At the turn of the millennium, Stoneleigh Park's new operations manager Julian Hinton found himself in charge of turning a derelict area in the heart of London's Docklands into a major new exhibition centre.
After 18 years in a series of wide-ranging management posts at Reed Exhibitions, Hinton arrived at the east London site that would eventually become Excel just as marine work was about to begin to extend the venue out over the water.
"Clearing the docks was a delicate operation as six unexploded bombs from the Second World War had already been discovered in the land foundations," he recalls. "My remit began with selecting and training service partners for this huge civil engineering project and, over time, took in venue management, pricing, event management, sales and marketing, and additional input wherever necessary."
This jack-of-all-trades approach even led to Hinton jetting off to Korea in the search for a floating hotel that would be berthed alongside the venue. The final choice of Excel's Sunborn Yacht was made only after Hinton had travelled the 5,000 miles to the Far East to inspect a rusting decommissioned ocean liner.
The yacht soon became Hinton's home throughout the week. At the weekends he travelled back home to Warwickshire to be with his wife and two daughters. But the strain of working so far away from his family took its toll.
"My role at Excel had gone on for longer than I had anticipated and it was getting hard to justify the time I was spending apart from my family," he says. "I wanted a position closer to home and Stoneleigh Park had just won an award for venue management so I came to have a look. The rest, as they say, is history."
Hinton's final task at Excel was to manage the civil engineering project that enabled the Schroders London International Boat Show to switch from Earls Court to the Docklands.
He soon realised that the venue's planned second and third phases of development weren't going to come on stream quick enough for the boat show, but the massive 11-day event still needed to be accommodated.
"We had to re-evaluate the hall interiors and demolish a section of the boulevard so that boats could be taken from the north hall to the south hall. Much of the venue's finalised infrastructure was planned around the boat show," he comments.
Hinton's association with big construction projects has not ended now that his tenure at Excel is over. Stoneleigh Park is due to embark on a £100m project in May to add 10,000 sq m of exhibition space and build a two-storey business park on the 250-acre site. The Royal Agricultural Society, which owns Stoneleigh Park, is also planning to expand the on-site hotel and add a trunk road to link the venue to the A46.
Hinton explains: "Stoneleigh Park has massive amounts of car parking space but being in the country has meant access to the venue can be problematic.
The dynamics will now change dramatically and organisations will be invited to re-locate to the planned Agricultural Science Park development. The first to confirm a move here is the National Farmers Union."
Hinton has conquered most sectiosn of the exhibition industry. He began at the age of 22 working for Beck and Pollitzer, the contractor that would eventually become Melville, and since then he has seen show organising and venue management from all corners of the globe. Now Hinton is closer to home and relishing not only spending more time with his family, but also the challenges that lay ahead at Stoneleigh Park.
"There is tremendous scope for expansion and to build up shows. It will be a very busy venue over the coming year," he concludes.
Who has been his biggest mentor... I worked for Excel's former chief operating officer Peter Mooney during my time at the Docklands venue. I have learned the most from him and we gelled together well.
His profile in the industry... I've been around in the industry for more than 22 years but I've never worried about the number of people that know me. I focus on influencing the projects in hand and leaving my mark that way. I'm proud of my achievements with Excel.
The creation of a body to rival the Exhibition Venues Association (EVA)... The Association of Exhibition Organisers' plans for a venue division should be viewed with an open mind to see what the options can deliver. It is important for venues to share best practice and meet regularly, which is why EVA's principles are great.
The challenges facing regional venues today... Whatever the size of venue, it is about knowing the needs of the clients and knowing how the venue and its infrastructure can deliver those needs effectively and competitively.