How a culture can save a workplace

Max Collishaw, head of virtual at First Event

An organisation is nothing without its people. Nowhere else is this more true than at First Event, one of the leading UK event management companies. Max Collishaw is head of Virtual Events, leading a department of 6 virtual experts who utilise their skills to provide the most innovative and cutting edge events to their diverse portfolio of clients. Having only taken on his initial role at First Event in 2018 as an Account Executive, Max has had a meteoric rise to the level of Department Head in just under four years with the company. A rise launched, not only by his deep rooted passion and love for creating events, but by First Event’s authentic and encouraging culture.

Having graduated from the University of Sheffield in Event Management, Max immediately set about gaining valuable experience as he tried to fulfil his dream of working in events. Max always knew that the industry was where we wanted to be, admitting that he’d “always been the one in the family that organised the events, [I’d] always wanted to be in events and do the organisation and planning side of that”. Finding his first graduate events role as the Event Manager at a venue outside Leeds, Max quickly set to work bringing the establishment and their management up to standard, utilising his love for technology to streamline processes. “I love finding out about new things, new tech, new systems, new ways of doing stuff, that’s always been my tech side”.

It wasn’t long before Max’s eye was caught by First Event, literally! Located only down the road from where he was working at the time, Max was intrigued by the company sign that sat outside the First Event office.

“I used to drive past the First Event office every day to get to my old job, I saw the logo and thought “oh, what’s First Event?, looks like quite a cool place to work”. After following First Event on their social media channels, Max was quickly struck by the infectious passion they not only had for the events they delivered, but also for the people that made them possible. “It seemed like a really friendly place where they were celebrating success a lot […] People got promoted and they were celebrating that, and I thought “this seems like a place for celebrating people, people are getting promotions, they’re moving up”’.

He took on his initial First Event role as an Account Executive, assisting with the delivery of client events all over the world, quickly falling in love with the culture where he worked. It became clear to Max that what he had seen a glimpse of on the First Event social media presence was true. The success of the people at First Event was something that the organisation believed and invested in, not only by enabling them to grow their skill sets with training and development opportunities, but by inspiring them to realise their full potential.

Max describes this eagerness for development he saw modelled by the organisation’s MD, Richard Murphy, saying how “he wants people to leave First Event feeling they have grown, achieved something and leave better and brighter than when they joined. That ethos follows through with everybody else, there’s lots of support and there’s lots of people to help you out and encourage your success”.

And when the time came, Max saw an opportunity to reciprocate this support back to his organisation.

The pandemic and the social distancing restrictions that came with it threw a glaring question mark over the future of the events industry. Spurring him on to find a way through this period of uncertainty for his place of work, he thought “First Event is too good a company to not be around”. The buzz around virtual events was beginning to grow, causing Max to spot a gap in the market. “People kept talking about virtual events, but they didn’t know what they actually were”. First Event themselves had even worked with a virtual event provider, but from where Max was standing, he couldn’t see anything stopping First Event from being able to facilitate these kinds of events themselves.

“I went down the rabbit hole of research”, said Max, as he described the research sprint he did into the world of virtual events whilst furloughed. “I found out what a virtual event was, found a streaming platform, I learnt how to mix audio and video and stream out. I joined all the dots together and was like, “this is something we can do ourselves”. After becoming a self taught virtual expert, Max approached First Event’s MD, Richard Murphy with his idea. Max’s decision to do this was not only motivated by his belief in his ideas, but by his belief that they would be well received by Richard and the organisation as a whole. “I was just an account exec, but everyone’s got a voice, everyone can do something. First Event definitely empowers you to do that. I felt like I was partly responsible for making sure that everyone has a job at the end of the day, and if I can help out I’m going to. I love working at First Event, and I’m never going to find anything like it ever again, so I’ve got to figure it out”.

“I spoke to him and he was like “yeah, do it”. He said “all you can do is fail”’. Because of First Event’s belief in Max and what he could achieve with virtual events, the organisation was able to bring staff back off from furlough, reinstating them to deliver virtual events for the many clients looking for a solution to their event needs. From a department that didn’t exist at all, Max has grown the First Event Virtual Department to a team of six. This is due, in part, to the culture that supported Max to be able to get to this stage. He has been given all possible people and business management training and is supported by a network of Managers, Directors and other Heads of in his new role.

“We’re given a lot of freedom in what we do, so you’re able to do things and if you don’t succeed at stuff, it’s not like the end of the world. You’re allowed to fail, and if you do fail it’s not a case of “oh you’ve done this wrong, this is awful, it’s more about how do we fix it together and make sure this doesn’t happen again?”, “how do we get over that next step”, as opposed to the blame game”.

The First Event culture is not a static definition, drawn up once at an organisation strategy day and placed on a shelf to gather dust. It is a living, breathing, ever evolving thing, practised and strengthened everyday by the people who rock up to work at First Event and do incredible things. It was this culture that Max was desperate to save, as he disappeared down his rabbit role of research in an attempt to find alternative avenues to save the company he loves working for. It was this culture that made him feel like his ideas would be welcomed, that gave him not only the room to succeed and flourish, but more importantly, the room to fail without judgement.

From having inspired Max to want to join the First Event Fam, to being something he’s actively trying to preserve for future employees to enjoy in the same way he did, the First Event culture is one of the big reasons why Max is where he is today. A culture defined by authenticity, a shared passion for events, and simply wanting to bring out the best in the people that work for this organisation.

“We are that family, and people really care about what we are and where we’re working. For me I love doing it and it doesn’t feel like a job at First Event, I think that’s the best place to be”