• April 30, 2024

Interview: Principal’s founders on celebrating 30 years in business

Interview: Principal’s founders on celebrating 30 years in business

Interview: Principal’s founders on celebrating 30 years in business 1024 682 micebook.

Principal Global Events celebrates 30 years in business this month (May), so we caught up with co-founders Anupa White and Takis Kyprianou to find out the secrets to their success…

Congratulations on your milestone achievement. Let’s go back to where it all began. What inspired you to start the business? And were there any pivotal moments or decisions that significantly shaped the trajectory of the business?

Anupa: We met while working for the same company, a Greek and Cypriot travel business, when I was fresh out of university. We were dealing with quite a few hotels based in those destinations and felt there was a gap in the market for representation for independent hotels in the UK, especially in the MICE sector.

The big brands like Hilton for example, had big marketing departments and budgets, but the independent hotels didn’t really have any way of getting in front of UK buyers, so, we decided to start up a representation company – that was how it all started back in 1994. We literally left on a Friday and started Principal on the Monday, and we spent our first five years representing hotels, initially in in Greece and Cyprus, before branching out to other hotels and DMCs across Europe.

But towards the end of those five years, we found we were starting to do more than just representation. We had UK clients asking us to help with venue sourcing and negotiating the best prices with hotels for their conferences and incentives, which blurred the lines as we were acting more like an agency. Eventually we felt this competed with the representation business, so in 1999 we decide to stop representation completely and focus on being an event management company, which remains our core focus today. That was a pivotal moment for us.

Takis: Moving into event management was a very natural and organic progression for us. All the hotels wanted more MICE business, and we could see the growth potential in the events market, so it made commercial sense to stop representation and shift our focus. It also freed us up to recommend any hotel to our growing event client base, rather than just the hotels we represented. It liberated us, and allowed us to offer our clients the best service and the best options out there, and we just grew from there.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in the early years, and how did you overcome them?

Anupa: One of our first challenges with moving away from representation and into event management was that we ended up competing with the agencies that were previously our clients, and who we had been selling and promoting hotels and DMCs too. Competing with the larger and well-established event agencies was tough, because we didn’t have the history and credibility that they had built up with corporate clients.

We learned very quickly early on that we needed to get clients to buy into us as people and our skillsets. They had to really believe in us in the beginning until we had built up our reputation. But what we did have were good contacts and the power to negotiate good rates because of the personal relationships we had built with hotels and DMCs.

Takis: Technology was also a challenge for us, because we didn’t have the money to invest in tech like some of the bigger players who were writing their own software programmes for things like registration. So, we did have some clients that just used us for logistics and worked with other agencies for other elements. Another challenge was that we were quite young to be business owners so sometimes it was hard to get people to take us seriously.

Anupa: I was 25 but I looked about 12. I was also one of the only women at my level in the industry, because it was very male dominated at the top and most of the bigger agencies were run by men, so that was a challenge as well – to be taken seriously as a female owner.

How has the industry changed over the past three decades?

Anupa: Everything has changed, from the way we get enquiries from clients to the way we work as a team and business, with advances in technology driving a lot of that transformation, as well as the Covid pandemic. We’re no longer all in the office all the time, and we rely on Teams and Zoom calls to stay connected with each other and with our clients. It’s such a different environment, even down to the way people dress – we’ve gone from growing up in suits to jeans and trainers now being acceptable office wear.

Sustainability is now hugely important, not just from an environmental perspective, but also economic. Being financially strong is a massive deal for corporate clients now, and procurement plays a much bigger role.

How have your leadership styles evolved since starting the business, and what lessons have you learned along the way?

Anupa: I was mid manager level at our previous company and therefore wasn’t leading a huge team. So, when we started Principal, we pretty much learned everything on the job. We didn’t have the money to invest in business or leadership training, and we just had to pick it up as we went along. We’ve made mistakes but we have also learned a lot along the way.

We’ve had to wear so many hats – we’ve had to be inspirational leaders, and HR directors, and everything else along the way. It’s been challenging at times, but from the very start we knew we wanted to be fair. And we’ve obviously done something right as employee retention is one of our biggest strengths. Having that history and people who know and understand the business demonstrates the longevity of your company to clients and shows that we are good leaders if people are staying with us for that long.

Takis: The fact we have people staying with us for 10-15 years goes back to our core values and how we support our people through having their families by adapting our business model so we can be flexible because we appreciate them and want them to stay with us.

I think we have doubted ourselves as leaders many times along the way. But we learned from our experiences and became better and better as the years went by, and we can now see members of our team looking up to us. We want to lead by example, and work just as hard as everyone else.

What role has your team played in the success of the business?

Anupa: They have been hugely important, and we would not have had the successes we have had if it wasn’t for our team over the years, some of whom have moved on and some who are still with us. We would never claim that the business was grown by just Takis and I. It’s been amazing to see our people grow in confidence, and the SLT we have in place now is really strong.

Why are you still here? What’s the secret to your successful partnership?

Anupa: We have a mutual respect for one another. It helps that we both have our natural strengths. I’m the one who tends to be out there as the face of the company looking after the sales, marketing and operations, and Takis is in the background looking after all the financials and the business structure and keeping the business financially healthy, which was crucial during Covid. We’ve had our natural roles which are both equally important.

Takis: We listen to each other, and we are open, honest and make decisions together. Anupa is more of a risk taker, while I am more conservative and by the book. We challenge each other, but we also respect each other. We are family.

Looking forward, how do you see the industry evolving over the next 30 years?

Anupa: The use of technology, advancements in AI and sustainability are all going to become more important and will shape the way we do business in the future. We’re focused on making sure that we bring in the next generation of talent so we can adapt and keep up with the pace of change.

Takis: I believe there will always be a need for people to get together. We’re all working more remotely so spending time in person at events to connect with each other will become even more important. Technology will change, but face to face meetings will continue to be the norm even in the future.

Finally, what does reaching this 30-year milestone mean to you both personally, and how do you plan to celebrate and mark this achievement?

Anupa: Our anniversary is officially 16th May, but we have a busy month of events to deliver so are all going to be all over the place. We do plan to mark the milestone with some client and supplier events, but most importantly we’ll have a big celebration for the team.

The last 30 years have gone so fast, that it’s not really until I talk about it in an interview like this that I realise what a huge achievement it is, to still be relevant, and have a great reputation and clients that we have worked with for many years. I feel very proud of that, especially when you look around and realise that so many of the agencies that were around when we started have been bought or merged or are no longer in business. We’ve stayed true to our core values, and I still love doing what we do after all this time.

Takis:  For me, it’s about our people, and celebrating their achievements. It’s been amazing to see so many young people grow through the company and become successful.

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