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Stress Matters presents Once Upon A Pandemic

Once upon a pandemic: Caroline Bee

The last in a series by Stress Matters, who have been asking those across the events industry - how are you doing? 

Caroline Bee, senior vice president of Pico International, on staying motivated and excited for the future.

I've been in this business for over 20 years.

I feel rather exhausted at the moment to tell the truth. When the pandemic first struck, I think we were lucky in a way because we are headquartered in Hong Kong with over 80% of our business in Asia.  When the pandemic first struck back in November, we did have a little bit of a head start having sight into how the business was being affected. I then had an early crisis meeting with my management team in the region back in January. I actually said to them, could you imagine, God forbid, that the expo would be postponed, and everyone looked at me, like I had three heads! No one saw the extent of how badly business would be affected and for how long we would be affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

I consider myself to be very nimble and fast thinking, which most event people have to be, it's in our DNA. I believe the difference between good and brilliant is how you react to issues and problems and how you fix mistakes, because they are an inevitable in the event business.

I think you have to be super courageous and ready to make mistakes and be ready to take the punches. That's what I said to my team as well, don't be scared to recommend change. I will never be angry with anyone for making a wrong decision if you took that decision having gone through the right thought process and right risk mitigation. My management team are all strong enough and courageous enough to do it. And that's the important thing. I think for everyone, as they're coming through every level of an organisation, look left and right, and in front and behind and just be bold.  It has been one of the most important characteristics to survive this pandemic.

For me sport is the Holy Grail. I play squash, I run and go to classes at the gym. It's good enough just to run to clear your mind. Get the energy flowing through the body, get the blood circulating and for me, that's a recalibration. It's an instant recalibration for a stressful moment, those moments when you're feeling physical stress when you're feeling your fingers clenching and heart racing. Ideally an hour of sport and hang out with a few friends and have a few laughs. That is all really important for me.

For the first time in my life, the prospect of presenting a loss to the board of directors was really hard. As much as you try to rationalise it, it is difficult. For most of us, we've watched some of our peers and friends are our competitors, fall over one by one and it's heart-breaking. I am glad we are financially strong and will be able to survive.

One of our team members said on a call, ‘I'm really struggling guys, I feel as if I'm in a prison cell, I can't concentrate’. That for me, was the realisation of how tight our team is and there was no stigma. That's an amazing thing that I've learned over the years that having true openness, honesty and transparency and working with like minded people that you trust and when you get in a tricky situation you can rely on them to help you work through it.

There have been some fabulous positive by-products of the pandemic though.. One is that I have become a dog lover. Having been locked down in my apartment with my landlady`s dog (she got stuck in the UK for 3 months), I spent some magical moments walking the dog and producing my own silent disco posts which were quite a hit globally with my followers on Instagram (despite the fact that I cant sing). We are all just desperate for online content in the absence of being able to leave the house.

I'm really excited and motivated for the future. China has gone back to normal, almost completely back to normal. In China there are 1.3bn people which is a massive domestic market and they’ve been able to bounce back really quickly. We're still on a journey, we are moving into this hybrid scenario and we know that live will come back, it's just a question of time. The challenge for us is what we need to do in the interim, in order to keep everyone cool and happy and sane.

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Read other stories in the Once Upon A Pandemic series here.