Tanja, founder of the MICE Ladies, spoke to Carina Bauer, CEO of the IMEX Group, about the last 18 months, team culture and how she managed to lead her team safely through the crisis.
1. Carina, you have just received the Wayfinder Award from PCMA as part of the PCMA Visonary Awards … how does that feel?
It is really humbling to receive this award and I feel truly grateful to the judges for the recognition. It’s most special, however, for the nomination from the IMEX team. They organised the nomination earlier in the year in secret! The nomination letter that they submitted was very special to me and whatever had happened with the award, that was the real prize for me.
2. Which of your leadership qualities or characteristics do you think it was in particular that gave your team confidence and security during the lock-down – in times of absolute uncertainty?
I think it was transparency and communication. I didn’t try to hide anything from the team – I answered every question that they had to the best of my ability and I was honest when I didn’t have the answers. We communicated regularly and they knew that they could call on me anytime. I think this counted for a lot.
3. This pandemic is also known as an accelerator for digitization. If we apply this metaphor to team culture and work organization, to what extent has this pandemic changed or accelerated your work and corporate culture?
I think it’s massively accelerated changes within our team culture and organisation. We have become much more agile, better able to deal with change, hugely transparent across the business and flexible in our working culture. We were working towards all of these things pre-pandemic, but we’re probably 5 years ahead of where we would have been if not for this disruption.
4. Uncertainty and innovation – is there a connection for you?
Absolutely – uncertainty and volatility create amazing conditions for innovation – out of necessity great ideas are forged and we’re usually braver too under those circumstances.
5. You have developed two new virtual platforms: PlanetIMEX and IMEX BuzzHub. What gave you the courage for both projects?
At the beginning of the pandemic we were able to simply try anything – that was enormously freeing and exciting. It was difficult too, but there were no expectations and so we truly had a blank slate. All we wanted to do was deliver an experience that would bring our industry together, give them some joy and meaning in the middle of this awful period and hopefully deliver some inspiration too.
6. What are you particularly proud of?
The way the IMEX team threw themselves into a new way of working, learnt new skills and technologies and – as always – put their heart and soul into delivering an online experience in the same way that they do for our in-person tradeshows. Customer service and success are at the heart of what we do and that was as evident online as it is IRL.
7. Resilience – does this word have a different meaning for you today than it did before the outbreak of COVID-19?
COVID-19 was a true test and we certainly all know ourselves a little better now. You find out your strengths in the tough times, not the good times, so I certainly have more insight now into what it really takes to be resilient.
8. What makes a good team?
A team that cares about doing the best for each other and truly believes in a common goal.
9. Are you a “different Carina” today than you were before the pandemic?
Yes and no. I have a few more grey hairs than I did before! Also, I believe I have built stronger leadership skills and have developed confidence in knowing that I can lead the team through anything. But, I pride myself on being the same person at home as I am at work, and fundamentally I’m the same Carina underneath the wiser, more battle-weary CEO!
10. Where do you personally recharge your batteries, how do you charge your batteries – especially in challenging times?
At the beginning of the pandemic getting out of the house to run and be in nature was very valuable to me. Generally I like to be active, spend time with friends and family and I have also re-started playing piano (after 20 years) which has been wonderful for switching focus! I also love to travel and can’t wait until that becomes easier again.
11. To be honest – have you had moments of weakness or frustration and how did you deal with them?
Yes, absolutely. The way I always deal with those moments is to try to rationalise how I’m feeling and break problems down into manageable chunks. I try hard not to worry about things that I can’t control and re-focus myself on what I can do and changes that I can make.
12. As CEO, what do you take away from this experience?
That anything is possible if you have a good team, great partners and treat everyone with respect in the good times as well as the bad. We need each other to be successful.
13. How were you as a child? Now if we asked Ray to describe you as a little girl, what would he tell us?
Well – you should probably ask him that question!