Conference & Meetings World Issue 102 - Page 19

Big interview platform with live availability. Generally as an industry we are quite low tech.” Stewart, an advocate for the nurturing of young talent in the industry, says we are in a war for talent. “We want to play up our entrepreneurial CV at etc. It may start with me [and the EY award], but it is something that should flow through the company.” Holding on to talent is another knack of the Stewart reign. The distinctive etc. design DNA is something the company values high and is keen to export, with long-time Head of Design Frank Rosello. Stewart sums up the state of the etc.. nation: “We are going to step it up now. The US looks at scale differently. Access to capital is a different ball game. With a much bigger market, you can become a much bigger player. We have the ambition to go in as a British brand. We’ve looked at people like Soho House, Pret, etc who have been successful and held on to their British model.” To ensure that the etc. DNA flows across the Atlantic, management has a visa programme to enable it to take up to 10 UK staff initially. The launch team will recruit US colleagues, including a CEO. “The design pen is being held in the UK,” Stewart underlines. “Consistency is a point for retaining quality. I’d like the same reaction to Frank’s designs as Soho House got for theirs.” “Initially, the $100m of growth capital will fund another nine venues Stateside,” he says. “We’d like to prove a model out of New York, too,” Stewart adds, acknowledging that it would be an important move for raising capital, “most probably on the East coast”. He is also looking ahead at the possibility of licensing the brand in North America. I have sat down to interview Stewart every five years for the past 15 years, although I’m wondering whether he will be in the chair opposite in 2024, as he signals the next part of his personal journey is to help Nick Hoare take over the running of the business. “I’m not looking for a way out,” he “ The US looks at scale differently. Access to capital is a different ball game. With a much bigger market you can become a much bigger player” Above: Team UK bound for US - Nick Hoare (left) and Alastair Stewart assures. “All businesses need transforming. For etc.venues to go to next level it needs a bigger management team. Nick joined (June 2018) with PE experience.” That, we suspect, may save Stewart a fee or two on investment banking advice going forward. “I wanted to get involved in running a business,” Hoare says, explaining why he left Dunedin. “There was a certain serendipity and I linked up here with a management team I trust and a model that works. It can be transported to the US and be massively exciting.” Stewart is coy only once, when asked about the challenges of the US labour laws in the business, where many large venues are heavily unionised. “Interesting practices,” is how he puts it. He does look forward, however, to realising higher day rates, albeit at a sacrifice of a higher cost base and lower margins, at least initially. “If the delegate rate in the UK is £100 for example, you can double it in New York,” he says. He obviously relishes offering something different. “There is pent up frustration among US planners. I think ISSUE 102 we can do well on the back of that. US venues are extremely expensive. We can offer significantly better value.” Stewart is aware of the pitfalls, and notes there isn’t the same strong agency network in New York as there is in London. But, he is putting his faith in the importance of service and clearly looking forward to getting stuck in. “There are hundreds of people at etc. who do an amazing job of looking after people and getting the basics right. Service in New York can be patchy,” says Stewart. While, etc. eyes may be on the West, Hoare promises not to lose sight of the UK and reminds that the brand recently opened 133 Houndsditch, its largest space in the portfolio. The vision remains: to double the business in 3-5 years. A final Stewart tip for entrepreneurs? “Work for someone else for a while!” is the answer, as well as a warning against false prophets: “We do live in a world of fake entrepreneurs. Sometimes there is not enough substance. Focus on integrity.” / CONFERENCE & MEETINGS WORLD / 19