Welcome to the second edition of #BoardTalk. We caught up with ESSA board member and Director of OpsShaper Ltd, Lou Kiwanuka, to pick her brains about life in the events industry, her ambitions for ESSA and any words of wisdom.

Why did you choose to work in the events industry?

Like many, it chose me. So, the question is, why did I decide to stay!

In my 20’s, comparatively to many of my friends outside the industry, it was a much more exciting and dynamic industry to be in. The combination of working

with incredible people and the creativity of the events I worked on made it seem like I was part of something exhilarating and it was addictive in some ways.

What was your previous experience before joining the ESSA board?

I’ve worked for organisers (Blenheim, Miller Freeman, Tarsus, Penton), venues (Olympia and Earls Court), and the contractor Opex before becoming a supplier as the founder of an Ops Management Company. There were dark days when I also was part of a business launching our own show. Many lessons have been learnt over the years!

What attracted you to becoming a member of the ESSA board?

We work in an industry where everyone has an opinion, everyone has a view on what should be done differently, better or not at all, and yet often that doesn’t happen. We’re much better at talking about change than doing it. In fact, if you look at the show floor now vs 20 years ago there isn’t much difference. I joined the board because I knew that it needed to be more than talking; we need to create meaningful progression in our industry and ESSA stood out to me as an organisation that really does try to move things forward. I wanted to be part of that.

What does a typical week in your role within the ESSA board look like?

Now that I’m not Chair, a lot different! The period of time when I was Chair coincided with the pandemic, and with ESSA having a depleted team so it was only right that the board stepped up a gear to support ESSA to ensure the association made it through. That said, it was important to do more than just make it through, and a lot of time and effort went in across the board to also make sure ESSA came out in a good position. Andrew and the team are enjoying a little more peace and quiet from me since I stepped down!

Since then, my main focus on the ESSA board has been around the Working Groups and coming up with a strategy to ensure that we have the right Working Groups and what each should achieve. They each present an opportunity to have a great selection of people at the table to represent ESSA member interests.

I am also looking forward to getting involved in the Future Focus Board over the next year to ensure that ESSA has an eye on the future success of our members and our wider industry.

How are you currently using your area of specialties in your role on the ESSA board?

My focus in The Ops Nest is on enabling brilliance and that has led me to be heavily involved in apprenticeships and training. These are the areas I am most passionate about so was very happy to get involved in the launch of the ESSA Accreditation, the ongoing training that ESSA now has online and now with the Future Focus Board.

What do you consider the ESSA’s greatest strength?

Its vision for the future. In my time on the board, ESSA has never been more focused than it is now.

What is your vision for ESSA in the future?

That it will be a driving force for positive change in the industry.

What advice would you give to those considering a career in the events industry, but haven’t quite made the move yet?

Learn as much as you can as soon as you can and develop your emotional intelligence. This industry can be quite exposing, so you need to know who you are and what you are capable of.

Can you share the key highlights of your time on the ESSA board to date?

Last year’s ESSA events!

Firstly, the summer event because we just didn’t know how it was going to pan out. For years, we have talked about the golf day around the board table and, as someone who has not had the opportunity to spend time on the golf course, I have always felt excluded from this major part of what ESSA is about.

The events committee were tasked with coming up with a solution to tackle the exclusionary nature of the summer event and came up with a brilliant option that enabled those who did really value the golf day to pursue that, but also a summer day where activities were less gender dominated.

With any change of format there is risk, and we didn’t really know how it would pan out, but it went down really well and I’m happy that we found a solution that works for everyone.

And then the winter event (Conference & Dinner), because the energy in the room was amazing – it felt like the industry came together, that we were part of something bigger than our own businesses.

How has ESSA evolved since you joined the board?

When I joined the board, I was one woman amongst 11 men. It has changed a lot in terms of structure, inclusion and momentum. There is more to come!

Why should those that aren’t an ESSA member sign up to become one?

There is a whole set of reasons, but my main ones are:

  • To take advantage of the ESSA Accreditation and training
  • To be part of an organisation that is focused on the future
  • Because there is no point whinging about something unless you actually get stuck in and make a difference

What do you most enjoy doing when you are away from work?

I’m based on the south coast so sea swimming is an occasional past time, along with being part of a soul choir, walking the dog and I’ll soon be travelling the length and breadth of the UK in a campervan.


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The Event Supplier and Services Association (ESSA) is a trade body representing the very best contractors and suppliers of goods and services to the UK’s thriving events industry.

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