In one of the most elite gatherings of CEOs in recent years, 200 top business leaders came together for the first-ever APEC CEO Summit, held in November in Vancouver. The meeting was orchestrated by Canada's Business Council on National Issues (BCNI), in cooperation with the Pacific Basin Economic Council.
The summit was the country's largest private business conference ever, and "the most ambitious-type meeting in Canadian history," says Thomas d'Aquino, president and chief executive of BCNI, which represents the CEOs of Canada's 150 largest corporations. The lion's share of the $1.5 million conference was sponsored by a host committee of 33 Canadian corporations, with registration fees also contributing to the bottom line.
A media magnet The high-profile nature of the APEC Leaders' Meeting--which brought 18 world leaders, 5,300 delegates, 3,200 media representatives, and 3,000 visitors to Vancouver in November--could easily have worked to keep potential attendees away from the CEO Summit. Countering that was the prestigious line-up of speakers, including Madeleine Albright, U.S. secretary of state; Jean Chretien, prime minister of Canada (who delivered the opening address); Jiang Zemin, president of China; Tung Chee Hwa, chief executive of Hong Kong; and Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon, president of Mexico. Also on the agenda were the heads of such corporations as The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries, Boeing, Motorola, Nova Corporation, 3M, and General Motors. There were also plenary panels and roundtable break-outs where participants could discuss issues pertinent to doing business in the Asia Pacific region--and ample opportunities to network.
Another attraction was BCNI's decision to keep the gathering very small and elite--only 200 CEOs in all. They targeted only leading private-sector companies that were knowledgeable about APEC-related issues and played a big role in APEC economies. "We took a lot of flak for insisting on keeping the summit small," says d'Aquino, "but we believed that the intimate nature of the event appealed to the CEOs.
"Our goal was to create an environment that would facilitate a free flow and exchange of information and ideas. Three or four hundred people would have been too many."
This turned out to be a sound strategy in more ways than one. Finding hotel rooms in Vancouver in November was next to impossible. To secure rooms for the summit, BCNI went to the Canadian federal government and sold them on the benefits of the program. Only then were 200 rooms at Vancouver's Westin Bayshore Hotel released for participants.
As much as possible, the summit was kept out of the public eye, both to avoid diverting attention from the multimillion dollar APEC meeting and to avert any potential protests by human-rights activists against APEC member countries. There was no pre-conference promotion, and the only press conference announcing the event was held just a day before the meeting began.
Strategic challenges As it turned out, there was not a single protester on site for the duration of the conference. This was also due to the high security measures implemented in and around the Westin Bayshore Hotel, which completely restricted public access.
Another challenge was keeping 200 top executives and some of the world's most powerful political leaders on schedule. With the help of late-night and early-morning debriefings with key organizers (see box on page 34), d'Aquino and his team managed. The biggest single logistical problem came on the final morning of the summit, when U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was scheduled to speak at 9:40 a.m., with President Jiang of China following at 11:00 a.m. In the midst of dealing with extremely high security, huge motorcades, and the media, organizers were asked to fulfill a last-minute request for a bilateral trade meeting at the hotel between President Jiang and President Kim of Korea at 10:00 am. Within a three-hour time frame, a total of 48 "movements" were recorded for security to follow.
All of these logistical challenges remained transparent to attendees, who gave the meeting extremely high marks. Ernie Micek, chairman and CEO, Cargill Inc., perhaps summed it up best: "It was valuable to meet with peers--to learn more about each other and the customs and trading practices of various economies. That's much more important than signing a business deal."
Planning the CEO Summit Bulging clipboard in hand, the executive assistant has been hurrying to keep up for three days. She's on the heels of Richard K. Lowy, president of Famous Events & Destinations in Vancouver, who softly relays a list of instructions into his portable headset as he combs the corridors of Vancouver's Westin Bayshore Hotel. Just one day before the opening of the fifth annual APEC Leaders' Meeting, Lowy is helping to orchestrate the final morning of the first-ever APEC CEO Summit.
It was a huge job. Lowy and his team of 150 people were in charge of ground services and logistics for the summit, including everything from negotiating with the hotel, to organizing meeting sessions, to implementing security procedures. In addition to the first night's opening reception, theproduced two evening functions with keynote addresses, sit-down dinners, and world-class entertainment reviews. The company also set up the spouse program for the summit.
Lowy's single most demanding task was to devise "movement plans" for the six world leaders addressing the conference. This entailed lengthy planning sessions, walk-throughs with governments officials in advance, and devising and revising security plans.
To put all the details in place, the company had only four months. Throw in the numerous last-minute changes that come with an event of this caliber, and in the end, Lowy did a lot of what he calls "planning on the run."