyone says Bishop-McCann is the number one thing in your life that brings you JOY, we got a problem. You know, it's those things in your life that bring you JOY, whether it's your family, your children, whatever that is. For me, it's my mom and my husband, Rob, and our dog, Robbie. So I got to ask you, since our mission is we create JOY, what does that mean for you? What brings you JOY?

Michael: Well, before I jump to that question, are only Rob's allowed into your household? My God. That's a lot of Rob's going on.

Rob: No, Michael. Hey, look, I just talked about, we make life too complicated. So by just saying all Rob (you know, we just call us the Rob's), we make life very simple.

Michael: Haha, Rob squared?

Rob: We're the Rob's, we're the Rob's.

Michael: Yeah. You know what's funny? What really does bring me JOY? Of course, it's the family. I have a new granddaughter. People have known this, and they tell me when they see the pictures, like, "You are so in love." And they are so right. It's my third grandkid, but my first grandkids I had when I was 39. I was a really young grandfather. I'm just in a place in my life where I'm able to take the time, have the time, and more importantly, I'm making the time. She's just about to turn three months, and I've seen her three times already. Just over the past weekend, and I can't wait to see her again. That brings me great JOY to be there and also to watch my kids as parents. It's all my kids. I get great JOY in watching them be adults. It's a balance for me, you know? It's really simple. I travel a lot, yes. But when I'm at home, it's me and my wife. I'm either on the road or with my wife.

And what does give me great JOY is creating an environment that I know people enjoy working. Because I'm with you, I hope ALHI isn't the number one thing that brings them JOY. I hope I make the top five.

Rob: Me, too!

Michael: Or maybe the top ten. Yeah, seriously. I know, I know you do. Top five is great, but we shouldn't be number one. You're right. But I want to create an environment that people are inspired about their work, and they love to do their work. And it's because we've created this community, and I see it in a room. We have about 20 new employees that have joined us over the last 18 months, and that's huge for our kind of company that has a lot of long tenure. They all talk about how welcoming the culture has been, how everybody has reached out to see how they can help. That gives me the greatest JOY you can imagine because we've worked hard to create a culture for people to understand, "We're in it together." And if you don't understand that, you don't belong here. Somebody asked me once when I first got here, "What does success look like to you?" I go, "When you can authentically celebrate your teammates' success as much as yours, we're there. It's a home run. And I can confidently say we're there. It's an energy that you can just feel when you walk into the room. You know, that brings me great JOY to see them engaged, smiling, and knowing that it matters to them.

Well, thank you both for discussing what's going on in our industry, and thank you so much, Michael, for taking the time to join our podcast and providing your insights to our audience!

Michael: No, thank you for having me, and we could go forever! We know that.

Thanks for tuning in to this episode of The Events Experience. Don't forget to subscribe to our podcast, and create JOY wherever you go!