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Emma, the former show jumper turned into an event planner for the stars

Thursday, October 27, 2016 - Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

From Charlie Sheen to Al Pacino, Dame Emma Jane Brown has planned exclusive events for A-list clientele. She talks to First Women about her roster, which includes celebrity golf tournaments, sporting events and lavish soirées.

Tell us about your business, what inspired you to start it and how is it different to that of rivals on the market?

EJB Events is an international, award-winning company that just this year has been voted Top Female Event Planner of the Year, 2016 by Worldwide Branding.

Our aim is to deliver exceptional – even once in a lifetime – events for our clients. I moved into this sector four years ago having been an international show jumper. After travelling the world and mixing with high net worth individuals I felt that I had gained an insight into the business – or rather, what I felt was lacking in the industry.

I was inspired because it involved travel and hospitality and, most importantly, social and sporting occasions. EJB Events is different in that we have added an extra layer of personal service and attention to detail in what we offer our clients.

This comes out of my reputation for being something of a stickler when it comes to doing the research, visiting venues and doing everything with a certain amount of style.

My whole team are drilled in this approach and when you consider that we are dealing with people who may be very successful and we have to provide them with something far better than they could organise for themselves. And, in offering them that added value and top quality service, we are acknowledging their worth to us.

For example, we have cornered the market with exclusive A-list events such as the recent VIP Package ‘An Evening with Michael Douglas in Conversation with Jonathan Ross’ at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, which was presented in association with Rocco Buonvino Productions.

What have been the key challenges for your business?

People generally cause the biggest challenges. Whether it be a supplier missing a deadline or a venue letting us down at the last minute or, indeed, managing a difficult client.

Occasionally it is necessary to ensure that an A-lister does deliver on his or her promises, whether it is signing autographs, doing ‘meet and greets’ or even turning up on time. Celebrity managers or agents can sometimes make life difficult but it’s all about building good relationships and learning to negotiate with a cool head.

What are your company’s biggest achievements to date?

Besides the Event Planner of the Year award, I have been listed in Empire Publishing’s 150 Outstanding Women, 2016 and included in Universal Publishing’s Top 200 Influential Professionals, 2016.

We have been delighted to work with numerous entrepreneurs, blue chip companies and celebrities like Charlie Sheen, Al Pacino, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. As important is the sense of pride we take in being able to carry out our charity work with the EJB Foundation which was the natural extension of the work I have done for and on behalf of Karen Law – Britain’s first blind show-jumper.

How lucrative has the events industry been for you, and what excites you most about what you do?

My focus is on being good at what I do and building a positive reputation – and it’s through this that I believe the business has become lucrative. So far, we haven’t needed to advertise because EJB Events gets most of its clients through referrals, word of mouth and PR.

Investing in an exciting new website and sophisticated marketing campaigns is the current focus. Having said that, my aim for the first five years of the business was to focus on quality and reputation and to build up a calendar of memorable events and a list of loyal, satisfied clients. I think we’ve achieved this.

We’ve also set up new sections of the business and seen them flourish and launched our various clubs – Privilege Club, Concierge Club and Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives.

So, the next step – and it’s what I’m really excited about – is growth!

What is a typical day for you? What sort of role do you play in your business and what challenges do you face in your sector as woman?

My children are grown up so, once I’m up and have walked my dog, Rudi, I’m either off to the office or at meetings, many of which are in London – I live in the Midlands.

My first task is to go through my day with my PA who keeps my diary and check in with my agent and PR, as I do a considerable amount of press. Four years into the business I have finally learned to delegate so I spend most of my day with various members of the team helping them with whatever issues and challenges a new day brings.

I oversee the entire programme of events and personally deliver most of them. This involves dashing out of the office at various points during the day to meet clients, visit venues and talk to the marketing or PR team. I do work crazy hours; in fact, only last week, I lost my voice following a weekend event at Cornwell Manor in the Cotswolds. But I feel very fortunate.

There’s not a single part of my job that I don’t enjoy – even the considerable amount of travel that’s involved. It’s so varied and ranges from events such as celebrity golf tournaments to sporting and social events and of course our A-list evenings.

What has business ownership or the industry taught you about money management?

My father was a businessman and I think I’ve inherited his head for business. I have always been very sensible with money but it is a huge responsibility knowing that I have wages to pay at the end of each month.

I work closely with my accountant which is important because following some of the A-list events I am handling very large sums of money. By virtue of the component parts of my business it is vital to keep an eye on costs as they can easily escalate and eat into your profits. Equally as important, of course, is good credit control.

What have been your smartest investments?

One of the most significant factors has been joining forces with Rocco Buonvino Productions; that has been a game-changer. But creating and improving the website, investing in new software, video coverage of events and building a great team around me have all added to the viability and success of the company.

What is the greatest challenge and the greatest reward in being your own boss?

I think that going solo has to be the greatest challenge. Suddenly you are faced with all of the financial responsibility, the need to lead your staff, all the critical decision-making and through all that, the need not to spread yourself too thinly.

When I was competing as a show-jumper, I was always focussed and driven. I have simply transferred this drive. Just as I chased success in the show-ground arena, so I do now in the workplace. All of which tends to mean that there’s not much time for my personal life or often even taking a holiday so my greatest challenge is to maintain a good work-life balance.

Staging a successful event and receiving the thanks and testimonials afterwards is hugely rewarding and key to moving the business forward but just as important is turning dreams into reality for so many people.

There again, running a successful business means being able to truly involve myself in corporate social responsibility initiatives and develop the EJB Foundation, which recognises and supports the talent within para and disabled riders and athletes.

What are your priorities as a business leader?

Living up to my mantra of making the impossible, possible and striving for innovation. But maintaining high levels of professional and ethical standards is very important to me alongside a real longevity of relationships. Loyalty is key so business relationships and long-standing partnerships with colleagues and staff, agents and suppliers is a must. I can’t stress the importance of investment in people enough.

Do you get more satisfaction from spending or saving your money?

I would say a bit of both! I enjoy my home comforts but my biggest thrill is to be able to treat my family and of course my team as a reward for all their hard work.

With all your accomplishments, what are the principles, philosophies and guidelines that have brought you this far? What do you live by?

I ran away from home at the age of 16 and lived in a caravan for a year because I had a dream. I wanted to work with horses and be a show jumper. It was tough because I had to do it on my own but I never stopped believing that, if I worked hard enough, I could do it.

I would like to think that I am inherently a good person as I always try to do the right thing by others. I am robust and dogged in my determination to succeed, and will not shy away from a difficult challenge.

My charity work for the Riding for the Disabled and the EJB Foundation is extremely important to me. The EJB reflects my passion for para show jumping and other para sports and am determined to give whatever support I can to athletes to enable them to take their sport to the next level.

Business is not all about making money; getting the balance right between running a successful business and giving.

What’s next for your business?

We want to expand our events calendar possibly internationally and develop our corporate source responsibility initiatives because I think more and more businesses will choose this route to engage their customers, staff and stakeholders and give something back to the community as they understand it better.