We’re celebrating our thirtieth year at etc.venues which makes it the perfect occasion to talk to some of the extraordinary people who’ve helped shape our business; people like Dominic James, our Venues Director.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I was born in the South West of England. At the age of seven, I relocated with my mum to the North West of Scotland where we settled in a small fishing village called Kinlochbervie, a shock to the system, that was for sure! After finishing school, I went to college in Edinburgh. I’ve always enjoyed interacting with people so a course in Hotel, Catering and Institutional Management seemed like a good idea. As part of the 3-year course, I did 2 summer placements in France which gave me an insight into hospitality outside of the UK, not to mention learning French on the job!
After graduating, I got a job in a South Kensington hotel where the General Manager recognised a raw talent. He loved the fact that I always tried to be on the front foot, anticipating guests’ needs and it wasn’t long before I became Assistant Manager. After 18 months of hard work, I got itchy feet so went off traveling round the world for 18 months and on returning, I was hired by Alastair Stewart who ran Style Conferences. It’s also where I met and worked with Iain Dix and Guy Booth.
So, the three of you were part of Alastair’s original team?
Yes, when Alastair left Style Conferences and took over etc.venues in 2006, the three of us joined him over the following 2 years: Iain who is now Director of Property and Projects, Guy who is now Director of Operations and me. My brief was to help him open our first next generation etc venue, Dexter House, very close to Tower Bridge. It was an incredibly exciting opportunity.
What made the opportunity so exciting?
The fact that I could build a strong team from scratch. I adopted a fairly unique approach, instead of hiring talent based on their experience within the hospitality industry, I focussed on hiring the right type of personality. Decent character was, and still is, crucial. A can-do approach and attitude are far more important than experience. After all, training can compensate for a skills shortfall whereas it’s almost impossible to change someone’s character. That policy has informed the way we recruit talent to this day. Character first, skills second.
How would you describe your approach with clients?
If I say ‘personal’ then it will sound like a cliché but that’s precisely what it is. I make people feel at ease, will always ask them their name and more often than not, I’ll remember it, even years further down the line! Clients trust us because invariably we always do what we say we will do.
What would you say is the most important part of etc.venues’ offering?
From the moment we opened our doors at Dexter House, in 2007, we set out to innovate in four key areas:
Design is the most obvious area of innovation. High ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows, plenty of natural light, vibrant colours, ergonomically designed furniture, sound-proofed walls and ceilings, and contemporary art have become signature cues. The overall effect creates venues that recharge, inspire and stimulate attendees rather than leave them feeling depleted like so many of these dark, underground hotel ballroom spaces.
Food is exceptional. We call it ‘brain fuel’ because our chefs create nutritionally balanced dishes that sharpen attendees’ minds rather than carb-rich, heavy meals that leave guests feeling sleepy and sluggish – which is the last thing any event planner wants! There are always plenty of choices including delicious gluten-free and vegan options plus unlimited fresh bean-to-cup coffee available throughout the day.
Tech is one of those areas that doesn’t get noticed if it’s done well. Needless to say, our tech is rarely noticed. Everything from the superfast, secure Wi-Fi through to the built-in screens, projectors and hybrid meeting tech have been designed to make the day truly effortless and the overall experience seamless.
It may be last on the list but, without excellent service, we may as well all pack up and go home! Our team is, without doubt, the most important part of our offering. Each member is trained to do the simple things very well, and that makes all of the difference to a client’s day.
What makes a strong team?
This business cannot be run by individuals working alone. It takes a strong team to deliver a great event experience. Everyone has to work together and the glue that keeps people working as a strong team is culture. I show an interest in every member of my team. I like to think that I treat them with respect and do my best to understand what makes them tick. I take a genuine interest in them and I believe someone who sets up a conference room is as important as the Chief Operating Officer. That’s what I mean by culture; every single person is treated respectfully and equally.
What would you say is your proudest achievement?
My proudest achievement is helping to grow the business 8-fold in revenue and EBITDA terms from 2007 and being able to adapt swiftly to all of the challenges we’ve faced over the years – whether it was the Lehman Brothers crash in Autumn 2008 or, more recently, the pandemic. In both instances, having confidence in our business, having confidence in our team, keeping in touch with our clients – and looking after them – was the key to our recovery and success.
I’m also proud of the fact that, in the 15 years I’ve been with etc.venues, my passion has never waned. Quite simply, there isn’t another business like it.
If you’ve been inspired by this article, you can read more about our people and how they’ve helped shape our brand over the past 30 years here.