January 24, 2022 | By Joyce DiMascio
For an industry that has struggled for decades to articulate its value and ROI, the pandemic has provided a real opportunity for the business events industry to redefine itself.
That’s the view of Nick Millis, home-grown talent and Managing Director – Corporate at MCI Australia.
He says business events have become the backbone of corporate Australia.
Millis is part of the global team of standout creative leaders who are part of marketing and engagement agency MCI’s operations around the world. With fellow director, Stephan Wurzinger, who has global responsibility for association relations, their clients in this region are in highly experienced hands.
The two years of the pandemic have been tough on everyone. In Australia, MCI has helped major companies keep operating by bringing new ideas to the table and changing the range of services they deliver. Among these clients are Facebook and Instagram, Novartis and Amgen in the medical sector, EY in professional services and Porsche and Volvo in automotive.
The objective: to keep workforces and clients connected, interacting and communicating. And ultimately, to keep the wheels of the economy moving.
MCI, which employs over 60 people in Australia, has “done well” over the past two years. It stepped up quickly to devise strategies for businesses to keep their communities engaged and connected, Millis says.
And this has helped keep Australia running during the pandemic.
“The work performed by our industry helped businesses to transform and keep operating during all the disruption that we’ve all experienced,” he says.
And because of this he says it’s time the sector steps up and redefines its value proposition.
In a wide-ranging interview with micenet, Millis showed he’s been thinking a lot about the industry’s advocacy efforts. He thinks we should do better given the important role the sector plays in corporate Australia.
MCI Group is a global company – perhaps one of the most innovative business events thought leaders in the world. Attend any gathering of the global business events community and rest assured MCI executives will be on stage sharing what they know.
The company’s philosophy is strong on giving back to the industry, Millis says.
Their leaders in every region around the world standout for their distinguishable style and comradery. You will never find an MCI executive without their unmistakeable company lapel pin. They wear it with pride. It’s a talking point – and it also shows they do things differently.
Millis has been with MCI Group since 2013 when it acquired Off-Site Connections – for which Millis was the Australian General Manager – to set up a corporate division in Australia.
He has over 40 staff and runs all Australian corporate events as well as outbound events including incentives. He works with big companies and over the past two years has played a big role in advising, guiding and devising new ways to help these businesses get through the challenges of operating during a pandemic.
During the COVID era, the suite of services the agency offers expanded and their role as trusted advisors became even more important, he says.
At times the plans have been ambitious and covered unchartered waters, but with his “amazingly dedicated” team, he says MCI has built even stronger relationships with its clients.
He says the company finished last year strongly and is confident about 2022, although the first quarter “will be interesting”.
“It’s now time for all of us to look towards the future. We need to lead – and show clients the many ways things can be done. We need to be prepared to adapt plans right up to the event date.
“COVID will be one of many challenges we have ahead of us. We can show agility, resilience, creativity and innovation,” he said.
Millis has a quiet demeaner and steely determination, which is combined with strong commercial acumen. He knows the business inside out and back-the-front. And now he has also navigated through times of crisis.
“There is no such thing as ‘this is the way we used to do things’. The past practices are history and set in time. The future is all about adaptability.”
He wishes the business events sector had “more of the arrogance of the professional services companies”.
“We should adopt some of the attitude of the big professional services companies and recognise what we do is as valuable.”
Corporate Australia has been transforming through the pandemic. And the business events industry – and the suppliers within it – delivered the capability, the solutions to escalate the transformation. That’s something the industry should be recognised for, he says.
Millis says his passion has always been to push the boundaries and to challenge his team constantly. He delights in seeing his clients “light up” when ideas are pitched. He loves the thrill of exciting his clients and seeing his team make things happen. He also has a “little black book” of amazing suppliers with whom he enjoys the kind of special relationships that are essential when you want them to deliver amazing solutions.
Millis is a creative being. Always was. Always will be. It’s his DNA. He looks for inspiration outside the day-to-day and says the Sydney Festival and the Sydney Opera House are places he gets ideas.
He points to the important people in his career. He says there have been numerous strong women from whom he’s learnt so much.
The standout mentor was Sandra Passaro, who is now the director of business events for Tourism and Events Queensland. More than a decade ago Passaro led the Gold Coast Convention Bureau. Millis says she taught him about emotional intelligence, about having fun and about giving back.
He’s optimistic about the future.
COVID has been a game changer, he says.
“There’s no more holding onto the ways of the past – this has been the essential revolution we had to have.”