Exhibitions and events cater to a vast array of interests and businesses. But one thing they all have in common is the power to change lives, whether it’s giving doctors the opportunity to learn about the latest technology or giving comic enthusiasts the chance to dress up and meet a superhero.
Jeremy Rees, CEO at ExCeL London, says this power of events continuously amazes him. “I love walking through the venue. I’m constantly surprised and excited by the events that I see. We go from welcoming more than 100,000 Comic Con fans to about 32,000 cardiologists, reaching more than one million international visitors each and every year. It’s a dynamic environment where every single day, innovation, ideas and moments happen that can change people’s lives,” Jeremy says.
ExCeL London has hosted a variety of events from world-leading exhibitions and conferences to the G20 London Summit and the Olympic Games. Later this year, the venue will host Sibos, the world’s largest financial services event, welcoming more than 9,000 professionals from around the globe, and, from July 2020, will be a host venue for the ABB FIA Formula E Championship.
It is this broad range of events that keeps Jeremy interested. “Events help engage and inspire thousands of people through education, technology and insight,” he says.
“I love it and believe passionately in the power of our industry. The events sector is a highly dynamic industry that’s delivering immense value. Events are a driving force for commerce and trade and they are still one of the most effective ways of raising global brand awareness.”
Jeremy joined ExCeL London in 2010 as a sales director, not long after the business was acquired by Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company (ADNEC) in May 2008, which had ambitious plans to increase capacity at the venue.
This included a £165 million (€190 million) investment by ADNEC for the second phase of a development plan – completed in June 2010 – to expand event space by 50%.
Jeremy says because the plans from ADNEC were compelling and the financial foundations were strong, he could see a clear path of success for the business and he was eventually asked to take on additional divisional responsibilities, which then led to him taking over the CEO role.
ExCeL London now has its sights firmly set on growth beyond its core business and wants to make the exhibition centre more of a destination in itself and attract new audiences.
It is aiming to do that by working with globally recognised brands to deliver world-class entertainment and attractions. “When the Elizabeth line opens, this will be possible, as we will have the ability to transport thousands of visitors from central London right to our front door within just 15 minutes,” Jeremy says.
“The scale of time and investment needed requires that we be ahead of the curve. We need to look toward the future and make a call as to where the market is moving. The speed at which we must adapt and the requirement for perfection at every level are real drivers for the team.”
It is teamwork and good relationships that have helped propel ExCeL London on its upward trajectory. “It is crucial that we align ourselves with the right partners; those who will help us deliver a shared vision and goal,” explains Jeremy.
“We want to deliver a world-class guest experience. Our expectations of our partners are consequently high. As an example, we believe venue catering is no longer about feeding the masses; clients are demanding different ideas and unique catering concepts. Therefore we work with world-class partners including Compass Group, who deliver great food, consistently investing in people, technology and ideas to make sure that our F&B experience is unrivalled.”
Jeremy also notes that the company’s success is inextricably linked to its customers and dependent on having a creative and collaborative culture. “We welcome four million visitors and more than 40,000 exhibiting companies each and every year. Events at ExCeL simply wouldn’t work if all of our teams didn’t pull together,” Jeremy says.
To ensure success, everyone at the company is united by a common purpose and has defined ways of working together – as individuals and in teams – to create a diverse, collaborative and inclusive workplace.
“As Steve Jobs said, ‘It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do’,” Jeremy says. “I am committed to employing and retaining the best people and ensuring that we have great talent throughout the entire organisation.”
This approach of attracting and retaining talented staff is part of Jeremy’s management style, which he also describes as being engaged, collaborative and informal. He also has a strong belief in empowering people to reach their full potential and giving them a voice in the business.
“I believe the combination of having a clear vision and the right culture and talent puts us in a very strong position.”
“We have launched an internal engagement program that we refer to as Good to Great. This was a cultural shift in the organisation, giving all ExCeL employees a voice in how the business was being run and what we could do to make it better,” Jeremy says.
“I believe the combination of having a clear vision and the right culture and talent puts us in a very strong position to achieve and exceed the business’s ambitious goals.”
When he’s not wandering the halls of ExCeL London, Jeremy says he’s either playing or watching a variety of sports outside of work. “I am actively involved in the Lord’s Taverners, which is an amazing charity that gives disadvantaged and disabled young people a sporting chance,” he says.
“When I’m not at work, I can usually be found driving one of my boys to a sports match!”
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