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Bespoke Careers

22 June 2023

22 June 2023

Lessons learned from 15 years arranging and attending our AGM

CEO Lindsay Urquhart gives her advice on putting together an engaging annual general meeting

Last month we held the 2023 Bespoke Careers AGM at Pier One Hotel in Sydney. It’s an important event for our business, a time where we analyse our performance during the past 12 months, review and act on the results from our all-staff annual engagement survey, and most importantly, where we plan for the year ahead. Our global leadership team spend at least three full days locked in a boardroom together, it’s full on, but it allows us to step away from working in the business, and shift our focus to working on it.

After this year’s AGM I realised just how far we’ve come from the early days of organising these type of events (Bespoke will be 20 in February next year), so I thought I would share some of the lessons we’ve learnt on our journey in the hope I make life easier for at least one person out there who may be planning something similar for their business.

The venue.

Don’t underestimate the importance of having lots of natural light and ventilation. We once held an AGM in a windowless chamber at a hotel in Hong Kong- a mistake I will never repeat. Those of us who were jet lagged could barely stay awake to make it to lunch time, let alone contribute meaningfully to discussions. This year, having learned the lesson of our HK disaster, we booked a bright conference room with glass doors opening on to a terrace overlooking Sydney Harbour. The access to fresh air during breaks was especially appreciated by those who were jetlagged and gave us the burst of energy we all needed to sustain ourselves for the sessions ahead.

Mix it up.

If your conference is due to run over several days, plan to host each day in a different room. If this isn't feasible, consider utilizing different "breakout" areas and engage in group-based brainstorming sessions to take a break from the boardroom table. This year we utilised two different conference rooms as well as different breakout areas in the Hotel lobby. We also ensure everyone makes the conscious decision to sit in a different seat each day. They are small things, but the benefits they can yield in keeping the minds fresh and engaged is notable. 

Sleep together (not literally).

The impromptu meetings over breakfast or casual conversations whilst walking to the gym before the work days starts can be just as valuable as the formal proceedings. So, ensure everyone stays at the same hotel - including those residing in the host city. It may seem peculiar to pack your belongings and uber a mile down the road, but the benefits of unifying everyone and reinforcing the ties that bind you together are invaluable.

Embrace free time.

We used to meticulously plan our AGMs, filling every single minute with work, socials and activities. As you might imagine by the end of the week, after spending 8-hour working sessions on top of breakfast lunch and dinner together, we were all quite keen for some time apart. This year we intentionally scheduled a couple of evenings without any predetermined plans to allow everyone to reenergise in a way that works for them – some hit the gym, others headed to the local pub, while others (well, myself) enjoyed a bath and a Netflix switch off.

A dose of endorphins.
The formalities of each of our conference days begin at 9am and we rarely finish before 5:30 pm. Being sedentary for these long periods can leave everyone feeling overly sluggish, particularly when you add in the extra consumption of food and drink that goes hand and hand with conferences. To counteract this, we ensure to arrange some physical activity for the group, strictly away from the laptops. This year we booked a tennis coach at the local courts for a casual knockabout before breakfast. In previous years we’ve arranged yoga sessions, morning runs and power walks. One year in London it was a Gong Bath and Sound Healing class on the Clerkenwell Road. These activities are always optional, but we usually get a pretty good turnout.

The agenda.
We’ve honed this over the years. The latest iteration consisted of presentations from each MD, a CFO overview of performance versus budget for each entity and consolidated group, an afternoon with our HR Consultancy where we reviewed the results of our all-staff annual survey and workshopped how to make improvements for the year ahead, an insightful and motivating session with our non-exec director Greg Savage, as well as valuable time hearing from our Marketing, Operations and IT leaders. We put time limits on each presentation and have fun making good use of a timer – no one wants to be the one who gets berated for running over and making us miss morning coffee!


The Bespoke Careers Leadership team is spread across the globe, so for most of us the AGM is the one time in the year we get an opportunity to spend time together in person. We are lucky, we genuinely like each other, so everyone really looks forward to the quality time that can’t be replicated over a screen.  We usually treat ourselves to at least one nice dining experience at a fancy restaurant, but however the real highlight is when we hang out with the wider team in our host city - this year we were graced with the company of the Sydney team at a pub not too far from our Surry Hills office. Once the formal proceedings of the conference are done and dusted, and before everyone heads back home to their families, we hold a team bonding day where business isn’t the focus. This year we enjoyed a relaxing day on a boat around Sydney Harbour. Sydney really showed off it’s sunny Autumn weather.

Events such as AGM’s are time consuming and exhausting. They require us to spend time away from our families and take a lot of energy and dedication to be fully present and engaged for consecutive days. I have found  that if it is well curated however, the return for your business is invaluable. It is why after my 16th Bespoke Careers AGM I still find myself bursting with enthusiasm and feeling genuinely blessed to be working with such an inspiring team of individuals. Thank you to everyone at Bespoke Careers for your continued commitment and dedication to improving the service we offer. I am proud of us and of how far we’ve come.

Author: Lindsay Urquhart, CEO, Bespoke Careers

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