Every year around 250,000 people take part in The Great Run Company’s 12 sporting events, which include the Great North Run and The Great Swim. We ask chief operating officer Gary Wright to recount his career path.
Are you a keen runner or are you under pressure be one in your role?
I would call myself a recreational runner but there is no pressure to be one in my role. I do some of our events if I can and I did get to a point during the first lockdown where I was pretty happy with my times and progress but I think, as with a lot of people, that tapered a little as the fatigue of the later lockdowns kicked in. From a professional perspective we started to get a lot busier and my focus became on getting other people running, rather than myself.
What led you to become involved in events?
I have always been an avid sports fan and if you live in the North East it is impossible not to be aware of the size and the impact of the Great North Run. I trained as an accountant with KPMG and I had always wanted to find my way into working in the sports industry at some point. I have always enjoyed attending sporting and music events so when the opportunity came to work on one of the most iconic events in the country I couldn’t miss out.
You took on the role of chief operating officer in 2019. It’s been a pretty difficult time since, what have been the landmark moments?
We had a really strong 2019 and then 2020 hit. 2020 and 2021 were challenging in so many ways that, in our minds, the Great North Run of 2021 became the symbol of recovery. To get that away in incredibly difficult circumstances has to be the key moment. To have to cancel for a second year would have been really difficult, not just for us as a business but for the region and the charity sector, which rely so much on the economic impact and the fundraising elements of the race.
You’ve got a busy Great Run calendar of events this year. How are sales going and are you confident it will be a return to business as usual?
I think all event organisers, whether mass participation or otherwise, are finding it to be a challenge. We have the benefit of a balloted iconic event which is oversubscribed. The other events are as we expected, some ahead and some behind. I think this is symbolic of the market in general. In essence, society is emerging from two really difficult years and I think that is impacting on how people make decisions; we are finding that people are booking things less far in advance but I am confident that as we progress through the year the rebalance in people’s lives means demand for these events will surpass what it was previously.
Who has influenced you most, professionally, over the years?
Any experience that I have picked up has been an amalgam of so many people who I have worked with over the past 20 years. It is important to always be aware that the way you think may not always be correct in every situation and someone else, whilst you might not agree with everything they say or do, will have that nugget of wisdom or experience that will help you at just the right time.
If you could change one thing about the events industry what would it be?
It would be to come together a little more as an industry. During the pandemic, we talked about the impact or the power of the events industry but on a practical basis all the conversations and where we did work together was, in my view, still within our silos of mass participation, or festivals or the conference sector. I never felt that the industry came together as one to really influence or challenge. That sense of a really powerful influential industry, from the top of the chain to the bottom, is what I would change.