FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Mark Stephenson
June 10, 2014
I attended this year’s Calgary Leasing Conference as observer for the first time in several years, without a presenter’s role to play. Walking around it was clear to see the organization/orchestration of timing, room set ups, audio-visual and food & beverage are just as critical as presentations and the program … and I got a chance to watch Mark Stephenson in action. Which is to say, I watched him get up and go a lot while I thought we were sitting down to do this interview. A sold-out show, staff and contractors seemed to be taking care of everything. Mark doesn’t like to sit still very long! He explained it simply as, “In the event business, we have one day to shine, and we are only as good as our last event.”
Having been involved as a presenter, moderator and attendee at these conferences for a number of years I’ve been involved in some of the planning which seems to begin almost as quickly as each conference winds up – time for the next year’s event to be put together.
Mark Stephenson has lived his entire life in North Vancouver – but 8 nights a year he is a Calgarian. When our commercial real estate industry gathers for Buildex, Real Estate Forum and Leasing Conferences – Mark’s company runs those events and we see this very energetic fellow orchestrating those events, as a general manager runs a hockey team, and as a conductor puts musicians through their paces . . .
Married, star athlete kids .. a son 16 and a daughter 14 (involved in high-performance hockey, field hockey and soccer),Mark and his partners sold their companies last year to Informa. No longer an owner, but admittedly a well rewarded employee – he’s not predicting the future, but so far he tells me the Informa association is a good fit for him and the scale of things to come could be very exciting …
What formed him? Mark is the 2nd born of a 4 child family – parents divorced when he was ten. Mom worked at three jobs, always, it seems as they grew up. “An amazing woman who knew everyone – and could have been elected Mayor is she tried. Everybody loved her.”
Mark’s academic career – began with plans to become a lawyer, shifted quickly to an interest in business and a desire to be in business. BA in political science and communications. But first – an around the world trip was planned. A six month adventure, cut to three, returned him to Vancouver on Valentine’s day, and he hinted that a girl had something to do with all that …
Feeling confident, though it took a couple of months, he found a job he liked with the Vancouver Canucks, in advertising sales but opted instead to work with Southam newspaper company that ran trade shows, which was subsequently sold. Tapped again by Southam, he was part of Southex, ran WoodExpo and a Pacific-Rime Computer Show (forerunner of Comdex) but always had that desire to run a business he owned. Together with partner Ken Brown who had a magazine and some trade shows – teamed up, relationships with like-minded colleagues in eastern Canada, Buildex shows, Canadian Property Management Magazine were the first steps. They then sold their interests to MMPI (part of the Merchandise Mart operations of the Kennedy family) which had him working for Chris Kennedy, son of RFK. In 2012, MMP! Was sold to Informa … and the shows go on.
What’s next, what’s new? “We developed a show – we’ve done it in Vancouver and in Toronto, Cargo Logistics Canada … we are looking at taking that product to some U.S. markets. And we are exploring taking our real estate conferences to Australia.”
I asked Mark how he sees business, for conferences, particularly real estate focused ones – how is show business – over the short term in Calgary?
… good solid numbers, but working harder for every dollar. Not as much low hanging fruit – we work hard for every attendee, for every sponsorship. Trade show business is hard to do smoothly. We have an attitude of we gottta-get-better every time.
And over the next 5 years?
… hard to predict that far out. Two years out – I see our business changing. We are focused, globally, on growing with an appetite for event acquisitions as well as taking events where we are champions at what we do, to new markets (Informa is headquartered in the UK, and active in 45 countries. We expect annual double digit growth. We are a changing organization, looking to grow our strong performers and promoting within.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… building relationships that last. I expect great service, connections that build into loyal partnerships.
What distinguishes you that causes sponsors and attendees to choose an INFORMA conference and to choose Mark Stephenson to do business with, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
... those relationships are a two way street. I expect a lot and a lot is expected of me.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… my mom. And her dad, my grandfather. They taught me work ethic. And my uncle. They were entrepreneurs running small businesses – and I wanted to get into business. Lots of others – customers, friends – have taught me a lot.
Work life balance?
… absolutely! I leave work at work. I love to work, but I love to hang out with my family more. Kids and family are #1. We travel, golf, work out often, eating a healthier diet, playing hard. I’m not great at sitting still …
What do you read?
… I only read novels on long vacations. I read a lot of professional and personal development books and business periodicals.
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