AOK Events has been ranked the 36th best small company to work for in the UK for 2022, by Great Place to Work, the global authority on workplace environment. We caught up with CEO Alex Hewitt to find out what the accolade means to him and the team, and how business is looking for the rest of 2022…
How do you feel about being named a great place to work?
Last year was the most enjoyable working year of my life full stop. It was fantastic, because as a leader I had to be entrepreneurial, a good communicator, innovative and our staff responded amazingly. We ended up having one of the best financial performances in our 2022 years. The culture that I and my senior leadership team have created over the last couple of years, to not just combat Covid, but to turn a threat into an amazing opportunity has resulted in the culture at AOK Events being the best it’s ever been.
I know that Great Places to Work is authentic and was interested in taking part to get a barometer test of how we were doing. Each member of staff had to do a survey of about 70 questions, and we found out we had qualified as one of the top 80 small companies. So, we took a table at Tobacco Dock last week, and were thrilled to be ranked 36th. We were also the only hospitality company in the list.
To get that accolade based on feedback from our staff and voted for by an independent set of judges was one of the proudest moments of my working life. We’re also about to announce several new initiatives around staff health and wellbeing and giving back.
Can you tell us more about any of these new initiatives?
There is a bit of a story here. About three years ago, a former client and good friend of mine called Elizabeth had a family member diagnosed with breast cancer, which resulted in her becoming friends with breast cancer surgeon Dr Liz O’Riordan, an amazing woman who herself was subsequently diagnosed with breast cancer.
At the beginning of last year, Elizabeth and Liz felt that talking about cancer was still a taboo subject and they hatched a plan to start up a podcast, called Don’t Ignore the Elephant. They tackled lots of subjects that no-one feels comfortable talking about from infertility and menopause to body image, divorce, teenage suicide and of course cancer, but they did it in an authentic way with lots of laughs as well and managed to attract some great contributors including Greg Wise and Jane Garvey.
They are planning to record series 2 this year and have asked me to take part one of the episodes to talk about the anxiety and stress I experienced during the pandemic. AOK Events has decided to sponsor and partner with Don’t Ignore the Elephant for the second and third series. We’re going to use it as an opportunity to advocate how important it is to not ignore difficult subjects to our staff, clients and suppliers.
We’re proud to be championing this podcast and encouraging people to ask for help when they need it, and we will use our social media reach to help promote it. It backs up my overall objective to be the best business we can possibly be and one we are all proud to work for. We’ve also partnered up with a local food bank close to our offices in Clapham Junction, and we’re going to be doing some volunteering locally over the course of the summer.
How’s business looking for the rest of 2022?
There is a massive demand for corporate hospitality right now, with most of the major sporting and musical events this summer close to selling out. Wimbledon, The FA Cup Final, Chelsea Flower Show, The British Grand Prix and the Coldplay concerts at Wembley are all pretty much sold out of corporate hospitality on their most popular days.
This is partly due to bookings rolling over from 2020 and 2021, but enquiries are currently flooding in every day, as companies urgently seek to spend quality time with existing clients, co-workers and prospects. Corporate hospitality has become important again, driven by a critical business need to spend face to face time with key contacts and a fear that if you don’t, someone else
We’re also seeing quite a lot of summer parties, and huge demand for meeting rooms for off-sites, both large and small, as companies are desperate to bring their teams together in person. The whole business is busy, which is great. Interestingly we are still doing quite a few virtual events and I think brands have realised that for teams in different locations, having a virtual event is a good way of getting people together and it’s an awful lot cheaper than flying people around the world. Last year, we were around 80% virtual and 20% live, and it’s probably 90% live, but 10% virtual this year.