Bringing the circus to business

He first came across computers in Canada’s far north before he grew increasingly fascinated by live events and entrepreneurialism. Now Martin Enault (seen above with Peter King during Melbourne Edge) is leading the first overseas edition of C2, a conference that breaks the mould of corporate events

You started in tech, how did that develop into events?

I started my first company when I was 16 and that was in technology. As a lot of my clients were event people – venues, producers – I quickly realised that their technology was too redundant. But I enjoyed events… started two companies and invested in different projects that gave me an introduction to some of the biggest festivals in the world. This took me in from an early age and I stayed in it since then.

Why didn’t you try Silicon Valley?

I’ve always been one of the odd ones in events in that I understood technology, especially in the music industry, which used to be at the forefront of technology. In a way, Napster killed innovation in the music industry because the industry became afraid of technology. Event producers and organisers became extremely concerned with anything related to technology so much as to be against implementing it. Because I understood technology, the production of events and most of the pieces of an event, technology gave me an edge on most people. It gave me amazing opportunities to create companies and ideas that were different to anyone else’s.

You grew up in Canada – was tech a factor?

I was born way north… in Labrador and from 12 I was in Montreal. Labrador was a pretty lonely place to be, but my dad bought computers for his business. So I started messing with the computers, crashing them a few times, and learning because there was nothing much else to do! I’ve suffered from depression, anxiety and panic attacks all my life growing up and for me technology was a way to connect to the world.

Is digital engagement stifling real human interaction?

What’s interesting is that these days even the youngest generations see human connection as more important that the older generation did. If they’re connected digitally non-stop it means they’re actually connected more with the people in their social circles than ever before. But they also enjoy the physical company of friends as much if not more than people in previous generations. When they get together it's different, and it’s a different experience, but they still enjoy the connection of multiple humans together.

Does live music or performing arts inspire your events?

For sure… and that’s partly why we use dancers and performers of all trades in our events. Not only is it inspiring for us, it’s also an inspiration for the business world in many different ways. You can gain so much insight from watching those performers. When you think of the focus that these performers put into their shows it’s completely mind-blowing. 

Being aboard an excessively creative environment… is an ideal events landscape for me. Things that have nothing to do with technology are pushing humans to a different level, while at the same time pushing the boundaries of business and technology, and tackling major social issues and the way executives see the world. 

How did you blend live performance into business events? 

C2 [Commerce and Creativity] was founded by Cirque de Soleil and I joined after the second edition. I was tired of doing events that seemed like parties and wanted to get back to the world. Having faced the disruption of the music industry and having seen music labels collapse in a matter of years, and seeing thousands of jobs lost, I felt compelled to share that story with the world.

What really attracted me was hearing C2 saying we could do events differently. We could push the production of events to another level, but at the same time change the mindset of executives to see the world through a different lens.

Did they approach you?

I approached them. I met them informally while doing contracts for a few months in the music industry. Honestly, after six months of those contracts, I realised that I could not face another meeting with executives telling me that CDs would start selling again. I wanted to do something more meaningful and remembered the business card of the CEO of C2. Then it went from that to now being a shareholder in the company.

You’re in Melbourne for the first overseas edition of C2. How did that come about?

Well, for me it’s always been a nonsense that Canada and Australia don’t work closer together in the world of business. We think in the same way, we have the same kind of innovation, the same kind of creative thinking and share some of the same values. On the world stage we can actually create some amazing things. 

Do you find resistance in the business world, or is change being embraced?

We’re so far behind in the world right now from where we should be – education needs to be reinvented so desperately. We still teach people based on concepts from a hundred years ago. We still teach them to be factory workers – it doesn’t make any sense. Healthcare will be disrupted in the coming years; whole industries are being wiped out one after the other, yet executives are making baby steps in the direction saying “let’s reinvent what we do”.

The reality is that market disruptions are… simply customers speaking out. Uber and Airbnb were not created to destroy the taxi and hotel industry. They were created to answer the demand from consumers.

Where do you see yourself and C2 Asia Pacific going in the next year or so?

The event is only part of what we do here and it’s our create a creative platform for developing industries as well. We’re also doing events for top corporates and their clients, and Melbourne will be our hub for Asia Pac’ and right through to Asia.

We've also introduced a permanent space in Montreal and we’ll be doing the same thing around the planet in the coming years.

I’ve committed myself to being here for the next one to two years to launch the event. To be honest, people ask me what I’m going to do after and the answer is that I’ve never knew what I was going to do six months before I got to C2 – and I’ve been doing that my entire life!

Martin Enault is COO of C2 and chief executive of C2 Asia Pacific. He was speaking to Martin Donovan
C2 Melbourne 2018 takes place October 17-19 at Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre

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