Editor's Blog

10/08/2017
Interview with Shaun Hinds - Manchester Central's new CEO
This year sees Manchester Central celebrate 10 years since it converted into an exhibition and conference centre.

But far from getting all misty-eyed and nostalgic, the venue has its eyes fixed firmly on the future – as evidenced by the appointment of Shaun Hinds as its new chief executive officer at the beginning of June.

I caught up with Hinds to find out how he is settling into the role – and what the next 10 years has to offer.

“To be working back in Manchester is a positive change,” he says. “It’s been great to be back in the city. I was last here in 2007 to 2011 and its changed immensely, it has come on in leaps and bounds and continues to do so. It’s a really exciting time.

“Part of the appeal was the ambition of the city. It’s a great example of the private and public sector working together for the good of the city. The talent pool is vast. Who wouldn’t want to be a custodian of a great city? It’s a fantastic opportunity.

“I want to start positioning Manchester as a competitor to international cities, we want you think about Manchester in those conversations. When it comes to a city in the UK outside London we want to be up there as the second city.”

Hinds, who previously led international operations at BridgeStreet Global Hospitality and has more than 25 years’ experience working across hospitality, property and business service sectors, has big ideas on how Manchester Central should approach the next phase of its growth.

“My brief is about taking this business onto another stage of its evolution,” he says. “This year we celebrate 10 years of being Manchester Central. My job is about the next 10 years and how we continue to operate this space and be cognisant of how the meetings market is evolving.

“There isn’t an industry that isn’t being disrupted; disruption is all around us. You don’t have to have four walls to be a venue. In Manchester we do great things, the Christmas markets and the Jazz festival are great examples. The trade model of meetings and events is evolving and we need to be at the forefront of that.

“In the old days a conference would exist between the day it opened and the day it closed. Now organisers are looking for ways to extend the life of the conference experience and the real play is in how we interact with their experience.

“Whether it’s using virtual reality, where a real experience is supplemented by the use of technology, we send them back with great memories. Whether it was a great event or what they learned, it’s a combination of all those things.”

Hinds is challenging his team to look at redeveloping how the venue delivers its services – including outside the building itself.

“Can we take that same capability and deliver it in other events? Absolutely we can. I see it as a real opportunity. We have a core competency. We’re part of the city fabric. But within the city there are other venues that we could operate. We’ve got some really interesting spaces," he explains.

“We’ve got pop up retail already: I think we’ll see pop up events, where you create a venue and then you leave. The traditional nature of what constitutes a venue is changing and it’s important that Manchester Central is not limited in its thinking.

“What I’m saying is that we can take all of Manchester Central’s core competencies and deliver them in unexpected places. I think there’s a real opportunity for us to do this outside our physical venue.”

Disruption has been a key buzzword of the last few years – and it’s a concept Hinds is keen to embrace.

“When we celebrate the 20th anniversary what are we looking back at? My vision is that we’ve really extended the realm of our capability in terms of the building, but outside of the building in terms of the places we’re offering to our clients.

“Our approach is going to change and evolve and everything is up for disruption. We’ve got to go to spaces that are difficult and recreate that level of five star experience. And if it was easy, everyone would be doing it.”

Strategically, Hinds wants Manchester to use a joined up approach to events based around the core strengths of the city to compete on the world stage.

“The whole of the city has to contribute and come together to deliver that world congress experience. We’ve got a handful of those top events which we will be targeting. It’s about making sure Manchester is on the circuit of global events. Right now we do very well in terms of medical and scientific events and I think that will continue. There’s more opportunity for consumer based shows.

“I’m keen to look at other ways to use space for gatherings. We can host different types of events; retail, arts and culture festivals. We’re seeing organisers that are much more creative and fleet of foot. We can bring really interesting exhibitions and new installations into the space.

“The challenge is how we can open up more space and opportunity. That’s why looking at new space is important to us. Nothing’s off the table.

“A lot of the new buildings in the area are mixed use developments, and within that there’s an opportunity for events space. Anything built in the proximity, there’s a natural synergy for there to be event space within it. We are a natural magnet for meetings conferences and events. We’re working with developers to see if events space could be incorporated."

*Manchester Central is celebrating its 10th anniversary with an evening of fine dining on Thursday 21 September. And you can read more about the latest comings and goings on the Manchester meetings and events scene in the September issue of M&IT.



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