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“It’s not about the money, money, money”

Leveraging employee engagement and emotional conections for success

by Padraic Gilligan, Vice President, Industry Relations, MCI

Padraic Gilligan, VP, Industry Relation MCI

In the November issue of Pharmaceutical Market Europe, Nick Eve, CEO of UK based communications agency, Pumphouse, writes about employee engagement. He quotes recent research that shows the issues facing major corporations “are less about economic downturn and much more about a loss of emotional connection with employees”. But how does a company establish this emotional connection with its people? How does an organisation keep the right balance between profit, process and people when an over-focus on any single one can throw the entire system into disarray?

This year, on the threshold of its silver anniversary, Geneva based MCI, a globally integrated association, communication and event management company, returned to Switzerland for its annual meeting. Over 750 of its 1200 strong global workforce spent 3 days in Montreux, on the shores of Lake Geneva. This annual meeting – known internally as the International Business Meeting or IBM for short – is inspired by the core belief that “when people come together, magic happens”. It is a live event, involving real people in real time, designed to ensure that the emotional connection, crucial to the success of this dynamic company, is never taken for granted.

The IBM is built on three pillars: learning, networking and celebrating, all mediated through a central theme which changes each year. For 2011 the theme was “Dreams” with attendees encouraged to engage with the theme from both a professional and personal perspective. For a company whose value proposition pivots around meetings and live communications, the IBM is also an opportunity for employees to experience, at first hand, the real motivational impact of what they, in turn, deliver to their customers.

The Montreux Music and Convention Centre (2M2C) hosted all business sessions with the plenary sessions staged in the iconic festival hall where Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan and Ray Charles, amongst countless others, performed at the Jazz Festival. Produced internally by its own Creative Production and AV team, the opening plenary session set the event’s thematic parameters with a pulsating video and stunning projections. Breakout sessions, organised and co-ordinated by MCI’s own Institute, offered 36 distinct options over 2 days under 4 categories: Trends, Design the Future, Meet the Experts and Make it Happen. Sessions included practical “how to” seminars on LinkedIn and VAT as well as seminars with a deep personal focus on well-being and on visualising your future. Educational sessions were delivered by external speakers but also by Cathie Cusin, Nikki Walker, Dev Sharma, Richard Torriani and others of the leadership team at MCI, thus affording recent hires direct access to legacy employees.

During the coffee and lunch breaks, but particularly during the social events in the evening, the powerful energy of people coming together in true, genuine encounter was in great evidence. Colleagues who collaborate on global projects without meeting face to face were meeting for the first time; old friends from past IBMs were re-connecting; individuals who had transferred between offices were seeking out their former work mates. Top management including Tim Basset who sits on the MCI Advisory Board and Sébastien Tondeur, CEO of the organisation were easily accessible, engaging equally with new recruits and fellow leaders alike.

A plenary highlight was the intervention by Claude Nobs, the 74 year old founder of the Montreux Jazz Festival. In a passionate address he urged attendees to “shock the people you’re working with” and to have “an excess of energy and ideas so as to be aggressively creative”. Nobs, immortalised in Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water”, was right on theme as he traced the evolution of his dream from humble origins in 1967 to the global brand that the Montreux Jazz Festval has become today. Another highlight was the address by Juerg Schmid, CEO Switzerland Tourism, who listed the countless writers and artists from Lord Byron to Queen’s Freddy Mercury that gravitated to Montreux in search of their dream location. Schmid reminded the MCI audience that authenticity is the new zeitgeist and stressed how purchasers of meetings and events buy “experiences, not products”. Schmid also recalled the origins of MCI when, almost 25 years ago, Roger Tondeur dared to dream of a meetings and events company spread over all 5 continents.

The IBM also offers MCI employees the opportunity to immerse themselves in the spectacular uniqueness of the selected destination. On the afternoon of day 2 attendees could choose to climb the Glacier, visit Gruyere, stroll around the Christmas markets or, most interestingly, engage in a CSR action in support of “The Little Dreams Foundation” a charitable trust started by musician Phil Collins to help disadvantaged children achieve success in their favourite activities. Under the leadership of Sustainability Director, Guy Bigwood, attendees contributed lyrics to a song assembled and finally recorded at the famous Dinamec studio in Montreux by Australian singer-songwriter Corinne Gibbons and an MCI Choir. The entire ensemble then performed the song along with the usual Christmas favourites at the festive Market in Montreux and raised significant funds for the charity.

This CSR initiative provides a telling glimpse of a company for whom emotional engagement is paramount. This is a values led organisation that believes in the power of people. A favourite statement of CEO and Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2011, Sebastien Tondeur, is “people and relationships are the DNA of MCI”. It is this relentless focus on people, both internally within MCI, and externally within the various communities that MCI serves, that makes MCI a great place to work, a place where you can fashion and pursue your dreams.

But what about the process and the profit, you might say? MCI has expertly and efficiently deployed technology to create enterprise-wide processes and reporting that keep employees focused on delivering value to customers. It’s value has grown exponentially too, every year since it started in the late 80s. In the last five years, despite the dark clouds of economic gloom, MCI’s value has grown by over 50%.Companies that foster emotional connections with their employees will always prosper, in good times and in bad. These connections are made possible through the use of motivational experiences, live meetings and events which re-enforce for all employees that they are recognised, valued, heard, understood and respected. It is about the money – after all this is a commercial organisation – but never at the expense of the emotional connection which is becoming the sine qua non for companies operating in today’s global marketplace.

Padraic Gilligan is Vice President of Industry Relations at MCI. He is based at MCI’s Dublin office and blogs on destinations and matters of interest to the meeting industry on For further details on MCI please see


3 thoughts on “It’s not about the money, money, money? Leveraging employee engagement and emotional connections for success

  1. Guy Bigwood says:

    great recap of an amazing event. Very well written. Thanks for the mention

  2. A fantastic account of what was a really inspirational event and learning opportunity. I’m proud to work for a company that is so people-oriented and places so much importance on ideas and dreams.

  3. Mindy Rynasko says:

    Great blog. Sounds like an amazing business model. Love the “legacy” employees terminology. We find, in our industry, (workplace design and furniture manufacturing), that many companies struggle to find ways to connect the legacy associates, with years of experience, with new, often younger, associates who may also gave expertise in the digital arena that the older staff could benefit from. The companies look to us to create a design and workflow that encourages collaboration thus changing their culture. I think as more and more companies move to flexible schedules and alternate work locations, IBM type meetings will be crucial to keep the company connected.

    Cheers to 2012!


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