The Italian touch

In Italy under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed but produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love; five hundred years of democracy and peace and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.

It’s sometimes hard to justify to the troops back home, one’s attendance at and participation in, the annual industry conferences. The work doesn’t go away just because we are with the great and the good at a lovely luxurious location, a shorthop from Blighty and sometimes you simply can’t get away.

However, those that do manage it, in most cases, come back with enough new contacts, renewed contacts and good ideas to make the trip well worth their while.

Thus is was with this weekend’s NMBS Conference in the, frankly stunning, lakeside location on Baveno. One thing this industry does as well, if not better, than any other is networking and having a good time. And this weekend was no exception.

However, conferences aren’t just about dinearounds, golf, meet-the-merchants and catching up with old friends. The conference programme can play as big a part as any in ensuring that the delegates take something of use back to the day job with them. At the very least, a good conference programme will give you something good to chat about to the person next to you in the queue for coffee.

So, for what it’s worth, for those of you who couldn’t make the trip, here are my “water cooler” moments from #NMBSConf2018.

  • Jez Rose. Funny, articulate, quick-witted. Fascinating on his own subjects -human behaviour and how changing how we think and act can change our results – he was also on the ball enough to be able to deal with the Q&A with a range of presenters.
  • Mark Berrisford-Smith. I’ve heard him talk several times and he’s always erudite, extremely funny and with that peculiar talent of being able to make economics not only make sense, but also sound, dare I say it, fun.
  • Vit Kutner. This was a fascinating presentation by the CEO of DEK, the largest builders merchants in the Czech Republic. Wow. Some of the stuff they are doing with regard to customer and vehicle management is amazing. Using the latest, easily available, technology to get customers in, loaded up and out again, whilst still giving them enough chance to add-on impulse buys and have a chat to the staff if they want to. OK, so it’s probably easier to do in an area where land is plentiful than inside the M25, but the theory is great. The company’s quick-quote system for roofing – SkyFox – blew pretty much everyone’s minds. I still don’t understand quite how it works, but they use some kind of mapping, geolocation  software to make 3-D image of the roof with all the measurements to enable roofers to respond to customer enquiries quickly and, they say, accurately.
  • Hamish Taylor: It’s always great to listen to a motivational business speaker who gives points of reference that you know, recognise and understand. This is the man who introduced the concept of the is-your-hand-luggage-too-big-for-this bin at BA check-ins, since copied by everyone. The man under whose watch the British Airways advertising changed to ‘look how our planes make you feel and act’ – and showed an advert I remember watching. He shamelessly pinched an idea from Disney and a result we now have zigzag queuing at Gatwick. You don’t get through security any quicker (especially when they make you repack your toiletries in those stupid little plastic bags so they seal), but you feel like you do.
  • Georgie Barrat. A self-confessed technology geek, Barrat also classifies herself as a ‘millennial’ – someone born between 1982 and 2000. As if that wasn’t enough to make you feel old, her presentation looked at how millennials think and act and why and how we can best manage them in our marketplace. Alas, all it really did was make a bunch of us feel old and grumpy.

There was more, plenty more, food for thought this weekend but, if nothing else, the Friday afternoon gave us the chance to see a red sports car, ‘driving’, Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang-style, across Lake Maggiore. Over to you BMF to see if you can beat that next year!

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About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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