• Sara Robinson

Ten Years Well Spent – the HOST Management Journey

I know I am not the only person in 2020 who had plans that did not come to fruition, but this year was our 10th anniversary, and we were planning a suitable celebration. One where we could host our clients in appreciation, where I could tell the journey of how we got here, and one where I could celebrate with many friends we have made along the way.


Well, there was no gathering, but here is a tribute to share before year-end.


My early years


When I tell people what I do and I explain the concept of HOST Event and Association Management, I am often asked how I got into this line of work and how I ever imagined creating a company with such a unique mandate. I can’t refer to anything specific, only a series of events which led me here today.


When I was a young mother, I tried to maintain a flexible work schedule so I could be present with my kids. I had an entrepreneurial spirit which led me to opening a wedding planning shop in my home. I started building networks and partnerships in the community with other businesses in the industry. I was then asked by an organization I had been working with to organize trade show events. These grew into some of the largest shows they ever had. I took on many projects to keep myself busy and every project became its own little business for me. I found that I loved project management and was eager to learn more about hospitality and events. I took a job in the events department at a hotel where I learned an entirely different side of the business. I was then offered an exciting new challenge to teach hospitality and events. I learned as much as I taught, and built some great projects for my students to work on.


I was never one to have one job. Even when I worked for larger companies like the hotel or the school, I maintained my own event planning projects on the side, and continued building relationships in the industry. One of the events I took on was for a non-profit organization. I planned an annual fundraising event for them, but this role grew from planning an event to running a regional Chapter for them. I started working as an advocate, I put a work plan in place to grow their constituency, I created new events to raise awareness and funds. As I developed their brand, the organization grew.


The making of HOST Management


I knew I wanted to manage projects and events but the work I was doing for this non-profit organization was more than that. I searched the internet to learn about services for not-for-profit organizations to see if the service I was providing was one that existed anywhere else. I learned about the AMC (Association Management Company) model, widely used all over the world. It is a shared services model which allows a small association to have a corporate headquarters, full-time staff (even if they only require part time support), and member services that are consistent. I believed there were opportunities for associations in New Brunswick, especially since we have many associations who are too small for their own headquarters and who could benefit from the shared services model. I was already providing this service for one organization.


Around the same time that I was doing this research I was invited to be part of the execution team for the IAAF World Juniors in 2010 and was introduced to Ian Fowler who was the Director of Events for the City of Moncton and part of the Leadership Team for this event. After the event was done, Ian invited me to come in and chat with him at his office. I told him I had been thinking of taking all of this project work I was doing and opening an Event Management company. He lit up and enthusiastically told me that he thought Moncton could definitely use this. This gave me the confidence to stay on course and HOST Event and Association Management was born. Ian passed away before I was able to meet with him again and I never got to thank him for the vote of confidence. Without his encouragement I am not sure I’d be writing this post today.


Over the past 10 years we have represented many various sectors through projects and associations we have managed. Our staff has grown and has included many students over time. We had the privilege of working on international sporting events, classical music events, industry award shows, regional and national events, cultural events, and countless business events. Most recently, we have built an expertise in Virtual Events and executed many this past year. The associations we represent have become bigger and stronger because of the support HOST Management can provide and the ability to scale up resources when needed.


The Strong Ladies of HOST


I am proud of what we have accomplished and except for a couple of students and a very supportive husband who helps with the company however he can, we have had an all-female staff who have been incredible and responsible for HOST Management’s success.


I would be remiss not to mention Leonie Griffin who I have referred to as the Heart of our Office for the past 10 years. Leonie has seen us grow from inception and has been invested in our success with fervor. Her role has changed many times as our client base has continued to evolve. I would not be where I am without Leonie’s support and encouragement. Leonie will be enjoying a well-deserved retirement starting in April 2021 and although we have hired Charline, who will be incredible to fill the role, Leonie’s legacy will forever live within HOST Management and the clients she has supported for 10+ years.


It’s empowering working with strong women. I feel blessed that I have been able to surround myself with colleagues who are dedicated, reliable, smart, and loyal. Dawn was the second person to join our team and her skill and intelligence was mesmerizing to me. She had such expertise, and I couldn’t imagine where I would be without her. They say many new companies fail within their first 5 years, and what Dawn brought to the table for us in the first few years of business locked in our success. I will always be in awe of Dawn.


When I was running the Operations for the FIFA Women’s World Cup (one of the largest projects we secured!), we found ourselves in need of urgent help, so Danielle joined our team to lead one of our other large projects. So many qualities come to mind when I talk about Danielle. I learned so much from this beautiful person. The resiliency she showed when taking on new projects with no real onboarding or training was impressive. She joined us during a crazy time and even when thrown in the deep end, she had the most positive attitude I had ever come across. I’ve never been around someone who made such a conscientious effort to continue to better herself, live her best life, and contribute to society. Danielle inspired me to take a look at my own attitude and realize that I could do better. I could always do better.


Timing was everything when Sandra was referred to me. Sandra had moved back to NB after a career in event planning in Ontario. She had a designation and experience in types of events I had never worked with. Although I was not looking to hire anyone at the time, we created a position for Sandra with the ‘if we build it, it will come’ mindset. Well, it worked because Sandra has led some of the largest events we have had and brings a level of unparalleled knowledge to the team. Sandra quickly became a fiercely loyal member of our team and has achieved amazing results with the events she has executed.


Every person through the HOST doors has brought something different to the table. I have a real appreciation for the students we had over the years. They have been extremely capable and a saving grace to us every summer. Our student last year was Talia. We relied on Talia to develop an event app for a series of events we were producing. Her ability to figure things out was incredible and she stayed on remotely to help us through the Fall, even when she returned to school. Once the pandemic hit this year our business was turned upside down and we very quickly needed to develop an expertise in virtual events. Talia was graduating from University around the same time and agreed to come back to HOST to help us with creating our first virtual event. We thought this would be a temporary contract, but one virtual event turned into another and then another and Talia has now accepted the role of Manager, Virtual Events with HOST Management. I don’t know what we would have done without her. She understands the virtual platforms better than our software providers at this point. She has graciously led us through this new way of doing business and with our new colleague Julie working alongside her, we are in very good hands.


What I learned in 10 years


I’ve learned that every time I think I know what I am doing, I need to figure out something else. I did not set out to have a company like HOST Management. Sometimes I stop and try to figure out how I got here. As I write this story, I realize it’s because I surrounded myself with amazing people. These people are not only the committed staff who have been the cornerstones of HOST Management, but partners I work with every day, clients who trust us with their projects and who recommend us to their networks, as well as spouses of staff who have also been supportive and understanding.


Not one of our 10 years has been the same. I’ve learned that is what I love about it. I never know what the next year will look like but somehow there is always another project around the corner.


I don’t want to get too philosophical here, but when you stop and reflect, it’s clear that every conversation, reaction, or decision you make in the run of a day can impact where you end up. The series of events which have led to this moment is overwhelming to me. Among many, some defining moments of this journey are:

  • Bill Whalen inviting me to join the Moncton 2010 IAAF planning team - this was the pivot for me to launch HOST Management. And when Ian Fowler, the most respected event person in the city says ‘go for it’, I’d be crazy not to.

  • Su Hutchinson gave me the 2012 East Coast Music Awards contract which really launched the event management side of HOST Management.

  • I instantly connected with the families from the Type 1 Diabetes support group which is what encouraged me to build the local JDRF Chapter, which launched the Association Management side of HOST Management.

  • Since then, so many clients have taken a chance on us which has led to more opportunities and long-time partnerships.

  • My husband has been the most influential person and believed in me and HOST even when I had my moments of doubt.

  • And of course, the Ladies of HOST who each came at the right time and, in my mind, all saved me and HOST in their own way. ‘Thank You Ladies, I hope you each know how much I appreciate you and how grateful I have been for you’.

After 10 years, I wouldn’t change a thing.


Will we make it another 10 years? Who knows where we’ll be in 2030 but if I am around, I definitely plan to make up for the in-person celebration we missed this year.


Happy 10th HOST Management!

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