Interview with our Chairwoman, Sarah McCaldin

Why did you launch Hanson Wade?

We set out to build a business we would love working in, surrounded by inspiring people. We believe in connecting the right people and supporting growth. This starts inside our own business.

Can you tell us how it started?

We launched in November 2008 when the economy was in a nose dive. In many ways the timing was good. We spent those dark months of 2008/2009 in the energetic frenzy of start-up mode when so many were consumed with cutbacks, redundancies and gloom.

On day one, the Hanson Wade staff list consisted of three siblings: Miles Harley, Joanna Beattie and myself. We had all been in the B2B events world for a long time in various different countries and had complementary skillsets. However it was never our plan to run a family business so we quickly set about finding great people to join us.

We were joined early in 2009 by Tom Richardson and Karen Freemantle in a serviced office. Later that year we persuaded Darren Francis to join us and we had the foundations of our team. We managed to fit 14 desks into an office intended for 6… you literally had to request permission before you pushed your chair back!

Can you tell us a little about how Hanson Wade works?

At our heart we are ‘finders’. We find the ideas, and we find the people to create growth in our communities. The process always begins with finding. We read a lot, we listen, we ask questions to find out what’s likely to affect people within a particular industry. We listen for ‘tremors’ that are likely to grow and have significant ramifications for our customers.

How many people do you talk to in order to find these ‘tremors’?

Across the business we have conversations with about 400 senior business people every day, both on the phone and at our conferences. It is a high volume of qualitative research and relationship building.

And it’s through these conversations that we’re able to connect the dots, often in a way that’s impossible for our customers to do themselves. Individually our customers have a deep knowledge about what they do but obvious constraints mean they have limited visibility on developments outside their own business.

In some ways we’re a bit like Google Earth. We don’t have the detailed knowledge of the local landscape in the way people who live there do. However from our bird’s eye perspective, we’re able to find important patterns that are impossible to see on the ground. It enables us to deliver vital navigational information that can transform businesses.

So once you’ve noticed these emerging patterns what exactly do you do with them?

We investigate. We find the right people, talk to them and build a picture of the landscape. If the issues are resonating, then we increase the number of people we talk to and the conversations turn into full research interviews, often quite rigorous and challenging for both sides.

How so?

We pose tough questions. We get to the heart of the matter. It’s important to find out what might just be ‘hot air’ or what is meaningful. We aim to cut through the hype that nearly always seems to surround an emerging business issue. This is the point when it starts to get exciting because we know that we can really make a difference by compiling the most critical intelligence.

Such as?

Who’s going to be affected? How can they stay ahead of the curve? What are the opportunities for our customers and commercial partners? What will they need to know to make the right decisions? Who do we need to put them in a room with to help them grow their business faster and with less risk?

And then?

Once we understand the shape and scale of the opportunity, we begin to find and curate content and speakers. At the same time we create an agenda that’ll give our customers access to the leading edge of thinking and practice.

How do you do that?

A lot more interviews. It’s a painstaking process finding and then tracking down people who can really make a difference and deliver what our customers need. Sometimes they can be really difficult to find, sometimes they aren’t ready to share… but therein lies the value of what we do.

Why’s that?

Because the most effective practitioners are not always those in the newspapers, blogging, or tweeting. Some are even unaware that their practice is of genuine interest to the broader community. This is where Hanson Wade comes in. We really have our ear to the ground. We scour the globe in order to find the right people. It takes a huge amount of effort and skill to curate an event with exactly the right content. But the reaction of our customers and commercial partners makes it worthwhile. It’s why we do it. It’s why we love the job.

You mentioned ‘putting the right people together’. That seems to suggest it’s not just about the speakers at your events.

Absolutely. Once we’ve found and secured a dynamite group of speakers, we work on tracking down the right audience. Having the right people in the room is every bit as important as having the right speakers and content. This is where our sales and marketing teams come in. They’re brilliant at finding the right people in the right organisations who are able to make a really meaningful contribution to whatever the conversation.

Not easy…

Not at all. In fact sometimes it can be really difficult, especially when you’re talking about the most cutting edge issues.

Why’s that?

Because sometimes companies may not have yet formulated a clear strategy. Because of this you might be dealing with seemingly disconnected people within one large business.

So how do you deal with that?

We’re very good at networking around an industry. We leave no stone uncovered and of course this means pursuing a few dead end leads along the way, but this is all part of the process.

Who else do you speak to?

During our research in the creation of an event, we also flesh out a picture of who the relevant service providers are. These are the people who provide technology, advisory, and consultancy services. We survey our customers to find out who’s providing the best service, who’s offering the best value etc. We partner with the best service providers and they help to underwrite the event in the form of sponsorship. This enables the community to select good long-term relationships. Quite often our customers make decisions about which solutions they favour in the course of an event. This is genuinely exciting for us because it shows us our hard work has been a real catalyst for growth in both of the businesses concerned.

So everyone goes home happy?

Yes, but there’s more to it than that. Sometimes people think all the hard work culminates in an event. For us, the event is usually a beginning not an end. The positive energy that’s generated at a conference is shared and amplified throughout the community and continues throughout the year. The friendships are meaningful.

So lastly, how do you see Hanson Wade evolving?

We will continue to support growth by bringing the right people together. It is tremendous fun and endlessly challenging.

We plan growth through partnering with industry “insiders” who are looking for a new challenge. People who share our passion and would like to build a community-events business for their global peer group.

We look to partner with people who have the passion and a desire to be at the heart of an industry network. We have the infrastructure and skills to make it work. Our vision is to work together with partners in a fully integrated manner… when it happens, the scope is endless, exciting and liberating.

Because you Love What You Do?

Exactly!