After I got the call from Lisa McDonald telling me that I’m being inducted into the CAEM Hall of Fame, the first thought that came to mind was “Am I that old?” Then as the news sunk in, I had a more profound thought. It dawned on me that Canadian actors who win a Gemini Award soon fall into obscurity … hmm? How does that work with the CAEM Hall of Fame?
No seriously, putting my usual irreverence aside so you don’t regret your choice. Thank you to all of you … our clients … our partners and our friends. You’ve given me the opportunity to do what I love.
Later this year, BBW will be celebrating our 25th year in business. My business partner, Henk Bok and our Toronto management team are all here to celebrate with me. We have grown exponentially from the days when we had hoped to work ten shows a year in Toronto. Today, we service 984 events in nine cities across Canada with a few consumer shows in New York and Chicago. And all with a front-line roster of just under a thousand employees. Did I think we’d ever get here? Not in my dreams.
As an entrepreneur, I’m often asked how I got into this business. Like most of you, we fell into it. But unlike most, our first two trade show clients went belly-up before we got paid. The first was PC World … whose fate was doomed with the arrival of COMDEX later in 1993. The attendance was so poor that our staff were asked to be bums in seats at the key note. We were too naïve back then to realize that there may not be enough money in the coffers to pay our invoice post-show.
The second was another computer show, whose name I can't recall ... and for good reasons. I just remember this show was in direct competition with Bruce and Jai Cole’s long running Multimedia Show. It was a disaster from the get-go. It was held in the Queen Elizabeth Building at Exhibition Place. The power had been turned off when the show was suppose to open. Black and MacDonald had not been paid. With no power, it meant no computer registration. It was with Auto-Reg at the time. Henk was onsite that morning with an angry mob. He called me as I was home in bed with a fever of 103 degrees. He was a wee bit disheartened still smarting from our one-show experience knowing that we would’nt be paid once again. But we soldiered on.
With two shows under our belt and not much to show for it except for the accolades from the registration company, we were wondering what kind of people work in this industry? How did other suppliers do it? So I asked. It turns out that suppliers asked for deposits and clients actually paid them. What a concept. It didn’t take long for me to realize the power in associating with industry colleagues, not just networking with potential clients but with their suppliers.
Association isn’t just a clever name. In 1994, a year after we started specializing in trade shows, I joined CAEM. What a great place to learn from peers and more importantly forge a life time of friendships and even some loyal clients.
I didn’t know this then but in reflecting back on the past 24 years in business, we really are entrepreneurs. I have learned three things over the years about this business. One, you need to have an iron-clad stomach to live through failure. Two, you’re not in a sprint but a marathon. This means constant training and learning. One of the reasons I got my CEM designation.
And finally, you need to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you.
Being honoured here today has been bitter-sweet. Serge called me and told me to keep it a secret but I could tell my employer and family. Of course, Henk was the first person I called, my work husband, followed by my life husband, Ross Howey. Then I picked up the phone to call my father but had to stop and put the phone down. You see ... my Dad had passed away suddenly just before Christmas.
I owe much to my parents. My father and my mother, who passed away four years ago. They were instrumental in my success … supporting me throughout my career … and allowing me to pursue the opportunities that have led to today. Can you imagine growing up in a traditional Asian home in Calgary, being the only daughter and the youngest of three and wanting to leave home before she got married … to Toronto, no less?
For the people whose lives he touched, he was very wise and always had ready advice or sayings to enlighten whatever malaise you were experiencing. It’s like growing up with my own Confucius. But to me he was Dad, loving and kind.
I affectionately call him Yoda Dad. Wise he is, and the Force was strong with this one. He even looked a bit like Yoda.
Here are my parents <show picture of parents>. To them I am thankful that they decided to move to Canada from Hong Kong with three small children in tow so many years ago.
I need to mention my silent partner, Jan Bok, whose business acumen recognized Henk and my complementary skills. He encouraged us to forge ahead and backed us financially when the banks wouldn’t.
To Henk Bok - my business partner - I am grateful for the faith you put in me for every hair brained idea I had. You just let me go for it. I don't think you could have stopped me. Thank you.
To my staff at BBW - for your loyalty, hard work and just believing we’re the little engine that could. Thank you.
To Ross Howey, my soul-mate and best friend. Your patience and love gives me strength every day. I love that you’re the type B to my type A personality. Thank you.
Finally, a big thank you to all of you. What a ride it has been and it’s not over! Here’s to the next 25 years.