Big Wheels Need a Big Push (But When They’re Turning…)

17 years ago, I was Spencer Green, founder, GDS Publishing Ltd. I am now Spencer Green, chairman, GDS International. That company name change reflects more than our opening offices outside of the UK – we have always traded internationally – it reflects a change of focus and a tricky transition for our sales teams.

Big Wheels

Big wheels may take a lot of turning, but that's what teams are for

GDS International started as a business-to-business publisher, moving into events in the late 90s. We took it slowly but, in typical fashion, started big – large-scale conferences (1500+ people, industrial and agricultural heavy machinery, sound rigs powerful enough to provide instant facelift) – before finding our area of expertise: smaller, senior executive summits.

Our focus is quality of service, deliverable value, and quality of experience. These summits are, without a shadow of a doubt, what GDS does best.

Two years ago I began to think about the future of publishing. Not as an industry, but as a division of GDS. It’s what we started out doing, but it’s not what we were best at: not any more. Moving publishing clients to summit products was simple. Moving summit clients to publishing was getting harder by the week.

The Internet played a role. The recession. The list goes on, but, ultimately a company is no more than the effort and skills of its people – and our people thrived on our summits. They developed, improved, got excited. Sales teams wanted to be involved with product teams and – crucially – the product teams wanted the same. We got better, summit-by-summit, week-by-week… sometimes hour-by-hour.

You could see it in the bottom line, but even more, you could see it in our offices all around the world. Belief.

So we decided to close publishing. It makes sense to focus on what we do so well and, as our CEO Ollie Smart says, “that’s what our clients are buying”.

If you have read this far, a) thank you, and b) you’ll remember I mentioned a tricky transition…

The challenge now is about momentum. Publishing provided a steady stream of small deals, and deals make a sales floor burst into life. This year, without publishing, we are starved of the spark.

When I was younger I played tennis to a good standard. My coach would always stress the absolute importance of focusing on the game you’re in. “When you’re playing for qualification, you do not think about the final. You do not think about the next round. You think about this game. This game only.” And as I progressed further in more and more tournaments, so his advice became more and more urgent: “This game, Spencer, this game.”

Today, talking with players on the senior circuit, I realise it is the same for them. Can I win a first round match? Yes, if I focus on it. Can I get to the final? Yes, if I focus. Can I win the final? That may depend if the opponent’s surname is Federer or Nadal.

Are the big two still excited by a second round win? Of course they are – witness the pumping fists. Don’t believe me? Check out any of the press they give after an early exit. It hurts. Does the final mean more? Yes, of course it does: it’s the culmination of everything – every qualifying match, every training session. It’s the reward for all that focus (a chance to focus again, and push yourself even harder!).

To continue a theme from a previous blog, GDS isn’t a teenager anymore. We’ve moved onto the senior circuit and we’re starting to go for the bigger prizes, and whilst their frequencies might be less, the rewards are greater.

We want to be the world’s no. 1 business-to-business events company, but right now we need to focus on the game we’re in: get our preparation right and make every call count. It will take longer for us to get momentum because summit deals are bigger. The prize is bigger. But once those big wheels start to turn…

Success and momentum are inexplicably linked. Once you are on a roll, things start working and everything is achievable.

In a few weeks I believe we will be looking back on two or three events with cracking rebook rates. There will be a really good week on one of the sales floors. All of a sudden we will have winning momentum – and it will have all come from people with the right focus.


About Spencer Green

Spencer Green founded GDS Publishing Ltd in October 1993 to specialise in industrial, government-led publications for the burgeoning Chinese market. The company launched over forty business-to-business titles, was name-checked alongside Tony Blair on China’s national news as ‘best for Chinese business’, and – following a move into India – deemed to be ‘of national importance’ by the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade. In 1998, GDS Publishing became GDS International and launched its first conference, Enterprise China. The hugely successful Enterprise series of conferences was rolled out across China and Latin America in the next two years. In 2000, GDS International launched its first Senior Executive Summit under the ‘Next Generation’ banner. This became the catalyst for nine years of 25% year-on-year growth... and 40% growth in 2010. In 2011, GDS held over 70 Summits for C-level Executives from a wide range of industries and across the globe, and eight digital marketing conferences. Today, GDS International is determined to become the world’s no. 1 business-to-business media and services company. It’s going to be an exciting journey! Spencer is married to Emily. They have two children, Finlay and Maya, and live in Bristol, UK.
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