Q: What attracted you to the position of Managing Director with CityAge?
A: I see tremendous opportunity for growth at CityAge. Having worked for three NHL teams, it might seem cheeky to make a hockey reference, but we’re looking at a hockey stick growth curve for CityAge. In speaking with many of our longstanding partners, event sponsors and attendees – many of which have been supporters of ours since day one at our first events going back to Vancouver and Kansas City in 2012 – I believe we’re on the cusp of sizeable growth. We all share a passion for the topic, a desire to bring about positive change and a commitment to build a better future for cities and the people who live and work in them.
Q. You've worked in some pretty big organizations — from the NHL to the Olympics, the Globe and Mail to the Toronto Board of Trade. What have your travels taught you about challenges facing cities around the world?
A: As someone who has been fortunate enough to live in a number of thriving global cities like Tel Aviv, New York and Toronto over the course of my life, as well as travel around the world to other leading urban centres, I’ve become increasingly aware of the challenges and opportunities facing our cities and their citizens. We’re seeing our planet urbanize at an unprecedented rate, by one account adding the equivalent of a New York City every month for the next 40 years. Are we prepared for that? At this point I’d say no. Should we be? You bet. Do we already have the tech and many of the tools to prepare ourselves for that eventuality? Absolutely. And that’s where we come in.
I certainly wasn’t always mindful of these themes, but as I became aware of CityAge, I developed a deep appreciation for the work being done by our founders Miro Cernetig and Marc Andrew to create a platform for discourse and tangible change.
Q. You’ve been in the business of helping people gather for a few decades now. What’s changed in the event business during and after the pandemic?
A: In many ways, a global pandemic like the one we’ve just experienced proves Thomas L. Friedman’s The World Is Flat theory. It has definitely changed the way people think about gathering to share information or participate in a dialogue. Two key things that have been crystalizing for us as we come out from this pandemic are the importance of quality, regardless of platform, and the need we as human beings have for personal interaction.
With regards to quality, I think of my experience building the digital media strategy for the Canadian broadcast of the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver. In the past, digital had been used to simply ‘cut and paste’ broadcast content for the web. In Vancouver, we realized that audience expectations were different on digital platforms, which required us to treat the content and its distribution differently. We implemented a robust editorial research department and digital media group to complement unprecedented live streaming of events with original content, behind-the-scenes interviews and coverage like never before. And now we see how audience expectations for quality content transcends the platform on which they view it.
The other thing we’ve learned over the past two years is that people need and miss the opportunity to connect and interact with each other in person. When in-person meetings and conferences came to a screeching halt in Spring 2020, we pivoted to video calls and virtual events alongside with the rest of the world. Now, we find ourselves longing for a return to face-to-face interactions.
Q. How is technology changing the way you deliver your content and manage events?
A:Technology allows us to be more creative, more dynamic and more interactive with an audience – and this is before we’ve even fully realized what 5G has to offer. Technology has also afforded us the opportunity for increased frequency and touchpoints. When a roundtable of global thought leaders can be organized and facilitated virtually, it means we can have these important discussions more often while offering our stakeholders a wider variety of content and experiences.
Still, no amount of technology can replicate the conversations, interactions and collaboration of an in-person event. Of course, we’ll be raising the bar at our events by taking components from the online experience to increase engagement and participation from attendees. We look forward to turning off our webcams, putting away our slippers and cozy pants, and visiting places around the world with a newfound sense of purpose, appreciation and gratitude—and a few new tricks up our sleeves.
Q. What are your immediate plans for CityAge?
A: One of the things that became clear to us while running virtual events these last two years is that we can avoid the peaks and valleys that come from running annual events by moving to an ongoing dialogue; that happens as we take CityAge from purely an events company to a content and events company.
Moving beyond events means bringing together great thought leaders to develop insightful content to be delivered on a wide variety of platforms and formats – whether that is the evolution of our newsletter, the introduction of our podcasts later this year, or adding research capabilities to develop the CityAge Insights division, we are bringing a new approach, call it CityAge2.0, to life.
Another of my priorities is helping us focus as we return to our roots of tightly pursuing our urban planet’s greatest challenges with flagship year-long programming. For example, smart infrastructure and the role that nature and the environment play in our cities, the data effect and the opportunity to use universal design to build, and re-build, cities for all. Plus, learning from the cities which provide the best examples of extraordinary developments, growth, and innovations that are setting them up for future success.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you see on the horizon?
A: Remaining focused on the areas of need for cities is certainly a challenge. There are so many areas to investigate when it comes to urbanization – whether they require the public or private sector, and in most cases both, to address them – we need to stay focussed on what truly matters and what our audience is passionate about. We’ve seen our audience become a community and we’ll continue to nurture that by focusing our efforts on the important issues and opportunities of our time.
We’ll also need to manage our growth. The opportunities to grow and expand are clearly there, but rapid growth comes with challenges such as the aforementioned focus, as well as talent and client support. We’ll make sure we’re investing in the right places to ensure our growth is in line with our strengths and capabilities.
Q: What are you most looking forward to in this new role with CityAge?
A: I’m looking forward to seeing us continue our annual flagship programs as multi-year initiatives and I’m excited to see them move around North America. We’re also eager to return to international events in places like London and Hong Kong that we’ve visited in the past. We’re planning the launch of a flagship series specifically dedicated to the challenges of the world’s largest cities that I’m particularly enthusiastic about.
Most of all, I want us to continue our ongoing work and collaboration with extraordinary people and industry leaders taking on the most incredible and thought-provoking challenges of our times. We face the unprecedented scenario of coming out of a global pandemic at a time when the world is developing and experiencing rapid change and growth in our urban centres that will shape generations to come. I’m excited to be a part of that discourse and to work with the CityAge team to make a difference in shaping the future.