Here is a Fireside Chat with Gerry Dunphy, Director at Informa. This interview touches on Gerry's favourite music and books, how an event company has evolved during the pandemic and what the future holds for FIREX.

17 March 2021 by Adam Richardson, General Manager

 Fireside Chat with Gerry Dunphy

Intro: I look after FIREX for you.

  • How have you been affected by COVID-19?

It’s been completely surreal. As an event organiser, everything we focus on is about bringing people together so the fact that the fundamental aspect has been completely stopped is massively frustrating. Having to move events around the calendar as well, all the time you’re second-guessing what the world’s going to do and where’s it going to be in 6 months-time which tends to be a bit chaotic for a business reliant on scheduling.  

That said, it’s been an intense period of innovation and creativity because we still have a duty to maintain our presence in the sectors we serve and provide customers with a continual chance to come together. This has led to focused attention on the possibilities provided by the digital and online universe and a realisation the technology gives us a vital advantage in keeping people connected. You may have seen we’ve got loads and loads of new things that have been coming through in 2020.  Things like our Tech Talks programme, has been great, really well received, plus we’ve also hosted Digital Week, Training Week and we’re hosting our hybrid event in the middle of the year.

It does means that when we come out of it, what you’ll see moving forward is a complete blend of digital and in-person events which will be the proposition moving forward.  It also means we’ve transitioned into a 24/7 communication and engagement service for the industry and for the market whereby FIREX effectively becomes ‘in person’ opportunity to meet face to face.

We’re in a unique position as a trade show because we have supporting the event all year round which provides the industry with a proven platform to communicate with its customers. I’m not aware of any other event having an editorial voice running alongside, reflecting the changes and developments in the market which can then be brought together at the live event. Once again, it’s that blend of live and digital working in harmony.

Generally, the stories relating to the fire sector are the most read; it has a very strongly engaged audience so we’re incredibly pleased. The future looks fantastic as well as the audience engagement has rocketed in 2020 which was evident in over 1 million page views.

Personal Questions

  • Do you have any pets?

No, we don’t, but we’re thinking about getting a dog. Not sure which breed, just something low maintenance.

  • What’s your favourite movie of all time?

Bit obvious but it’s The Godfather. Such an incredibly deep film, it’s not just about the Sicilian mafia in New York. It’s about the deconstruction of the American dream. The opening line ‘I believe in America’ sets up the whole film about how an immigrant group brought their old-world morals, their justice and their codes into a new world and evolve into positions of power and influence across every part of the American system. It’s a masterpiece of storytelling, casting, direction and photography.

  • Describe yourself as a teenager in 3 words?

Watford FC, records and guitars. I found solace in music and football.  I was obsessed with David Bowie, Kraftwerk and Gary Numan, reading loads of dystopian sci-fi novels by people like J.G. Ballard, Ray Bradbury and Philip K Dick and I was watching Blade Runner on repeat every day on VHS. 

I supported Watford during a time when they were absolutely at their height, this was the Graham Taylor/Elton John period when we just had fantastic footballers like John Barnes and Luther Blissett and we were beating everybody in that ‘little club punching above its weight’ way. I still support them now and really miss not being able to go to Vicarage Road on matchdays.

  • What is your biggest pet peeve/hate? 

Ignorance, whether it’s around bad manners or being intellectually lazy. We live in a time where wilful ignorance is weaponised and exploited by political forces and people are making absurd decisions without scrutiny.

  • If you could be from any other decade (or era), which would it be and why?

The period I really would have liked to have seen and witnessed in London in the 60s. There was so much going on with music, culture, films, politics and everything in the world in general.  The world was kind of having its first push forward after the war, this feeling that everything was really moving in a very positive direction.  There was so much going on.  When you look at the films from that time, it looks really energised and decadent.  I like the Mod culture, their impeccable styling, their music and of course owning a Vespa- as per Quadrophenia.  I get the feeling that in the 60s they had done all the hard stuff, such as not rationing anymore and London was being completely rebuilt.  The exciting new architecture, the counter-culture was exploding, new stuff coming in-it's the first time that the war was no longer dictating the overall direction. 

  • If you weren’t in the fire industry – what would you be doing and why?

Most probably I would have been a journalist I think or a commercial writer of some kind. English was always my thing anyway.  To be honest my first proper job interview with a trade publisher, they kind of said, you can either have an editorial job or a sales job and I said “What’s the difference”? and they said, “Well it’s five grand and a car”.  So, from that point onwards I turned my back on anything to do with writing and went into sales.  All because it paid more and I had a car. 

  • What’s on your Spotify or iTunes?

At the moment it’s The Fall, New Order, Sleaford Mods, RIDE, Kate Tempest, Fontaines DC, Massive Attack, Portishead, Goldfrapp. I’ve just discovered- Weyes Blood- who’s a kind of Kate Bush who does these incredible panoramic style cinematic songs that are just fantastic.  So, stuff like that. And of course, Bowie and The Velvet Underground are constants.

  • If you could have any three people (dead or alive) over for dinner – who would they be?

Ridley Scott (film director), Clive James (Australian journalist/news presenter) and Lucy Worsley (historian) I’d rather have people that would be genuinely entertaining and fun.

  • What is your favourite quote and why? 

‘’I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring’’ (David Bowie)

And why because it’s funny, knowing and slightly scary. It just says whatever we do it doesn’t have to conform or disappoint. It’s about moving forward, explore the unknown.

  • What two things would you take to a Desert Island?

As long as I have electricity it would be my Gibson Les Paul Standard guitar and an amplifier. I can waste hours just with a guitar so that would be it. Just practising scales, learning weird chords and everything else, just trying to get better and better and better. Guitar’s an instrument you never really master it so it’s a constant challenge. 

  • Name a book, movie or tv show that has positively shaped you and why?

My favourite book is Nineteen Eighty-Four but I wouldn’t say it’s positively shaped me- quite the opposite, it made me super cynical. The book that has left the most positive impression is ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee. It has that genuine nostalgic warmth of childhood, long summers, kids getting up to mischief etc but then it introduces the darker adult worlds of injustice, prejudice and helplessness. I read it as a teenager and also saw the film and it made a deep impression. Probably fuelled my dislike of wilful ignorance and prejudice. 

  •  If you were an animal, what would it be and why?

Apparently, it’s a wolf- I’ve done a quiz. And the reason:

‘The power of the wolf brings forth instinct, intelligence, appetite for freedom, and awareness of the importance of social connections. When the wolf shows up in your life, pay attention to what your intuition is telling you.’

I can live with that.

  • What is the best gift you’ve ever received?

Hope I’m not tempting fate at this present time but it’s my health. Having been through an emergency situation ten years ago which was touch and go I came out of it realising the medical professionals gave me a gift and it was something to cherish. Carpe diem from that point onwards.

  • What's your favourite thing in your closet right now?

My Jeffery-West shoes, I’m a devoted follower. They’re always quirky, gothic, a bit punk, expensive!

  • If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

Telekinesis. Moving stuff with your mind. I’d love to do it at football, Watford would win the Champions League. Every shot would mysteriously go in. I sit there sometimes usually when it’s going badly and wish I could move the ball this way or that.


Professional Questions

  • What's the best piece of advice you've received?

My former boss Simon Mills said to me ‘leadership casts a long shadow’. By that he meant that in a leadership role everything you do and say gets amplified so you’ve got to think about the outcome of what you’re doing and saying because of the impact it has on your colleagues and team.

I’ve had to train myself not to be volatile because, by nature, I think it’s my Irish DNA, my default position is generally to react.  So, it was that understanding that in a leadership role you do have to be aware of what you’re doing.  I think that’s really important in a team situation.

  • What time did you get to work this morning?

It’s always about 8.30 am.  That’s my regular time.

  • What does your usual day look like?

At the moment it’s pretty structured actually and I’ve got to give Adam Richmond his due here, the minute we were all locked down and confined to home, he got the team into a routine whereby we have a Team’s call every morning at 9-9.30am. We just check in with each other to make sure everything’s ok.  We go through anything that’s going on in the news, anything that’s been on the telly, have a bit of banter for about 15 minutes.  Then we get into what did we do yesterday, who did you speak to, anything that’s come up, anything that they need us to sort out.  We have tasked the team with keeping in touch with everybody, all the clients making sure they are talking to them because there’s a huge amount of anxiety out there as to what’s actually going on, what are we doing. We keep them informed all the time, we ask them how they are because we’re all sharing this experience and we’re trying to come up with solutions for them.

Fair play to Adam because he instigated that straight away, to keep the team in some sort of structure and that really works. Then I’ll have my own set of calls, usually on Teams with either partners or customers or suppliers or colleagues as there’s a huge amount of planning we’re doing at the moment.  The ideas that we’ve come up with, things like Tech Talks take a lot of planning,  so I’m constantly talking to Adam, Alex and Poliana in marketing and James Moore about things that are going on with IFSEC Global and various bits and pieces, so it’s pretty well structured. 

  • What makes you excited about the future of this industry?

As an onlooker working with the sector, I think the fire industry’s time has arrived. Since Grenfell, there has been a realisation that everything this industry does is vitally important and shouldn’t be taken for granted. The insight, research and innovation within the UK fire industry is unparalleled and it deserves to have a higher level of influence because it’s making our lives safer. The warnings were there- Lakanal House was the tragedy that should’ve been the lesson. So what makes me excited is seeing the industry getting to promote its commitment to life safety, making buildings safer and having a wider say on the future direction.

This moment gives organisations such as the FIA the chance to respond in a critical and substantial way about the outcomes of the Grenfell situation.  It was a massive failure of systemic governance, you could see that particularly the ways in which the fire safety laws had been largely ignored and compliance was a seeming afterthought.

FIREX will work with the industry to promote competency and compliance. We will make third party approval a condition of participation to create an environment that promotes excellence in product development and innovation in line with the government’s indications that construction products will be subject to greater scrutiny.

So, when you cross the threshold into FIREX you are in a space where everything you’re looking at has got a third-party rating.

  • What is the latest technology/invention/innovation you would like brought into the fire industry?

It’s not so much technology as integration. From a building management point of view, fire detection and alarm systems seem to be a bit of an outlying technology, for the obvious reasons. We recently spoke to an integrator who’d managed the security, communications and AV in a large building but they said the fire system was a separate consideration. It raises the question of what business intelligence can a fire system contribute to building management because the ultimate output is sustainability. Also, AI is the main theme at the moment in security so is there an application in fire detection? Massively risky of course but it’s an interesting idea for cutting down false alarms if used in video fire detection.

  • What do you like about the fire industry?

It’s always the people. I’ve been involved in FIREX and worked with the FIA for nearly 20 years and the people are legends! There are a commitment and professionalism in the fire industry that you don’t experience elsewhere and although it’s a commercial industry, the application to standards, compliance and approvals is considerable and often at a commercial cost. On a broader level, I enjoy working in an industry that has an ultimate purpose which is about saving lives and property. It’s very positive to know that we provide an opportunity for industry experts to come together to collaborate for a great reason.

  • How does your work and family life come together?

They’re very separate but working from home for a year has been life-changing- not least because I’m not commuting to London on a daily basis. The work/life balance has been completely recalibrated in a very positive way which wasn’t possible before- everything was 100mph or I was travelling on a monthly basis. In 2019 I had three separate trips to China which seem impossible now.

  • What matters most to you?

Being able to deliver a rewarding and enjoyable experience at the shows. It’s really fulfilling when the shows work when they become the centrepieces of their communities and everyone’s firing on all cylinders. Even in the more challenging times, I’ll refer to Grenfell again- the national media descended on FIREX because everyone they needed to speak to- Ian Moore, Niall Rowan, Russ Timpson, Dennis Davis, Jonathan O’Neill- they were all at FIREX because of what it represents. It’s a major occasion in the industry’s diary.

When the shows are happening, they’re fantastic places to be.  Everyone’s engaged because they can see the commercial element coming together, they’re getting new leads, they’re getting new business, they’re meeting their mates, they’re collaborating and meeting their partners. Then there’s that event serendipity- the random people that rock up on their stand and both parties are suddenly discussing major projects. 

  • What would you tell yourself at the age of 21?

‘’When you’re about 25 you’ll be offered a role on a show called FIREX so take it. Don’t wait until you’re 34’’.

  • What motivates you?

Pretty primary stuff really, instincts, safety and security of family and friends, things like that.  I do like to try and excel if I can.  It could be anything like playing a guitar or cooking or things like DIY, I try and do the best I can. 

  • Where do you want to be in 5 years?

I’m where I want to be professional, I enjoy what I do. We’re at an interesting place at the moment because we are developing a whole new proposition for the business which will transform the services we offer our communities.

I’m really enthused by the digital products at the moment and the directions we’re taking. Developments such as Tech Talks was a Saturday afternoon WhatsApp conversation between Adam Richmond and me which has grown and developed into a brand new format which is delivering results for the customers. New ways of bringing buyers and sellers together are genuinely exciting and the new opportunities allow us to explore and experiment

  • Why is the FIA important to you and the industry?

In our position, we need to have professional industry backing and the FIA is the premier association in the UK. It’s a good, symbiotic relationship and we welcome the support and guidance the FIA provides. The show is a platform for the FIA to meet with members and recruit new companies and from our side we know the FIA promotes the show to the industry. Added to that, we’re in regular dialogue around areas like content for and we always get quotes and input from the FIA. Ian Moore’s a great friend and supporter of the show and we have an entertaining and often direct way of speaking to each other which massively helps in difficult times. Also, the FIA’s adherence to third party approvals has been an inspiration and we’re taking FIREX in this direction. We want to make it completely 3rd party reflective- time to be serious!

  • What do you want to say to the readers?

To all our customers- and by that I mean our exhibitors and visitors- the industry partners and stakeholders, we are incredibly grateful for your patience and understanding. It has been an unprecedented time for event organisers because we rely on gathering people together so when

If you would like to get involved with Fireside Chats please contact [email protected].

*All answers given are not reflective of the FIA views and thoughts and are that of the individual who was interviewed.