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You are here: News » Archived News » Shaun Hinds – Making a thoroughbred move from an iconic events venue

Shaun Hinds – Making a thoroughbred move from an iconic events venue

Shaun Hinds

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Business Connect first interviewed Shaun Hinds as Chief Executive of Manchester Central almost 5 years ago. Shaun had taken over the position two years previously in a challenging move immediately following the Manchester Arena bombing. Literally jumping in at the deep end, the role entailed guiding the iconic Manchester events venue through the turbulence in the entertainment and conference sector following the terrible events at the Arena.

Our interview took place at the end of 2019, just before Covid made an appearance, and in something never even remotely anticipated, the venue was to become one of the UK’s Nightingale Hospitals too. As well as the venue itself, Shaun’s remit also covers other event spaces in the same portfolio – including the Concorde Conference and Exhibition Centre at Manchester Airport and the Civic Buildings forming the Town Hall and Central Library complex in Manchester City Centre.

Now Shaun is soon to relinquish his position at Manchester Central taking over Julian Thick’s role as Chief Executive of Newbury Racecourse, in a move he will complete this summer. We’ve not done an exit interview before, but Shaun shares some fascinating insights on his time at Manchester Central plus his aspirations for the role at Newbury:

Shaun – please take us back to when you took the reins as Chief Executive of Manchester Central in 2017?
“I joined Manchester Central just two weeks after the Arena attack. It was obviously a turbulent time, encouraging whole new conversations around security and risk. One of my first jobs was to undertake a comprehensive review of security, driving new investment in terms of manpower, intellect, money and resources into safety, and categorise it as one of our main operational functions.

“In the past we had always been a secure venue, but the issues surrounding security were always in the background. After the events in 2017, venues needed to rethink our security protocols and implement significant changes to how event security is managed, and it’s been an evolution ever since. We are continually changing how we deal with security concerns, and even today striving to improve safety in and around the venue.”

What motivated you to leave Manchester Central and take on a new role at Newbury?
“It was an interesting process. The job I’ve got here at Manchester Central is an incredible position. I have the most amazing team, and to do it in a city like Manchester that has such a great history and heritage is such a privilege. The city is absolutely looking forward rather than back, and I was very happy to be part of that. However, your career and your life is made up of a series of chapters and stories, and I felt there was a little nag (no pun intended!) which told me it was time to try something different.

“I was born and raised in Newmarket. Like everyone else there I grew up around horses, and racing, and the industry. Growing up I was surrounded by the racing calendar, the races themselves, the owners, the trainers, the horses. The local papers were full of those stories – the industry was the talk of the town. We were immersed in the culture, and it’s always been in the background for me. I was approached by representatives from Newbury, not Newmarket, talking about an opportunity to become Chief Executive of the Racecourse. I know the industry having grown up around it, and in many ways the role of the racecourse has some similarities with Manchester Central.

“The Racecourse is such an important part of the local community and economy down in Berkshire, it’s a heritage facility and has a racing mandate going back over two hundred years. The current site was established in 1905, with the first races in Newbury going back a further hundred years to 1805. I got the opportunity to learn about the facility, the racing agenda, I got to meet the board, the owners, the shareholders, and started to think about the potential.

“In some ways it’s not simply racing, it’s an estate. My view here at Manchester Central was never simply about events but maximising the facility as a whole, and the opportunity down at Newbury is to do exactly that. I have a world class racing calendar as a foundation on which to build that potential too. So, putting all those things together made it an opportunity that I couldn’t say no to.”

What was your proudest moment at Manchester Central?
“There have been so many remarkable things happening over the 7 years for various reasons. The obvious one was going into and out of the pandemic which presented us with some interesting challenges. I was incredibly proud that we were able to play our part by becoming a Nightingale Hospital, also that we were the most utilised of all of the temporary hospitals. I was also proud that we were able to keep many of our team in place despite  an outlook that suggested we didn’t actually know when or if the events industry was to return.

“At one point we were seriously considering different uses for the facility, from warehousing, to filming, to being a distribution hub – nothing was off the table. I think one of the proudest achievements was how we came out of the pandemic, how we rebuilt our team and rebuilt the business. We actually ran one of the first events that was allowed to take place, in partnership with the International Festival, and that was under tier 3 restrictions too. That started a period of recovery that took a good 2 years, but the way the business and the team responded made us incredibly proud. We’re now in a position where the business is stronger than ever. The team is more capable than ever, the venue is in great shape, Manchester is in great shape, so I think to have gone through that trauma, that uncertainty, and to come out the other side not just to get re-established but to be able to thrive, which is where we are now, is brilliant.”

What advice would you give your successor?
“I’d say think about where you are. In possibly the best city in the UK, if not in Europe. There is such a buzz, such a vibe and energy around the city. It’s a city where you can achieve anything. So, to be in a leadership position, in a high profile business like Manchester Central, in a city like Manchester, my advice would be to step back once and awhile, take it all in and simply enjoy it. I said before it’s a privilege and responsibility, but the reward and satisfaction is incredible.”

What have you learnt in your role as Chief Executive of Manchester Central?
“I think what has happened in the last two or three years is that the nature of work has changed. Expectations of employees has changed. Expectations and demands of customers – both business customers and direct consumers – has changed. People are more demanding, people are less tolerant, people have higher expectations, people want more value for money. So the playbook you once had – this is how we run our business, this is how we treat our customers – has changed. You have to be really tuned in to what is happening around you, but you have to be resolute in the things that are really important and really matter.

“So you need to be accepting, accommodating, receptive, and able to adapt to that environment, but at the same time making sure it doesn’t drive you. Making sure the tail doesn’t wag the dog.

“Your responsibility as leader is to adapt to the environment around you, and then translate your vision in a way that communicates that vision within the prevailing sentiment around you. It’s more than just words, it’s more than just a statement, more so now than ever, you need to tune in to that external environment impacting your business.”

What will you miss the most from Manchester Central?
“I will of course mention the amazing team here, but there are several projects currently underway. One in particular is our new bar, restaurant and social space. Unfortunately, I will be gone when it opens in June, but it will be a fantastic addition to Manchester Central, and I know it will be an amazing success. There are a lot of aspects of Manchester Central that quietly progress under the surface. Normal business activity that reminds you why we are here. It isn’t all about the bells, and the frills, and the whistles. There is a big machine that sits under Manchester Central that drives the local economy, equating to £150million worth of economic value that this business generates.

“For every £1 generated within the venue, there’s arguably £6 generated externally. For every job that we create directly there’s 20 additional jobs created in our supply chain. Our relationship with the local economy is so important, and the responsibility for that is something I’m going to miss, however, it’s something that I’m absolutely going to enjoy bringing to my new role at Newbury.”

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