What I Learned When… I ran an Events Agency in Hong Kong
Pippa Laxton | Account Director
Like so many people, my career in events has been a roller-coaster of ups and downs, learning curves and cherished achievements, none more so than my time in Hong Kong where it all began.
I actually went to Hong Kong on a whim. Buying a one way ticket for £180 (an RAF flight from Dad), and running away from a broken relationship, I cried the entire thirteen hour flight. Arriving in a typhoon, my auspicious start went from bad to worse when I had my first shower from a plastic pipe out of a toilet cistern and went to sleep in a 16 person dorm on the sixteenth floor to the sound of rats scuttling around me.
Chung King Mansions was an interesting place, where every walk of life came and went 24/7 and my first job in Mad Dogs – a bar named after the famous Noel Coward song – did not fill me with enthusiasm. I hated the first three weeks but safe to say it knocked all the corners off me.
Working in a bar was not my path and I could barely afford the £2.50 a night rent so when I was offered a job in a commodities futures trading company with Japanese style management, I took it! It was like working on Wall Street, high-pressured, but I thrived and even the Deputy Commissioner of the Royal Hong Kong Police Force became a client. Sadly I learned some investors were having complications exiting their funds. I immediately approached my clients to instruct them to withdraw their investments and i left the same day.
Back to the bar! But not for long this time. I then ran marketing for a local property contractor who wanted to expand into the international commercial real estate market and was subsequently headhunted by Savills. This was where, as Savills Marketing Director for 5 years, I discovered my passion for running events. At 27 I became engaged to my husband who I had met at the airport in Hong Kong 6 years before. At 29, heavily pregnant with the first of my 3 sons I resigned to set up my own events business. Savills were so supportive and they became my first client and outsourced their annual Rugby Charity event to me for more than a dozen years – along side loving playing rugby myself.
My client portfolio grew with a range of international brands including HSBC, JPMorgan, Philips and Morgan Stanley, running their events in Hong Kong. This growth lead to the opening of my second office in Singapore and a JV in Sydney.
I was lucky to have such a great business but the success came with some key learnings;
- Make contacts. The Asia market is a ‘who you know’ community. Trust is important and I’ve always put my energy into the relationship. Building longevity and knowing clients not just professionally but socially too is fundamental to this community.
- Recruit up. I always employed people that I had an immediate connection with and trusted. We all complemented one another with different skillsets. Listening is such an important skillset, don’t take on experts and then reject their advice.
- Look after your team. Bar one person, I never lost an employee outside of relocation. We are all still friends and regularly meet up all over the world.
- Love what you do. For me, I can’t beat the adrenalin of a live event and seeing all the planning and hard work coming together. One of my greatest achievements was evolving the HKFC International Rugby Tens tournament into the largest televised Rugby Tens tournament in the world over a 15 year period broadcast to millions of households.
- Build upon success. From building a reputation through rugby events, I went on to run International soccer ,cricket and hockey tournaments. Whilst we initially built our reputation for sports event management, eventually 75% of our projects were for corporate events.
- Dig Deep. The Sense and Simplicity conference for Philips was a 5 day immersive event attended by 20,000 delegates at Asia World Expo. The event focused on showcasing their products of the future in the medical, lighting and consumer electronic sectors.
So what’s next? I moved back to the UK for my sons’ education and my husband’s work. I ran the business remotely for the next 3 years but the commute took its toll. Post covid, I wanted to get back into event management. The role with 2Heads was the first job that stood out for me – my first interview in the UK and hopefully the last I ever have to do!
What would your advice be to a budding event manager? Always be authentic. Always listen. Always learn. Knowledge never ends, the Event Management business changes at lightning speed so it’s important to be able to adapt and pivot to new trends and behaviours.
Pippa is one of our senior Account Directors, an expert in planning and staging events across Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the US. In recent years, Pippa has been instrumental in improving sustainability of her client events. Partnering with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and the De Beers Group we have been responsible for winning multiple client awards for sustainable brand experience programmes and corporate social responsibility events.