Ahead of his hosting duties at the TPMEA Awards 2022, taking place on 19 May at Dubai’s Hard Rock Café, MC, public speaker and communication coach, Flo Akinbiyi takes some time out to share his thoughts on the UAE’s events industry.
What sparked your interest in live events?
The answer to that goes right back to my childhood. I was born and raised in small town in Bavaria, Germany, and became a passionate snowboarder from the age of 15. After doing a ski season in Canada, I became a team rider at our local ski and snowboard fun park. I quickly went from being the guy who kept the jumps in shape and welded rails to organising events. Meanwhile, I was also working at a local swimming pool, which had an artificial wave machine – one of only five in Europe at the time. One summer when there was no snow, I thought about how we could make the best use of this artificial wave, so I organised a competition to find the best riders. I caught the bug, and my career has been linked to the events industry ever since.
How did the move to Dubai come about?
I had been working as a freelancer with various events agencies while studying communications and event and sponsorship management. Once those studies came to an end, I reached a crossroads where I either needed to set myself up as a proper event agency and begin to service more clients, or I could get employed and go out and see the world. So, in 2010, I signed up with Avantgarde in Germany to get work internationally, and the first project they found for me was in Dubai. While I didn’t fall in love with the place on the first workday, by the first weekend, I knew it was where I wanted to be.
How did your career develop from there?
I continued to work with Avantgarde until 2012, when I switched to join Action Impact / George P. Johnson, where I took care of the IBM account for another two years. However, by 2016 I realised that I simply wasn’t happy being employed; I wanted to do something for myself. So, I set about becoming a freelance events director, while also diversifying and working as a presenter and communication coach. Gradually, I began to focus more and more on the presenting and coaching side and now that is where most of my work comes from.
How did you cope throughout the pandemic?
COVID-19 was a gamechanger for me, as it was the entire industry. Within two weeks, every single piece of business I had booked was cancelled. When you have your own small company and have all the associated costs to pay, it’s incredibly challenging. The way Dubai managed the situation was fantastic. The leadership was aware that things needed to keep moving and understand that business needed to keep flowing as much as possible, and without that, it could have been much worse.
How important do you think Expo 2020 was in being a catalyst for growth in Dubai?
The whole Expo 2020 project has been nothing short of amazing. Even during these most challenging of times, Dubai managed to create something that is truly world-class. The infrastructure that has been built for it won’t just die in the desert either – it will be used, and the area will be transformed into something new and exciting. The only downside is now that Expo 2020 is over, the events industry is suddenly going to be flooded with freelancers, who find themselves looking for work. It’s going to be tough for everybody to fit back into the ecosystem straight away. However, there are opportunities available for the FIFA World Cup in Qatar and, of course, Saudi Arabia. There are some incredible projects going on there and they are still crying out for skilled and experienced events professionals.
How important are your events industry links to you?
Even though I’m not directly involved with organising events anymore, I remain a part of the industry – and that is something I really value. The regional events industry is a small, tight-knit community and without my network of events professionals, suppliers, and agencies, I would find it much harder to be successful in my career. I like to fully embrace my 17 years of experience in every job I do, and I never want to lose that connection to the industry.
Photos: Flo Akinbiyi