Blogcast #16: Holly Hull – Corporate Peaks

Rebecca: Hello and welcome to the Entrepreneurial Journey podcast. I’m rather excited actually to introduce you to Holly Hall, and we’ve just done a little chat beforehand and we’re both full of energy. So let’s hear how this goes. Holly, you are the group CEO of Corporate Peaks, is that correct?

Holly: Corporate Peaks, yes. So there’s Corporate Peaks and CP conferencing. Lovely. As well as Corporate

Rebecca: Peaks events. Lovely. Okay. Now, when I was doing my research, I thought Holly has the best job in the world. Tell everybody what you do.

Holly: So we effectively create experiences for businesses. So that’s kind of the nicest way to put it. But we work within the MICE industry, so that’s meetings, incentives, conferences and events or exhibitions. And we deliver destination events for businesses small to medium to large, all over the world.

Rebecca: Brilliant, brilliant. Now does that mean you get to travel all over the world? Yes.

Holly: Brilliant. Yes, it

Rebecca: Does. Okay. Let’s start with the travel bit. Where’s the best place you’ve been?

Holly: Such a difficult question. I think it’s really, really hard because there’s so many, because we are instrumental in creating, there’s experiences, there’s always so many incredible experiences to draw up from everyone. Okay. The best place I have ever been to was actually a fam trip that I was invited on. So we get invited on familiarisation trips to obviously become accustomed to the destination. For me, the best place I’ve ever been to was Oman. I fell in love with Oman. It was just the most stunning place I’ve ever been to. I’d go back there in heartbeat.

Rebecca: Now how come? What was so amazing about it?

Holly: I mean, we did it in the best way. We saw all of the magical side of it, of course, but it was always on my bucket list from when I was young, and it just exceeded expectations in every way. It’s beautiful. The people, the culture, the food, the experiences, it’s just really showstopping. The coastlines are just still raw and original and there’s no areas that are necessarily built up and every part of it. I mean, I swam with turtles. I stayed in the desert in an eco tent. Yeah, danced with a tribe. Yeah, the whole experience, something else.

Rebecca: Oh, that sounds amazing. It would not even have occurred to me to put that on my bucket list. Yeah,

Holly: Must do.

Rebecca: Yeah. Okay. There’s a lot happening in the Middle East at the moment, isn’t there? It’s like their economies are booming, they’re obviously going branching out beyond oil and they want to attract businesses there. Tourism, yeah,

Holly: Absolutely. Obviously Saudi recently opened up their tourism trade as well, so we’ve been back and forth dealing with partners from there as well who are wanting to utilise us, but as organising lots of trips for people that are actually in Saudi as well. So it’s been really, really interesting to see the changes

And also to see how every nation becomes its own brand and develops in its own way. Because even though often it’s obviously it’s all collaborative within the area, but there’s so much independence between every single country, every single nation, and it’s so interesting to see how they differ. And I think that for me was again, one of the most exciting things about Oman, for instance. It was just still so authentic and rich in its history. And then you’ve got Dubai, which is just a brand in itself as my business partner always calls it. It’s a brand. So it’s really interesting to see the differences in how they come up.

Rebecca: Yeah, that’s cool. So the people invite you over there for these familiarisation trips, and does that mean you get to go for free?

Holly: Yeah, I mean, yes you do. I mean, time is not free. So there’s that element, especially when you’re running businesses. So it depends what the definition of free is, but yes, you have to obviously show that you have a client base, you have interests that you are going to be respectful in that place. It’s not something like people generally don’t just get invited and there’s a lot of vetting when it comes to these really, really lovely trips. And then consequently, just to be able to give back, to put in the inquiries to make sure that you’re actually doing the effort to talk about it afterwards is really important, which is what we do.

Rebecca: So anybody out there is thinking, I know I’ll set up my own little corporate events and travel. You have to be good to get the invite. You can’t just piggyback and fake it. Alright. You’ve got to actually have clients. So what kind of clients do you work with?

Holly: So we work with clients from all different sectors. Some agencies are really happy and comfortable to talk about who they work with, but we like to remain quite discreet with who we work with. But from all different agencies. We’re really, really close with the recruitment sector as well from the incentive perspective, but we’ve also got finance, insurance, the legal sector, even medical. Yeah, broad. It’s definitely, yeah, really, really broad. But then it’s between the two main businesses. I mean there’s three in total. So we’ve got the ski, then we’ve got Corporate Peaks, which is the global destination. Really hard on incentives. But we’ve got the CSR focused business, which is CB conferencing, and that is very different because it’s all a GM and conferencing industry people such as medical. That’s when it kind of changes actually.

Rebecca: Right, okay. Yeah, when I was in recruitment, we got a trip to the lake district, so I definitely have missed out

Holly: Some of those trips are the best trips. Some of the trips are the best trips, but things have changed. Things have changed for sure.

Rebecca: Well, yeah, we did some soggy canoeing on Lake Windermere, I think, which is nothing like a gorgeous trip to Oman.

Holly: No, no,

Rebecca: Exactly. Exactly. Yeah, things have changed. How on earth did you get into this sector?

Holly: I always had an entrepreneurial spirit. I always knew that I was going to do my own thing, but I also have been madly in love with the mountains since I was tiny, been snowboarding since I was about six years old, thanks to mom and dad. And I just had this dream. I wanted to move to the mountains, tackled that dream very early on, did lots of ski seasons and then decided to actually position myself out here. Met my business partner, Benjamin, and then I just started seeing a really big niche in the area that I was living in. And I had a background in some marketing and working within the tourism industry anyway myself. So I started to spot loads of lost corporate trips, I’ll say lost corporate trips because they were kind of aimlessly wandering around and not had any logistics organised. It was very much someone had the bank card and it was really unorganised and it was really quite a natural click.

And I was like, hang on a minute. This area is seriously missing. Somebody that can facilitate has the relationships in place, is able to speak the language and make everything happen. So that’s how it started. And originally we were ski Corporate Peaks, so we started off just doing MICE travel, but specifically for these alpine regions, alpine destinations. And then it was just totally organic. And then we got really, really good at what we were doing. Obviously, I mean, we never wanted to look at it from a financial perspective. It was all about this year we’d like to facilitate five events and make sure they’re done very well. Next year increase, it was very much, we were working different jobs as well, and we had savings. So it was about quality and taking things slow. And then it just snowballed into this. We had clients going, we really wanted to do our autumn, we wanted to do our summer. And we very well travelled people, myself and Benjamin. So it just made complete sense, complete sense. And then from there, now we’ve got three businesses

Rebecca: And two children you were telling me as well,

Holly: And two children. So we love to challenge ourselves, but it’s great. It’s great. It’s brilliant. Really happy.

Rebecca: The mountain thing. So were your parents skiers? Did they live in the mountains? Where did that come from?

Holly: Yeah, so my mom and dad used to ski and it was just a family holiday. We were really, really lucky to be able to afford to go on a ski holiday. And it was something that my dad kept up for us within the family, even when times were probably not financially the best. It was still something we did because we were so passionate about it. And I was pre Brexit, you were able to go and do ski seasons very easily. And I was very fortunate at 18, I just thought, hang on a minute, I’m going to defer my uni year, which I ended up deferring it and never ended up going, but I just fell in love with it just in a different way. I could see a future. And it was all brought from the love that my family had for it and the memories that we had together. And then it just really turned into like, okay, this is an amazing way of life, and I do have a very lovely life.

Rebecca: You really have turned your passion into a business.

Holly: 100%. And

Rebecca: I was going to ask, because obviously I’ve stalked you on LinkedIn as I do with all my guests, and found that you won a prize for history and English literature, and I thought, ooh, but there was no uni. So you’ve answered that question. You took a year out. So what was that decision like at that stage in your life? I know we have listeners who are going, well, do I go to uni? Do I start a business? Do I get a proper job? What do I do? What was that like for you?

Holly: So it was really difficult, I think. So I went to a really, really wonderful grammar school. I went south in high school for girls, which is just really wonderful. And the opportunities there were brilliant. So I got into Global Youth Leadership Conference, which was basically a scholarship, and we did stuff with the UN in America. It was mind blowing. And I think when I went to my A Levels, I was all about history and English literature, but I just had this feeling a, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, which unless you really know your profession, I feel like the whole of the country generally feels like that. And I just really wanted to take the opportunity to go and find out who I was.

And that meant going to the mountains and then just, I was in the mountains and I was chatting to someone who was much higher up than I was at that point. I was only 18. And he actually, I’ll never forget, he turned around and he said, some people will build a career out of this. And some people were here just for the jolly. And he actually was like, you will build a career out of this. And I think that’s kind of where it started. And then it was, for me, it was very natural. I just didn’t want to, I progressed so much in my social ability, my social skills as well, excuse me, that I felt almost, it sounds awful that I would be going back on all of my efforts to grow by going back, not from learning, because I love learning. I continue to learn as much as I can, but I didn’t feel comfortable. I just wouldn’t have felt comfortable going back a step in that way. So I just pushed on through and there were so many days when I almost had no idea what I was doing, but I trusted my instinct and then I’m really glad I did. I’m very glad I did.

Rebecca: Yeah, definitely. I’m not sure an English literature or history degree would’ve informed you as to what you were doing. Events.

Holly: Exactly, exactly.

Rebecca: Yeah, I find that fascinating. I didn’t take a year out because I knew if I took a year out, I wouldn’t go back to uni. And that’s exactly why I didn’t do it. So I was just genuinely, personally interested in you kind of took the choice I nearly took, looking back, I don’t think it matters. I think the degree probably just set my work experience back three years. By the time I got to last year, all I wanted to do was work. And in fact, I worked through the final year, which is what a lot of people don’t do. Probably explains the dodgy 2:2 I got really. But yeah, work was much more appealing. Definitely. Yeah,

Holly: I think there’s an element that you, I feel like in people, everyone wants to grow at their own rate. And I think that for me, I was almost quite impatient to get to that level as well. I was really like, I know I’m going to do something. I know I’m going to create a business. I dunno what it is, but I’ve taken a gambler myself and I was so on that path that I don’t think I would’ve done particularly well. I think I would’ve actually been quite lost and quite dissatisfied. And so I trusted in myself and it made sense to me. But everyone’s very different. Everyone’s journey is very different.

Rebecca: Yeah, absolutely. Some exciting things are happening at the moment. You were nominated for a great British Entrepreneur Award. Yes. And sadly didn’t win.

Holly: There was so many incredible people in that room. Truly,

Rebecca: There were. But you said there was something exciting coming up and I don’t know whether you’re allowed to tell me.

Holly: No, no, no. We have been shortlisted for two more awards, so we look forward to hearing the outcome of that basically. So yeah, it’s not over yet. My goal this year was my goal and my vision was in order for us to win an award this year. So I, I’m kind of praying it happens.

Rebecca: So which awards are you up for? Have you been nominated for?

Holly: So we are nominated for Best Corporate Event. And what was it? Best Corporate Event and for best exhibitions and events I think as well.

Rebecca: Brilliant. Right. When are the awards? Because I’m going to look out for that.

Holly: So we will find out on the 13th of December. So it’s the Business Awards uk. So yes,

Speaker 4: Fingers crossed. Fingers crossed. Fingers crossed. We do great Happy dance.

Rebecca: Yeah, yeah, definitely. Do you get any downtime over Christmas? We do.

Holly: We do. We are really lucky. And actually I think that’s why. So we are slammed at the moment. There’s always this pre-Christmas madness. I know that everyone experiences it, but because obviously we are in the ski season, it’s literally just started. One of our biggest, one of the biggest brands of our company is all focused on ski. So we have so many last minute inquiries before the holiday start. So yes, in theory, we actually always make ourselves and our staff take two weeks off, which sounds like a hell of a lot, but because we roll straight into an incredibly, incredibly busy wind season. So our events generally start on the sixth, and obviously there’s a ridiculous amount of prep that goes into them, but we’ve got hundreds and hundreds of people coming from all over the world, thousands in total this season. So it takes a lot of energy. I mean, we are very energetic, you can probably tell, but we have to give ourselves that break. And whether that means completely switching off or not, maybe it means just a couple of hours a day, but doing it wherever we want and not being on from start to finish, it doesn’t really matter as long as we get that time. And obviously I’ve got the kids as well, I’m going back to the UK for the first time ever. So I would like to enjoy seeing the family and having some r and r.

Rebecca: It’s needed. Oh, nice. Your values of the business are fun and family. I can’t remember the other ones. I did look them up, but I like the fact that you’re all about the fun. I think that’s fantastic. And family does seem to be really important to you. How does that play out in the business?

Holly: In which respect? You mean as in my personal family, how do I deal with coping with travel, et cetera?

Rebecca: Well, not so much that. More about the values within the business and how people who work in the business experience the value of family.

Holly: I think that our employment process, we have to find truly authentic, personable people. Ben and I like family ourselves.

So it’s really important that you have to find people that you can trust. I mean, you’re putting, when you own a business, and I’m sure many people would agree, and it’s obviously you really care about your business. And particularly if you’re hosting, because all of our trips are fully hosted, you have to ensure that level is maintained consistently. So that’s kind of where the family element does come in. We have to ensure that A, we can trust people to go, right, there’s 800 people at this conference, I’m Ill, I’ve got, or you’ve got all of the information, I have to trust you to run this. And obviously that will always be back up, but do you know what I mean? It’s the fundamentals and they really come into another level. But also when we go away and run events, no matter where it’s in the world, we’re sharing rooms with one another. We’re exceptionally close with one another.

And that’s great. And it’s fine. I think that we’ve created this place of honesty and trust and we’ve all cried in front of each other. We’ve all laughed in front of each other. It is very much a part of who we are. I think that remaining that way and remain having that personable side is actually how we’ve also managed to do so well, because we attract lots of other companies with the same mindset that want to work with us, that want to give back to their staff, that want to support and see their staff and elevate them and retain them. But I think we can all work in businesses that are often you can be a number. And that was something we never wanted. We never wanted.

Rebecca: Yeah. When you point that out, it’s really obvious when you say it because you actually have to live together while you’re doing these events and these trips long days,

Holly: Which is

Rebecca: Totally different. Yeah, very long days. You see people at their best and their worst, your first thing in the morning with no makeup on, hair stuck inside of you.

Holly: I always look fabulous. No, I’m joking. But yeah, you do.

Rebecca: You do.

Holly: And you have to trust one another. And I don’t think you can trust, I think when you do the sort of thing, and actually a lot of other businesses within our industry are very much the same. You have to trust one another. You have to be able to say what’s what you have to. There’s a lot that comes into play with maintaining that kind of key attribute of businesses.

Rebecca: Family. I like that. I like that. Are you seeing more businesses wanting to do this with their teams, working remotely?

Holly: Absolutely. I think obviously Covid made huge changes, but you’ve also got teams that when you know a team, you can work so much better with one another. Not saying that you have to be out with ’em all the time. Everyone has their own individual friends and yada yada. But when you’re working with these people, there’s got to be an element of let’s get along. Let’s enjoy each other’s company. Why have we been chosen to work under this, within this industry together? Obviously there are similarities and it’s really exciting when we get to coordinate an incentive that is purely focused on team building and not the traditional, everyone standing in a falling back at one another, actually really having fun and getting to know one another. And yeah, it’s a great part of what we do.

Rebecca: Clients will say to me, what’s the best thing to do with regard to team building? I’m like, just go to the pub. Just go out for a meal. I can’t

Holly: Say that.

Rebecca: Go to the pub, do a nice trip with Holly’s business. There we go. But it is, it’s the social, you’re quite right. It’s not stunning around building rafts. That’s not where great teams are built at all.

Holly: No, it is having

Rebecca: A laugh. Yeah, it is. Absolutely. Having a laugh. What did you do during Covid? Because there would’ve been no business. What happened?

Holly: I actually said this in a recent podcast I did, and it rings true every day I think about it, I actually went to go and see one of my clients just before the lockdown happened, and Gary, basically, he said, your brand is confused. This is way back when your brand is confused. And he gave us some really, really good advice. And I was like, okay. And I’m always one of these people like, okay, how can we do better? So when Covid hit, and obviously I’d relayed all of this to Ben, and we were like, right, we’ve got to make some changes. But we were growing and we didn’t have the time, we just didn’t have the time. We didn’t know how we could facilitate all of these changes we knew that we needed to make. And then Covid happened, and yes, it was tragic. Yes, it was absolutely devastating. And we watched the phones just go, we had an event in northern Italy that was meant to happen at the beginning of March, and we were getting, it was terrifying,

But we were like, right, this isn’t going away. We cannot control this. This is a whole new era, so let’s sit down for an hour a day. Enjoy, try and enjoy the best of it. And keep structure was really important because obviously the kids and just not try not to worry about the business. So we sat down for an hour a day and we fixed everything that was wrong with the business. So rather than, I mean, there’ll always be things that pop up that are wrong, but we really did. We spent a lot of that time just going, okay, when this is over, we are going to come out better than ever. And lo and behold, when it was over, we came out stronger than ever because we just focused on improvement. How can we improve? Let’s get the new website up and running. Let’s make all these changes. Let’s form a new marketing plan, new strategies. What’s working for us? What type of clientele do we want to work with? We really picked sat there and went through absolutely everything. And actually the fundamentals of that time have really helped us achieve huge successes after post covid

In many ways in our employment process, like getting the ticket, getting my team together and who we want to work with. So I mean, I went grey for sure, who didn’t. Yeah,

Rebecca: Definitely.

Holly: But it was one of those things, there were times I think, and then many business owners probably thought the same. When you almost bullied yourself and you’re like, oh my God, I’m failing. And then you had to remember that there was a very big global pandemic happening. So trying to keep ourselves balanced was key.

Rebecca: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Yeah, we all went grey because the shops run out of touch up. They, there was no mid brown left in notes and my nails went, I noticed you’ve got fabulous nails as well. My nails just went to pot and it was just, oh my God. Yeah. Anyway, there we go. Triple things compared to a lot of other stuff that was going on. Okay, so where are you taking the business? What’s happening with it in the future?

Holly: Can’t tell all of that.

Rebecca: That’s a secret.

Holly: But we focused a lot on growth in terms of, from a marketing perspective, getting our name out there as much as possible. We did focus internally on growth. We’ve actually put that to a bit of a halt. We just want to stop and sit for a minute. We’ve done so much focus on growth, and obviously we want to continue to grow.

We were intent on growing by 20% in this past financial year. We intend to continue doing so, but I think for now, we actually just want to sit. We’d like to do a lot of changes in the new year, but right now we just want to chill and just enjoy and really harness on continuing to do such a good job. We’ve got the new business as well, which is I’m so excited about and it has been so well received, and there’s lots of exciting things in the pipeline for that. But I can’t spill all the beans, sadly. I’ll get very told off.

Rebecca: Alright. Okay. Well, I’m not going to push you too much on that, but briefly, what does the new business do?

Holly: So the new business is actually CP conferencing. Okay. So one of the things that we saw in Covid were obviously the effects of our industry and tourism as a whole. Business tourism in particular, business tourism is hugely beneficial worldwide financially.

And it was completely torn apart naturally because no one could move. We didn’t get any funding at all. No one in our industry did. No one in the travel industry did really. So I was sat there for a long time thinking, okay, we are okay, but there are people who rely on you coming to the restaurants in these places and these destinations on buying their things, on visiting them, on supporting their local communities in whichever way, however big or small they are. Those things were. And so it kind of started to get me thinking, and then I was like, obviously the world is going in a different place. People are being very conscious of their movements and carbon offsets. And so we really wanted to focus on a new part of the brand, like a new colour, a new part of the brand, and that was going to be CP conferencing. And we just wanted to make a seriously bold move within this business. So I said earlier, it’s a CSR focused conferencing agency. And what we mean by this is that you cannot conference order an A GM with us at all unless you choose from two things. So one is either a financial donation to the local community or a charity that’s relevant to where you’re going.

Rebecca: Okay.

Holly: Or two, you integrate an activity that directly benefits the local ecosystem or the local community. So for instance, there’s, we often talk about there’s kayaking where you can plant microbes, then the water that directly benefit the ecosystem. There are restorations that you can do in Western Europe and Italy in order to support, obviously you can work in schools. There’s so many different options that you can choose from that are directly focused to that destination. So rather than saying, oh, you could do this, we’ve been very bold in saying, you cannot come with us unless you do one of the two options.

Rebecca: Brilliant.

Holly: So it’s really, really, really exciting. I really believe in it. We have a slogan Change the Way You conference. I genuinely believe that this is the future. And obviously you are combining your CSR agenda with your events agenda. So for me, it’s a no-brainer, but we actually care about it as well. That’s nice.

Rebecca: Yeah, I think that’s a great idea. Thank you. It’s going above and beyond putting the tourist dollars into the community. It’s actually having a direct impact on the community, I think. Absolutely. That’s fantastic.

Holly: Yeah, so that’s my mission for next year. I am really excited to just work on this and myself and Ben are on a mission to send it to another level.

Rebecca: Yeah, no, I like that. I think it’ll be really popular and hugely successful. Thank

Holly: You. Really do. I do. Thank

Rebecca: You. Yeah. Okay, last question. Okay. Colombo question. If your business had a personality or a character either, how would you describe it or who would it be?

Holly: You’re going to laugh. This is probably totally inappropriate, but I just started thinking of my business partner and I thought immediately of Patsy and Eddie,

Rebecca: Superb, superb.

Holly: Mostly from a relationship perspective, the way to describe our business, energetic and passionate, 100%. We are very passionate about what we do, and we are very authentically energetic. I think that ties in with the passion. And when you love what you do and you believe in it, it just follows in every way.

Rebecca: Yeah. Alright. So are you Patsy already? I mean,

Holly: The hair should tell you exactly who I’m at. You’ve

Rebecca: Got to be Patsy.

Holly: No, I feel like Benjamin would be Patsy. Oh, he is going to kill me for saying this

Rebecca: Oh dear. Just for our American listeners, and we have loads of listeners in India, if you haven’t seen Absolutely fabulous. It’s on BBC iPlayer and the two leading lady characters are Patsy and Eddie, and they are awful. And funny

Holly: Going to kill me.

Rebecca: I’ve had some crackers on the podcast of who characters are. That’s the funniest so far. I really like that one. I

Holly: Really like that one. Oh, it’s just not taking yourself too seriously,

Rebecca: Is it? I mean, in business, and it’s important. We run our businesses well and profitably, and we look after people. We’re not brain surgeons. We’re humans. Yeah. We’re humans. We’re not actually saving lives. We’re doing something good. And if we’re building a business when we’re putting back, then that’s great. That’s fantastic. But at the end of the day, no, we can’t take ourselves too seriously because the people at the sharp end of life who are actually doing the lifesaving stuff, they’ve got proper jobs. I always think if you’re running a business, you’re on a big adventure. I mean, it’s exciting and kind of nerve terrifying nerve at the same time. Yeah, it is. But it is a huge adventure, definitely. And good fun. It’s lovely to see you enjoy yourself and thank you. I look forward to watching you grow and win an award. Holly? Yes.

Holly: That’s the plan. Fingers crossed. Fingers crossed.

Rebecca: Amazing.