New Maritz CEO Peckinpaugh Charts Course Through Pandemic


New Maritz Holdings CEO David Peckinpaugh talks:

  • Talking the reins of the family-owned company
  • Recovery amid Covid-19
  • Integrating digital and hybrid preferences

A 30-year meeting and events industry veteran, David Peckinpaugh has held senior positions at hotels, destination marketing organizations and meetings management companies and has helmed industry organizations. Peckinpaugh this month moved from his role as president of Maritz Global Events to the CEO position of parent company Maritz Holdings. He’s the first Maritz non-family member to do so. Just before starting his new role—though he also retains the leadership role at Global Events—Peckinpaugh sat down with BTN senior editor Terri Hardin to talk about the changes coming to “Maritz 2.0.”

BTN: How would you describe this role expansion as CEO of Maritz Holdings?

Peckinpaugh: It’s a somewhat logical evolution of responsibilities. Literally on my second day at Maritz back in 2011, Steve [Maritz, former Maritz Holdings CEO] called me over and we had a conversation about a structural shift to a more decentralized model. It was really opportune because I got in on day one, and I’ve been part of this evolution for the last decade.

When Steve asked me a while back, “Are you interested in taking on additional responsibilities?” I said, “Absolutely.” We who understand and know Steve know he’s been focused on this shift from long-term family management to long-term family ownership. For the past 10 years, Steve has been very focused on succession planning and the right path forward for the enterprise. 

BTN: How has the Maritz family stepping away from day-to-day operations affected the organization?

Peckinpaugh: We had a town hall in December and Steve said, “I’m not going anywhere.” He’s still our executive chairman. He still has day-to-day responsibilities and certainly key governance and ownership responsibilities. And he’s chairman of the board. He is in charge of board governance of the organization. From client and employee perspectives, I don’t think there’s going to be a huge change. 

BTN: How does this broader role at Maritz Holdings accord with your concurrent role as president at Maritz Global Events?

Peckinpaugh: In my time at Maritz, I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to manage what had been the largest and most profitable business area. Maritz Global Events serves primarily the corporate market and then the association, tradeshow and live events markets. I would say the mixture is roughly 60 percent corporate and 40 percent association, tradeshow and live events. That mix continues to be pretty close to this day.

My areas are strategy, vision and execution. With the new responsibilities, I have to take a broader perspective. It has to be looking at things like our long-term corporate strategy and long-term corporate vision. 

The nice thing is, I’ve been close working partners with the leaders of the other business units, Maritz Automotive, Maritz Motivation, and also our Global Business Solutions, Corporate Center, so I’ve been attached at the hip to those guys. 

BTN: How have the challenges that the company faced during the pandemic impacted each division?

Peckinpaugh: Maritz Automotive actually had an excellent year. If you look at the automotive industry, the pandemic had no negative impact, it had only positives. Our automotive division has had a really good strong couple of years. 

Maritz Motivation has made significant strides during its last 18-month transition, but it wasn’t nearly as impacted by the pandemic as Maritz Global Events, where we’ve gone through a tough stretch but are now on a very healthy path to recovery.

Certainly, what we’ve learned through the pandemic has been like no other. And 13 months ago, we challenged ourselves to say, “We cannot be the same company coming out of this crisis as we were going in. We’ve got to start focusing not just on survival, but the future and make sure that we are evolving and changing, so that we can take advantage of the marketplace.” 

I think it was Winston Churchill who said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” And I think the organization has done a phenomenal job of getting through those challenges. 

BTN: How so?

Peckinpaugh: We put together what we called our “six guideposts for recovery.” Those are our strategic plan and our filters on what are driving us forward. The six pillars are professional services and the evolution of being a design-based, customized provider of creative and innovative solutions in the marketplace. Smart simplicity. 

So how do we make ourselves easier to work for and with clients and our own people? We have intentional growth. We want to make sure that we’re growing with organizations that value the same things we do. We want to be focused on technology and being the best-in-class implementer of outside third-party technology wherever possible, and then build where it’s absolutely necessary. We want to focus on innovation and make sure we’re still bringing products, and solutions to the marketplace that are leading and cutting-edge. 

And then, organizational health: How do we continue to foster our professional brand, our employment brand and our culture within and across our people? We need to focus on things like diversity, equity and inclusion and focus on long-term sustainability efforts. Focus on cultural initiatives. These guideposts are what will drive this organization forward.

BTN: To what degree do you rely on technology?

Peckinpaugh: In April 2020, we created a digital practice that we’re very proud of. We have a great existing customer base and a very significant opportunity pipeline. It has reduced, certainly, over the last six months in particular; I would say [digital represents] less than 10 percent [of currently planned events]. That number, obviously, changes, but there are still events and clients that want to continue in a hybrid or a totally virtual environment. So, our digital practice is strong. It is absolutely essential for us to serve our customers’ needs. 

When you’re delivering value in content, how you deliver it has a variety of different options. But the essentials—what are the original goals and objectives and how you attain those in the most effective way—is going to drive design. And then design is going to drive the delivery mechanism.

BTN: With omicron exploding, what is the responsibility for meeting and event organizers to protect attendee health? 

Peckinpaugh: It continues to be first and foremost in everyone’s mind. Everyone’s committed to continue with events, whether it’s a face-to-face or hybrid model. The key is, how do you make sure that you execute those face-to-face events in the safest and healthiest way possible? 

We’ve got to get back to commerce. The great thing is, we have so many more tools now at our disposal than we did a year ago. Look at [Professional Convention Management Association annual conference] Convening Leaders, which is coming up this month: The testing availability, the vaccination requirement in order to attend in person, those are all tools we didn’t have, not too long ago. 

I think we have the ability to execute events, knowing that this thing is going to continue to throw curveballs at us. If nothing else, this pandemic has proven that, while there are other models that can help supplement the face-to-face experience, nothing replaces face-to-face events. 

BTN: What trends are Maritz Global Events seeing, starting in 2022?

Peckinpaugh: All markets are on the rise, but I think what’s leading the charge right now are Automotive, Financial Services, and tech companies. 

Pharma also continues to be a very strong performer. They’ve gone to a more hybrid model, but they’re really determined that their business, like many clients, is based on relationships, which are built, supported and reinforced through face-to-face events. We’re seeing that as part of the recovery.

BTN: What do you expect to be your first step out of the gate in 2022?

Peckinpaugh: For me, it’s about listening and learning. I’m not going to make any rash or initial changes just for changes’ sake. It’s going to be a well-thought-out strategic approach. And I’m excited about getting going.

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