A true master of organisation

02:07, Oct 23 2012
chris thomas
CHILLING OUT: Special Events manager Chris Thomas relaxes after the South Island Masters Games, which finished last Sunday.

After working 200 hours over 13 days, on top of 15 months of planning, Special Events manager Chris Thomas can relax following the South Island Masters Games, which ended last Sunday in Timaru. Business reporter Emma Bailey talks to him about his role in events management.

How did Special Events come to be?

I spent three years in Samoa with my wife, Jill, and daughter, Ella, in the 1990s. I was running a computer company. The job was basically to turn a government department into a private company.

We were approached to sponsor the Samoa International Sevens, a precursor to the sevens we have now. They did not have anyone to organise it, so I joined the organising group.

We moved to Timaru in 1999. I was working stints overseas in Pakistan and the Philippines doing computer audit work.

When I was home a group of people, Mark Hervey, Keith Manning and others, had come up with the idea to have the Masters Games in Timaru. I joined them and looked after sponsorship.


Beth O'Loughlin had an events management company and was employed to manage the games and she employed me as an assistant in 2000 and we worked together in 2002.

Beth moved to Auckland and Jill and I decided to set up an events management company. Jill was teaching and I was doing business consultancy and marketing work at the time.

In 2004 we took on the contract for running the games and the same year took the contract to manage the Festival of Roses and decided Jill would have to stop teaching. Special Events has been going ever since.

Where is the firm based?

We work from home. I had an office in town for a while but it just doubled the overheads. Initially working from home was quite disruptive, but gradually I got used to it and got very focused and disciplined.

I get up in the morning, have my breakfast and walk three paces to work. The disadvantage of working from home is it is easy to carry on working in the evening.

How much work does the Masters Games take?

During the games, I will work about 200 hours over the 13 days. Normally, I am only working 60 hours a week.

We contract with the sports associations to run their sports and we pay them based on the number of entries. This year we had five new sports we couldn't find clubs to manage so I hired another person to manage them.

Numbers were down slightly this year from 2010, when 3000 participated. This year drew 2800 people. It has a turnover of $470,000.

It used to take about 18 months to organise each games, but I have trimmed that to 15 months. I used to organise the Christchurch games, but after the quakes they shifted to Nelson. I trained up a new events manager for Nelson last year, so this year she will take it over. The travel was too much.

This year we had so much rain on the Saturday but every event went ahead.

How many events does Special Events run a year?

The most we have done in a year is 20, but we made a call to cut down and now do about 12.

The smallest production is the sports awards, with the Masters Games the biggest. The Festival of Roses is different because the committee is hands-on and does a lot of the organising. We just really run the market day. We run the Pass to Pub and Mt Peel motorbike races, as well as the Master Builders House of the Year and the production of the business awards.

We run several corporate functions a year. We specialise in multi-faceted events.

How many staff do you employ?

I have one fulltime staff member, Liddy, who manages events as well. When we have a major event we hire a lot of casual staff and I tend to call on the same people. Bob Penty is regularly our operations manager and we have a couple of bar managers on call.

Is managing events a thankless job?

It is rewarding when it works well. It is nice when people come and thank you, but when you are delivering an event you are running on adrenaline. Seeing something work the way you intended is a buzz. Sometimes it doesn't, but the trick is to make sure no one notices; you may have to adapt at the last minute, but as long as people think that is what was supposed to happen, it's fine. It is all about a delivering an experience and people having a good time.

What events have not worked well?

The re-enactment of Richard Pearse's first flight. It had rained heavily before so the replica plane did not get airborne.

And the successes?

The re-enactment of the Strathallan landing at Caroline Bay was one. I did not know how many people would turn up and was out in the water with people coming in on rowboats, which I was also worried about. I was out there for about 30 minutes and then turned around to see the beach covered with people; there were about 5000, which was a relief.

The Phar Lap unveiling was a great occasion. There were so many international media there, putting Timaru on the map. Financially, it was not a success.

What's next?

I want to organise a winter music festival for South Canterbury.

The Timaru Herald