So, the conference season is upon us again. And for those who attended, there was a real treat in store at the International Mobility Alliance (IMA) meeting in Siem Reap, Cambodia, themed The heart of mobility. By Steve Jordan.
It was my first trip to the country, but not my first to Asia. I have become accustomed to the somewhat dusty, dishevelled façade in many Asian locations, but in Siem Reap there is much less of that. Although there are the ubiquitous twist-and-go workshops, street stalls selling unrecognisable produce and 2-litre bottles of petrol, a healthy population of dogs of indeterminate breed, exposed power cables and a general covering of dust - there is much more.
In the city many of the streets are bordered by top quality hotels sophisticated bars and fancy restaurants every bit as enticing as in Piccadilly or Times Square, but without the prices to match. Imagine a place where bikes outnumber cars many times over, the weather is warm, the people delightful, the beer cheap (very), the food excellent, there’s no graffiti, no parking restrictions, few flies, little crime, and you can get a ride home in a Tuk Tuk for $3 no matter where you are in the city. Sound OK? That’s Siem Reap. Add to that its proximity to some of the most enchanting and ancient temples of the world and it would be hard to find a better location for a friendly get-together.
Which is exactly what IMA is. It’s a bringing together of friends, some of which you might have yet to meet, to exchange business, stories and quality time. Patricia Jade Ooi (pictured left), who runs the event with her uniquely beguiling iron hand, does so not for herself but for her delegates. She doesn’t just do enough to make the event work, she does as much as she can to create an environment in which business will be exchanged, everyone will be safe, everyone will be happy and everyone will be enchanted by her attention to detail. She represents The heart of mobility in every respect.
This year IMA was blighted, as have many other global events, by the fear of coronavirus. Some cancelled at the last minute bringing the number of delegates down to around 150 from what would otherwise have been a record attendance.
Pat did all she could to mitigate the worries about coronavirus while at the conference. Every delegate had their temperature checked every day as they entered the meeting room, hand cleanser was available virtually everywhere to help eliminate the primary cause of transmission, and there were no buffets that would require people to share access to food. Precautions that were probably unnecessary but still a clear demonstration that the delegates’ interests were paramount.
The first thing that anyone wants to do after a long-haul flight is, of course, to play a game of football in 35°C. IMA did not disappoint. Pat organised, what was billed as a short game, against the hotel staff. Smartly turned out in IMA shirts, and once they had found a ball, the game kicked off. Now I am no connoisseur of football, in fact I know nothing about it at all, but it seemed to me that the IMA team knew what they were doing. The hotel lot were no slouches either. What was intended as a brief kick about ended up as a full 90-min game that ended 5-5 and was decided in favour of the tourists on penalties. It’s not the taking part, it’s the winning that counts. Dehydration must have been a danger and there were few sore limbs the following day; all well earned.
You shouldn’t go to Siem Reap without visiting the local temples, most famous of which is the awe-inspiring Angkor Wat with 1000 years of history. IMA organised half-day and full day trips, depending on stamina. Few will forget the ‘stairway to heaven’, intentionally difficult, up to the third level of the temple. Even fewer will forget the precarious climb down again which threatens to pitch the unwary into the milling crowds below with every run of the steps. There were also excursions to the floating village, an extraordinary place; and the mountain waterfalls which included a traditional Cambodian lunch, more temples and plenty of retail therapy for those so inclined.
IMA has a unique format. There is a short plenary meeting at which Pat welcomes everyone and there are some short presentations from members of the industry and the adopted charity for the event. This year Walt Peniuk explained a little about his charitable activities and how everyone can get involved in Walt’s Challenge, his way of inspiring people to achieve a personal goal; and Terry Head, recently retired as president of IAM and now a business and personal coach, said that though in constant change the industry was of people, for people.
The adopted charity this year was Hope for the Silent Voices, presented at the conference by Eric Lyons. His organisation works with homeless children in Cambodia to give them the opportunity of escaping their poverty. One of the children, introduced as Mango, now 19 and a beautiful, confident young woman, addressed a spellbound audience to really bring home the value of the charity’s work.
Beyond this brief introduction there are no business presentations at IMA. The three days of the conference are taken up by a continuous procession of 20-minuite PARTNER4PARTNER meetings at which delegates spend undisturbed time together. The flow of these meetings was uninterrupted and there were very few no-shows reported. It’s a format that has been adopted, at least in part, by other industry groups in recent years as it is an excellent way of focussing discussions and making the best use of the time available. Of course, nothing is perfect, and 20 minutes does mean each party has to be both disciplined to restrict their message to the essentials and generous to allow time for the other to contribute. When there is a lot to talk about 20 minutes flies; then again, if there’s not much to say, any longer would be a drag.
I felt this IMA was a little more structured than previous events. The sponsored bar after business ended was a nice touch and a regular feature of IMA that brings everyone together right at the start of the evening. In the past however there has been a relaxed style to the evening activities with collecting in bars and restaurants using WhatsApp to work out where everyone is. Fun but perhaps a bit random for some. This time Pat had organised optional dinners at excellent local restaurants for those who preferred it that way. The gala dinner was held in the hotel and included an auction for the conference charity, much loud music and a presentation to Patricia (pictured left), given on stage by Michael Dunston (OSS) and Jennifer Sloan (European Relocation Services), in appreciation of her hard work in organising the conference and her dedication to all the delegates. The final night was at a dinner show where the delegates were treated to a multi-course menu and a transfixing display of Cambodian dance.
There were also buses available to take the late-night revellers out to the hot spots. As a mere observer to this aspect of conference life nowadays I was delighted to see that the industry remains true to its ancient values of working hard and partying even harder. While the 30-somethings (and a few others) headed off into the bright lights of Pub Street with loud music and shots by the tray full, the more senior members, myself included, retired for a quiet drink in the hotel bar, a cup of hot chocolate and a good book, sound in the knowledge that they had done it all before and a clear head in the morning was a more attractive proposition. Boring perhaps we are, but we already have every T-shirt in the store.
As always there were nice touches: a refreshing drink after a long journey while checking in; an apparently impromptu line of Tuk Tuks, ready briefed, to transport delegates to the first night informal dinner (in my experience it takes a lot of work to make things look spontaneous); the IMA lapel badge to add to the collection; pastries and nibbles to go with coffee breaks; a conference goodie bag with some really useful gifts; and the traditional framed photo for everyone as a souvenir.
Of course, there can always be improvements in anything. I would like to have had a printed delegate list, for example, that would have helped my feeble brain remember a few more names before I bumped into the people in the lift, but then I could have printed it from the website if I thought about it before I left home. A printed conference agenda would have been handy too but again, it was available online. I am being really picky. IMA is a great event and Pat is to be congratulated for all her hard work and dedication in making it happen.
Editor’s note: We have since heard that all the remaining industry conferences have been cancelled and even the LACMA conference, that took place around the same time as IMA, was cut short. Let us all hope that the scheduled conferences in October, PAIMA and IAM, can go ahead.
An industry of people, for people
Terry Head, immediate past president of IAM and now running his own business Compass Coaching & Consulting, thanked IMA for the honour and privilege of helping to open the 2020 conference. He said he had been in the business for over 51 years and this was his first time at IMA and first visit to Cambodia. He was already falling in love with the place and its people.
Terry said that relationships are very important in the mobility business and IMA has come to represent that with everyone referring to it as the ‘IMA family’. “I can see that in the interaction between all of you. You make each of us feel like family,” he said.
He said that he had seen constant change in the industry and change is the only thing that is constant. He referenced the Coronavirus that will have an impact with people who are looking at taking a position overseas potentially thinking twice about relocating their family. “We need to be prepared for that,” he said. “But we are good at evolving. That’s what our industry has done for years. We still carry people’s furniture but everything else has evolved. Technology is the most recent example. But it’s still an industry of people, for people, and that will never change.”
Photo: Terry Head opening the IMA Conference in Cambodia
Walt Peniuk - the father of Walt’s Challenge, formed to encourage people live their dreams and raise money for charity at the same time - helped to open the IMA conference in Cambodia.
He began by thanking IMA for sponsoring him on his own personal challenge last year to run the 800 kilometres, from Toronto to the IAM conference in Chicago. The feat required Walt to run a marathon and a half every day for 14 days. He explained that the money raised went to help a boy in Iran who had been born with a missing leg. His family was poor and, when his artificial leg broke, they could not afford to buy him a new one. He was unable to go to school or to play his beloved football. Walt’s Challenge bought him a new leg and his goal now is to become the best football player in his school. “He’s full of life and very positive,” said Walt. “It shows what you can do if you are determined to achieve your dreams.”
But Walt explained that Walt’s Challenge was not about him, it was aimed at others who had dreams they wanted to fulfil. He explained how Richard Dolan from Greens in the UK had lost 28lbs before IAM in Chicago and how his brother, who had learned to play the guitar only two years before, had pledged to write and perform a song. It’s now available on YouTube. Other people, including Steve Jordan, Editor of The Mover, have joined Walt’s Challenge to help them achieve personal goals. “It doesn’t happen overnight,” said Walt. “It takes persistence and determination to overcome the inevitable obstacles and keep going when everything falls apart.”
Click here to find out more about Walt’s Challenge.
Photo: Walt Peniuk at IMA in Cambodia
Hope for the Silent Voices
It has become traditional for conferences to have a charitable theme and IMA is no exception. In Siem Reap, the conference collected money, primarily through an auction at the gala dinner, for a charity that is dedicated to helping the children of Cambodia who have nothing and nobody to look after them.
Eric Lyons, founder of Hope for the Silent Voices based in Phnom Penn, Cambodia asked, “Could you imagine what you would feel if little children called you saying, ‘I have nowhere to go, and I’m not sure if anybody wants me’.” This, he explained was what happened to him in 2015 when he founded his charity following the closure of a local orphanage. He said that he created a small team and in three days had found a rental property and had 44 mouths to feed and people to educate. “That set the course for us to figure out how to nurture these children who’d had a rudderless existence since they were born. I am not a parent, but a lot of these kids now call me Dad. We are deeply and unwaveringly committed to this process, it’s not an easy task but we love it.”
He said that the best way to illustrate their work was to introduce the group to one of those Voices, a beautiful and poised young woman of 19 affectionately called Mango. She addressed the group is fluent English, explaining that following a family crisis her extended family had tried to bring her up since she was five years old but this had been impossible for them and she and her sister went to Hope for the Silent Voices. “At first I didn’t want to stay there because I thought nobody would love me like my mother,” she explained. Eric and his team however had provided her with a stable home and education that had given her the confidence to succeed. Her aim was to be a teacher.
Eric said that this was the first time he had ever presented with one of his children. “That’s the by-product of rolling up your sleeves and spending quality time with quality people and doing things that make an impact. The ‘Heart of Mobility’ theme for the conference is about being emotionally engaged in things that matter, so I applaud you all for being here and starting from a platform of the heart.”
Photos: (left) Eric Lyons, founder of Hope for the Silent Voices; (right) Mango.