In conversation with Michael Firman, General Manager Exhibitions, Melbourne at Harry the Hirer

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Clients are vital for business to succeed and client relationships help strengthen and sustain a business. But ultimately, success is shared, organisers and suppliers rely on each other to grow. I’d like to think that our clients’ success can be linked directly to the service our company provides because without our expertise in delivering events, then an event would only remain an idea.

We would like to hear about the incredible journey and many of the key factors that have contributed to building the Harry the Hirer reputation in the industry.

Michael Firman. The Harry the hirer story began in the 1970s when the company’s owner and founder, Rick Jamieson, bought some camping tents which became the first backyard party marquees. They were made of canvas and army green in colour. During the 1980s, the party market helped the business evolve from a start-up to a small business in a decade of extravagant private parties and home entertaining. By the 1990s the corporate event market started booming and Harry the hirer became the one-stop-shop for all major events.

Today, Harry the hirer is the largest supplier for public & business events and a leading supplier in exhibitions, rigging, audio-visual and creative services. Our business prides itself on World Best product, customer service and client relationships. The mantra at Harry the hirer is Our People, Our Relationships & Our Product. Harry the hirer is also very unique – It is the only supplier that provides a complete in house solution, this gives our customers a genuine turnkey solution in event supply.

Tell us more about your company and how it provides a one-stop solution for clients of all sizes?

Michael Firman. As a full service event supplier, we have invested in all elements of event supply and delivery to minimise the need for clients to deal with multiple suppliers. Clients benefit from this unique business model as it provides them with a single point of contact. As a complete in house solution, this gives our customers the confidence of dealing with one company who assumes responsibility for managing all the logistical requirements associated with event delivery. Working across all these facets of project delivery means our clients have greater control, more flexibility and save both time and money because we provide a genuine turnkey solution. Our products and services include marquees, wall panel systems, furniture, flooring, signage, rigging, staging, custom build, linen, kitchen & catering equipment, fencing, audio visual, LED walls, video production, power & lighting, broadcast studios, creative services, event styling & design and storage.

What is your greatest career accomplishment? Could you provide the readers about your early life and career? Please tell us about your role at MEA.

Michael Firman. It’s hard to pinpoint my greatest career accomplishment. When you have a career in events, there are so many highs because all the hard work, the planning and preparation leads to a crescendo in the execution of an event and there have been so many memorable moments to savour. Being in events, any event could be your last, and you’re only as good as your last event, so it’s important to always recognise these moments.

My career began working in holiday resorts as a sound engineer doing theatre shows. At the time it was more of a lifestyle, I had no idea where it would lead me but on reflection it helped develop many skills suited to a life in events. Being able to contribute to the creative ideas for an event, to develop those ideas with a team of diverse personalities and backgrounds, fine-tuning the details to final execution, then seeing the joy and wonder of the audience as they watch and experience all that hard work come together, it’s an addiction to deliver the next great event. My role at MEA I see as giving back to the industry. I’ve been involved with MEA since 2010, working as a volunteer on local committees to help organise events for the Association that bring the MEA community together. I’ve been on the Board for 3 years as Treasurer before being elevated to Chair. I see it as an opportunity to teach others the things that I have learned over my career, to tell stories that may inspire the next generation of event planners.

Our observation shows that although growth is correlated with value creation, success can only come from clients’ success. How do you view this?

Michael Firman. Clients are vital for business to succeed and client relationships help strengthen and sustain a business. But ultimately, success is shared, organisers and suppliers rely on each other to grow. I’d like to think that our clients’ success can be linked directly to the service our company provides because without our expertise in delivering events, then an event would only remain an idea.

New tools have also played an increasingly important role during the COVID-19 pandemic. What technological changes has your organization made?

Michael Firman. Very early in the pandemic, our business developed an innovative range of products & services to help organisations get through these difficult times. This included temperature scanning points, social distancing technology, the creation of broadcast studios in Melbourne & Sydney, pop-up temporary structures for medical facilities, triage and ambulance bays through to drive-through testing stations. We saw technology as the obvious solution to working towards crowds again and initially created a social distancing technology called Smart Badge as an event focused product. It quickly transitioned to be suitable, adaptable and used by a wide variety of industries, and now has evolved to a holistic health & safety solution that will be around well past the Coronavirus.

Harry the hirer’s internal IT and innovation team developed the wearable device that uses Bluetooth technology along with the beacon software to manage the data and functionality. The technology provides automated and instant contact tracing, social distancing alerts for wearers and real-time capacity management to ensure businesses and event organisers stay within set regulations. With the ability to be tailored to a variety of different industries and existing infrastructure, this simple and cost-effective solution has helped major business stay safe and operating during the pandemic.

How do you think about balancing the needs of different stakeholders? So how do you handle your clients while balancing profitability, investment, and growth?

Michael Firman. Firstly I believe you must stand by your disciplines. We are all in business to generate profit – profit with no debt gives an organisation the ability to invest, invest in its people, its products and services, and in technology. Having open and transparent conversations with all stakeholders is imperative to achieving this goal. It’s equally important to only take on what you can deliver. Profit cannot be achieved at the expense of delivery and service and you can’t achieve investment and growth without generating a profit. There’s the balance. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that there are many pathways to a single destination, different ways of achieving the same outcome. Only with open conversations with all stakeholders can we find a balance to achieve the best outcomes.

Can you share your insight into leaders’ mindsets and behaviors as their companies transition from one S-curve to another?

Michael Firman. The greatest issue facing our industry that will restrict its ability to rebound quickly is the shortfall of skills and expertise. The events industry has effectively been closed over the past 2 years as a result of the pandemic, and many skilled workers have left the events industry and are using their transferrable skills in other industries. Being able to shift the s-curve and have that translate to success in a post pandemic world will be reliant on attracting top talent or attracting the right people who can be developed quickly into our future leaders. There are many aspects of a business that allows it to attract the best people – culture, diversity, leadership, flexible conditions and salary to name a few. Finding the balance to attract the right workforce where there is competition for talent is top of mind for companies that wish to rebound rapidly post pandemic.

We want to switch topics a little bit and talk about your hobbies. What do you love to do when you are away from work?

Michael Firman. The key to a healthy life is being able to switch off at home. I enjoy time with my family; I enjoy making improvements around the home to make it an enjoyable environment. I enjoy playing golf, it teaches me that remaining calm and patient leads to achieving balance and focus. I also enjoy the beach in summer; swimming, fishing, sailing, or just lazing around.

We are getting ready to say goodbye to 2021, as we realize we are not just saying goodbye to another year, we are saying goodbye to every day that was impacted by the Covid-19 effect, what are we learning from this experience?

Michael Firman. Perhaps we have learned to prepare for the next world defining moment. We certainly learned that we cannot live without human connection. We learned to reflect on the past and enjoy the moments that define us. And maybe, we learned to slow down and not take anything for granted.