As a Project Director, James is a lynchpin of our operation in Cambridge. Combining a wealth of experience in project management, client relations and technical know-how with the management and development of a talented team, James is passionate about delivering amazing events of all shapes and sizes and is an in-demand kind of chap. We managed to nab him for half an hour to talk how he got into the industry, what the ingredients are for delivering a top-notch service and what job satisfaction looks like for him.  

How did you get started?

When I was at secondary school I was the only person willing to climb a ladder to fix and set up lights in the drama studio, so it started from there really. I originally thought I wanted to do west end theatre lighting, but then at 14 I started roadie-ing and DJ’ing at parties for 3D Events and really enjoyed it. When I was 18, I met Pete Harding and Neil McGann (then of Anagram, now Hawthorn) who were doing the lighting for an event we were all working at. They were looking for a trainee to join the team, so I went for an interview with them at the pub with my Dad. He told me to go for it, so that was that.

Everything fell into place completely by chance and in 2004 I started working at Anagram. I remember in my first year I drove 32,000 miles in the van, did of lot of gaffer tape work and made kilometres of cable! After a year, I became a freelance lighting technician for 5 years, before returning to Anagram in 2009 to head up the lighting department. I project managed my first event three months later. My client was Mint Event Management and the event was for the Matt Hampson Foundation and it was held at Battersea Evolution. I’m pleased to say that this is one of the events I’ve been very proud to deliver every year since!

What did you learn then that you still apply now?

Being able to communicate well at all levels is as important then as it is now. As a Project Director it’s my job to quickly understand what our client wants and how they prefer to operate, whether they’re delivering a corporate event, a glamourous award ceremony or hosting a private party.  We can then tailor our approach to meet their needs and translate that into how we run the project onsite. Knowing how to engage with people and learning how to adapt to different approaches and scenarios enables you to get the best out of an event and a team.

Tell us about your current role?

I oversee the day to day running and management of Hawthorn’s projects team in Cambridge, supporting them in their client relations and event delivery, as well as managing my own portfolio of clients, many of whom I’ve worked with for many years. A key part of my role is looking after Hawthorn’s partnership with the Smart Group and I’ve been part of the team supporting our delivery at Battersea Evolution since 2009, as well as Here East more recently. We have a great relationship and I work as an extension of their team. I also play a role in pitching for new business as well as pitching in onsite when I’m needed!

What do you most enjoy about managing a team?

I work with such lovely and talented people, so I get a lot of enjoyment from my role. We look after our team and develop and support them to achieve in their career. It’s really important to me that we create opportunities for people to progress if they wish to, because when I was 18, I was them. If I got the chances I needed to take the next step up, so too should everyone else. So many team members here at Hawthorn have worked their way up through the ranks and have become invaluable to us. There are lots of different career routes and avenues for people to explore and it’s my job to help people find the right path for them.

Tell us about the part you play in delivering events such as the Adobe Summit for Taylor Bennett Partners and the BBC Worldwide Showcase?

I work closely with our Creative Director Pete Harding on these projects. Pete takes on an account management role and is responsible for working with the client team to devise the creative and clever technical ideas that will set their event apart from the rest, while I look after the operational side of our delivery. I then oversee a further team of Project Managers to deliver the different aspects of the event and ensure the logistics are all pulled together so that everything is in place to bring our clients to vision to life. It’s such an honour to be involved with events like these and to see them evolve year on year.

Would you say you have an ethos?

Every person and every project is important. Put yourself in the shoes of your client. Go the extra mile. Make sure people feel comfortable and informed; professionalism is key and courtesy should be front of mind at all times. For us, it’s all about quality. Quality of service, quality of equipment, attention to detail, meeting deadlines and exceeding our client’s expectations. Delivering a world class service is what we do, day in day out and we love it.

What does job satisfaction look like for you?

It’s the unexpected, off-the-cuff responses from happy clients that really make me smile nowadays. Whether its an email for a sound engineer working on behalf of a massive pop band, thanking us for making their job run smoothly or getting a lovely tweet from our local primary school to say nice things about our team, it’s just great. It makes me feel proud of the team and what we achieve together for our clients.

Weirdly, the other thing that makes me seriously happy is when the nuts and bolts of a project go well. I get great satisfaction when I’m standing in an arena on a huge project and all my trucks unload to the schedule that I’ve given, with military precision! Sad, isn’t it?!

So, what would your dream project be?

I’m a car nut, so I would combine what I do everyday with a motorsport event. I would love to do the technical production for something like one of the huge Goodwood Festival of Speed balls or more F1 parties, which we have worked on before. It would be great to do more of those!

Finally, what do you do when you’re not working?

I have two young boys who keep me very busy! They’re 2 and 4, so if we’re not going to a farm, a zoo, or the swimming pool then it’s cars and racing all the way. I’m developing a Porsche for track days so I spend a lot of time playing with that; going to social meets, race weekends and car shows. I really like even just washing the car! The plan is that the boys will soon learn the ways of racing and motorsport and I can use them as an excuse to do even more car stuff!