Kobe Johns is Exhibition Manager for designEX – a trade show aimed at creating business connections between architects and designers with suppliers. Here she talks to us about what inspires her and how she combines creativity with the commercial reality of event organising.
1. Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader? Maybe someone who has been a mentor to you? Why and how did this person impact your life?
I gravitate towards people I can learn from, those who have skills in areas different to my own.
Those who have been most influential would be Louise Dixon (who is now the Operations Director of Frieze Art Fairs) who hired me for my first job in London back in 2006. I learned from her to be more outward and community focused. Her attention and care in relationships with suppliers and the broader team we worked in made her an exceptional operator. Adjusting how I worked with suppliers in recognition of this made my role more enjoyable and generally made my experience in this very challenging role a lot more satisfying and allowed me great success.
The other would be Russell Sage, who was my business partner in London. His influence was on my creative side and really gave me confidence in my core skill set and the ability to use it in creative industries. Working with large commercial project teams in London could be daunting at times, especially when we first started out. It was the beginning of the GFC and his unwavering vision to maintain creative integrity inspired me to find new ways to communicate and creatively deliver the intended design outcomes even through rigorous value engineering and immense budget pressures.
2. What is your proudest project achievement to date and how has it transformed the world around us?
I love a challenge so the proudest moments have been the realization of projects that at the outset felt impossible.
Firstly the 10 bedroom hotel we took on as the first commercial project in London – seeing that space come to life was a mixture of relief and excitement and one of my proudest moments in professional life. It was the start of the local fine dining scene in London and while the design seemed relaxed and welcoming it was devised from a lot of research and consideration for the design of service and the customer experience. Our business really took off after the completion of this job and I have used it since as a reminder that with the right team anything is possible.
More recently the reimagining of the designEX brand has made me very proud. Working on a brand that is 26 years old comes with great responsibility, and at times I have questioned our path and wondered if we had made the right decision to re-invent, and to not start a new brand/event. After the event this year – I feel our plans and decisions have been correct and well executed. I couldn’t be more proud of my team for their determination and hard work in breathing life back into the grand old dame that is designEX.
3. How do you encourage creative thinking in your organisation?
Always challenging and asking questions and creating an environment that encourages the exchange of ideas and an openness to being challenged. The phrase ‘because we have always done it this way’ is very common in an established industry such as ours, it is also my least favourite saying in the world!
I don’t believe in change for change’s sake, but i will always challenge a method or an approach especially when we are looking for a different outcome. I try to instil a sense of curiosity and bravery in my team as the question can be the simple part –acting on the answer takes courage.
Exhibitions can be very insular, my team and I regularly attend galleries, talks on topics outside our industry and I am always looking to work with those who are not the ‘usual suspects’ as you can rely on them to ask questions we would never ask ourselves.
4. What is the overarching common goal driving your organisation?
As a commercial enterprise it is of course to meet financial targets and create profitable business to business events. The more considered and certainly more inspirational answer is that we create communities, connect individuals and support their business activity within these communities. At designEX we see ourselves as a platform to connect the design and architecture industry. We are not the driver or initiator but we are there to support growth and innovation and service the industry.
5. What are your thoughts on technology in your industry – is it an enabler or an inhibitor?
As a whole, the exhibition industry has been slow to adopt new technology and use as integral tools in our event management and as a way to connect with our communities.
Some say the internet and social media detract from exhibitions however, I see them and their overuse as an opportunity for exhibitions to be last medium to enable personal interaction and real connectivity against a backdrop of virtual experiences and connections.
Other parts of our business including promotion, data collection and analysis, communication and the customer experience can all be enhanced by technology.
Exhibitions used in tandem with the internet and social media round out the perfect marketing mix for our clients.
6. In three words describe your vision for the future of the built environment.