by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
In his poetic masterpiece The Waste Land, T.S. Eliot writes “April is the cruellest month …”. For the incentive industry and SITE, in particular, we might re-phrase Eliot’s words and say “2017 was the cruellest year” for this year we lost two shining lights, Jane Schuldt and Paul Flackett, former presidents of SITE and the SITE Foundation, veritable giants of the incentive industry and, for @Supergreybeard, me and many, many others dear, dear friends whose passing has left us profoundly bereft.
I knew both Jane and Paul from my first years in the incentive industry when, in 1994, I ventured beyond the safe harbour of academia to the thrilling waters of travel & tourism, abandoning a regular pay cheque and state pension for the vagaries of self-employment and a business partnership with @Supergreybeard. Both Jane and Paul served with @Supergreybeard on the SITE board and so I was fortunate to fast-track my relationship with them, having them as mentors and friends from the very first stuttering steps I took in the world of incentives.
Jane’s company provided representation services to destination management companies and, although our start-up impecuniousness prevented us from hiring her, she was massively generous with advice and counsel. Delaney Marketing Consultants – our trading name in the 90s – grew from 2 to 30 and then to 60 after our acquisition of Ovation in 2001 yet we never hired Jane, despite the fact that she didn’t have an Irish based DMC in her stable.
Reflecting back on this now, it seems strange as it would have been such a natural fit. By mid 2000s we had – I hope – proven our worth as a DMC (even by Jane’s massive standards!) and few rep companies had such a loyal and trusting client base as Jane. Yet it never happened: a bit like the boy and the girl next door who value their friendship too much to risk it with romance, or, in our case, commerce!
Jane never tried to sell to us and we never approached her and while part of me regrets what might have been, I’m eternally grateful that friendship flourished away from the complications of business. For me that friendship intensified in recent years when, through Jane’s intervention, I was elected Trustee to the SITE Foundation and spent a lot of time in her company.
It was inspirational to sit around a board table with Jane and watch her modus operandi. She’d listen intensively to the various interventions, never distracted, never, interrupting, and then she’d intervene herself, always nailing the issue perfectly with a beautifully reasoned, thought-out statement that drew the best from everyone’s contributions. Jane was super-bright, never arrogant, kind and supportive, passionate and nurturing.
She loved SITE and all it stood for. Jane truly understood, with Mark Twain, that travel is the enemy of bigotry. For her, incentive travel was that extraordinary business tool capable of renewing an enterprise by the sheer transformative power of the travel experience. And Jane had broad horizons, venturing enthusiastically with her beloved husband John – another great friend – to SITE conferences in far flung destinations like India, South Africa, New Zealand.
With Paul Flackett I shared a passion for premiership football although we supported different teams. On two occasions he hosted me at Old Trafford for the Manchester United v Arsenal game, the first resulting in a 6 – 1 drubbing for Arsenal, the second a sweet 0 – 1 victory. But there was never any in-your-face tribal triumphalism with Paul. Once the game was over you moved on.
We also shared a love of classic pop and rock although Paul’s tastes ghosted into the likes of The Cult, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple too. He invested considerable time each year selecting the musical stings to accompany the winners as they walked to the stage in Frankfurt for the IMEX Awards. Amongst the usual Motown, Phil Collins and Bruce Springsteen he’d always insert a few obscure 60s one-hit-wonders like Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction”. After the ceremony he’d ask me how many I identified before passing me the master list.
Mundane pleasures like football and music were pure Paul but far from all Paul. They suited the “boy from Birmingham” image that he liked to portray and played down the other sides to Paul – the proactive consensus builder at SITE or the searingly clever, curious, creative Paul that found expression in other channels.
Paul was a true consensus leader who took wide counsel with all stakeholders on any matters requiring a decision. He was a skilled diplomat who favoured compromise over conflict and his loyalty to colleagues, partners and close associates was legendary to a fault. His table at IMEX was eventually the size of a small football pitch as he continued to include past VIPs on the invitation list, even though their term of office was well and truly over!
His quirky creativity found expression in the brilliant satirical reviews that he used to send out concerning the exploits of a Heavy Metal band that existed only within the confines of his massively fertile imagination. A bunch of us would receive sporadic e mails reporting on the latest leg of the band’s world tour. Probably modelled on the Spinal Tap movie, the reportage was flawless and side splitting with all recipients of the e mail playing roles in the story. Regrettably I cannot locate a single episode of the series.
2018 – a year of change
2018 will be a year of change for SITE as Kevin Hinton, our current Executive Director, steps down to pursue other interests. The Association will unveil our new Chief Excellence Officer early in the New Year under the presidency of our great friend Anna Maria Ruffini. At times of change like this the loss of Jane and Paul is all the more acute as both would have been following developments with immense passion and enthusiasm, contributing great insights and dispensing sage advice to those charged with the job of recruiting the new CEO.
And yet somehow I’m convinced that they’re closer to us than ever, helping us shape the future of our society in ways we can’t even imagine.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n–anamacha dilis.
Pádraic Gilligan, Patrick Delaney and Aoife McCrum run SoolNua, a specialist agency working with destinations, hotels and venues on strategy, marketing and training for Business Events and MICE.