David Bay, CEO of the CDI World Group, takes stock of what the global business has learned through difficult times and hints at exciting developments to come in 2022.
I’m often asked what has been the toughest challenge we’ve had to face as a business during the current crisis. I tell them that we have lived through crises with international dimensions before, such as the Great Recession of 2008. These were very concerning but you could make plans to limit their impact in the knowledge that there would be a gradual return.
The big difference today is that the crisis has been one of tremendous unpredictability. Whenever the situation has seemed to ease, new issues have arisen creating an ongoing stop-start. This level of uncertainty makes long-term planning very difficult for our clients and, as a result, for us.
However, one of the strengths of the business, and this is true of all the CDI World companies across the globe, is our ability to think on our feet and be flexible. It may be because the people who are attracted to our industry gravitate towards the excitement and satisfaction that goes with problem-solving – I’ll let the psychologists debate that one!
Crucially, this positive and flexible attitude of mind is coupled with considerable loyalty from our staff – a quality which not every business enjoys. It’s the kind of loyalty that you would normally associate with a family. Moreover, it’s an attribute you will find throughout the Group, and also in our trusted supplier network, which you could describe as our extended family.
We value this spirit of togetherness greatly. Our business and our industry is fundamentally all about people and building solid relationships that get things done and create opportunities. Not just on our side as providers of specialist services but on the client-side where engaging with potential customers, face-to-face, at exhibitions and events is the primary objective.
Becoming a people-centric company doesn’t happen overnight and isn’t something you can simply switch on like a light. It has to be built over time and consciously nurtured by deeds not just words. Good business leaders must appreciate that their people are the lifeblood of the business and should lead by example at times of constraint. I’m proud that all our senior management understand and practise this.
The other big question I’m asked is how do I see our business and our industry developing in the future. Well, although I don’t possess a crystal ball (if anybody has a spare one – please let me know!), there are some discernible trends that were firmly in place long before the current crisis but have certainly been accelerated by its influence.
Three Ps: People, Planet and Profit.
I like to think of these trends as the Three Ps: People, Planet and Profit. Keeping these in the correct balance will, I believe, be critical to the future success of almost any business. I’ve already mentioned the central importance of people. One trend that has been brought to the fore across the world by the pandemic, is a major skills shortage.
The causes of this are multiple. People in many occupations have left their employment, either by a change in their industry sector or circumstances or simply by choice. Some have, for example, retired early. This has created a shortfall of skilled and experienced individuals that inevitably puts extra strain on those who have remained in the businesses concerned.
Aside from working hard to recruit and train new staff, companies must place even greater emphasis on supporting the wellbeing of their workforce and, in particular, their mental health. There are a number of ways to do this but mental state is a very personal matter and what might help one individual wouldn’t necessarily help another. That means businesses need to offer a range of support and that’s what we’ll be doing.
The next P is for planet and we’ll be focusing our planetary effort in two main areas – sustainability and carbon reduction. For example, we’re continuing to formalise our sustainable approach across the Group by gaining ISO sustainability accreditation. This isn’t just good for the planet, many clients prefer to do business with suppliers who can offer documented evidence of sustainable processes.
For carbon reduction, we have made this part of our business for some time but we’ll be strengthening this further by expanding our investment in high performance exhibit systems. In skilled hands, the best modular systems really can do justice to clients’ brand values and they have a big advantage in these uncertain times in that they can be deployed in very tight timescales.
We envisage a scenario where brands still hold the major shows in their annual schedule using fully bespoke booths but will supplement these with a number of system-type stands that can be ready to go at short notice. Because system structures are reusable, lightweight and compact, the energy required for manufacture and transport is significantly reduced. There’s also little or no need for disposal. All of which means using much less carbon.
Technology complements this kind of set-up very effectively. For example, a relatively compact system-based booth can show visitors the largest or most complex products with the help of techniques such as mixed, augmented or virtual reality. We are always investigating technologies that will give our clients more options in these hybrid settings and we have some fascinating developments in the pipeline. More news on these next year.
The final P of the three is profit, an essential that no business can do without but which can sometimes be pursued so obsessively that it overwhelms other factors that are equally important for an enterprise to survive and thrive in the long-term. Balance in all things must be the aim.
If there’s one thing we have learned over the past eighteen months and the many challenges we have overcome, it is that we are a highly interdependent species. When we work together we can achieve remarkable things and I’m so pleased that everyone in every part of CDI World has pulled together and shown such amazing resilience.
I’ll conclude with a big thank you to all our employees and suppliers, and also to our many clients who have battled alongside us in these uncertain times.
Enjoy a well-earned holiday with your families. We look forward to seeing you in the New Year and to the exciting opportunities that will unfold.