What do you do and how long have you been in your current role?
I set up Liz Hobbs Group (LHG) 20 years ago. I’ve been in my current role since I started the company, although it’s a very different animal now to the one I started. I retired from professional water skiing, went into TV and radio presenting and realised I wanted a business not a career. Since then it has grown into an exciting and highly regarded business.
The inspiration to set up the company was twofold: to empower sporting venues and make them more appealing on ‘dark days’. Now, the majority of UK racecourses have music events following a race meeting, and we are also utilising a large number of cricket, rugby and football stadia too.
Where was your first job? What was the most important thing you learnt there?
My first job was as a sports centre assistant in Bricket Wood, near my home town of St Albans. I learned the basis of sports venue management and through the venue learned just how important asset utilisation is. The principle has not changed in over 30 years.
I was British champion seven-time water skier and took the European racing title before my 18th birthday, a title I claimed four times. I went on to become world water ski racing champion at 21 years old and successfully retained the title, a feat never done before. I broke the British, European and world speed records and retired undefeated champion of the world.
After retiring I became a TV and radio presenter and for a period of ten years worked solidly for all networks, but predominately for ITV – Yorkshire TV with my own series (Hobbs Choice), Sky Sports as main sports anchor, BBC TV and BBC Radio stations regionally and nationally on BBC Radio 2.
Once I moved into concerts and events my first job was to supply entertainment for The Derby at Epsom Racecourse, on a budget of £5,000. That led, over a couple of years delivering and growing entertainment, to the managing director having enough faith in our relationship to trial music nights there and build the gate from about 2,000 on a Thursday night to almost 20,000 on the same night.
How did you get from there to where you are now?
LHG started full blown concerts after mid-week race meetings at Epsom. Our first artist was Gerry and the Pacemakers. It was a niche at the time, but it started opening up new opportunities not just as a business for LHG, but for racing and music too. I quickly identified other venues within the same group that would benefit from the model and, after a long period trying to encourage the group to centralise their strategy to music, we signed a long-term agreement with Jockey Club Racecourses to develop music and racing.
We had to jump through numerous hoops to get artists to accept the calibre of the events. Some were reticent because they believed some people only went for racing and what if they left straight after racing and there would be no crowd. Our plan began to work as we had identified that people were looking for value for mone and a good time, and music and racing provided just that. Since then there has not been an artist that has not asked to come back to our venues.
Looking back, did you expect your career path to take the course it has?
The honest answer is I have no idea. I always said what do you do when you achieve your lifetime's ambition when you’re 21? Sir Steve Redgrave is working on just that principle with a new business. How do you integrate athletes into the real world when theirs has been so different? It took me ten years to go through the processes and to discover what I really wanted and I have truly found that. I have some lovely relationships now with agents, artists, management, record labels and venues, all of which I value and hope that as time goes on we can be recognised for delivering what we say we will and to empowering British sporting venues to be able to reinvest and keep our sports great.
Would you do anything differently?
I have to mention my dad here. He drove my boat through my world titles and both my parents were a true inspiration to me, and they still are, however, my dad taught me that you can always be better. That has its pros and cons, believe me! You always look for what didn’t go well to enable you to be better next time, but it also means you rarely sit back and smell the roses, however sweet they are.
I always try to learn from everything I do, but I am a true believer that to succeed we all have to have at least one bad experience in our business life. I have been kicked a few times but really hard once and it’s a lesson I have never forgotten. You do have to live and learn in business, but now I always trust my first instinct.
Who has inspired you along the way?
My parents never cease to amaze me, despite their own busy lives. They take a keen interest in the business and, over the last five years, as well as offering sound advice, for which I’m always grateful, they have seen more music gigs per year than the average 30 year old… the first of the LHG groupies. Dad says I outgrew his advice a long time ago, but that’ll never be the case, he is my sounding board and my gut instinct gong.
In terms of business inspirations, fashion designer Amanda Wakeley has overcome some amazing obstacles and remains a lovely human being. I also think Chrissie Rucker from The White Company is a true inspiration to what can be achieved, not just by a woman, but in business.
I have always tracked AEG and Live Nation of course, but Simon Moran of SJM has delivered some amazing things for live music and has raised the bar in what is achievable. I truly admire his tenacity and dedication to staying under the radar and growing what he has.
Have you ever had a job interview that went particularly well or spectacularly wrong?
I only ever had one job interview and I got the job. I’d hate to interview me, I’d give me a really hard time.
Is there a piece of career advice you’ve ever been told that has stuck with you?
First is first, second is nowhere.
What career advice would you give to your 21-year-old self?
Don’t be afraid to employ people better than you in specific areas. You’re still the entrepreneur. They’ll help you grow so much faster. Let go sooner. Trust your gut instinct, it’s rarely wrong if you really listen. Keep the emotion out of what is a business decision, you’ll get better results sooner. However bad today is, there’s always tomorrow.
How do you wind down and relax after a hectic day?
I love to spend time with family and friends. We also have two dogs (Dinky and Poppy) who never fail to make me smile. We walk a lot with them. I love interior design and have gutted almost every home I’ve ever had; don’t invite me round for dinner or I’ll be remodelling my dessert.
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