LUNCH WITH LUCY
Jay Martin jumped from whitewater rafting to the conference business
Jay Martin was content with a life of rafting through B.C., Australia and New Zealand. Then he found a new passion
After nearly a decade guiding and rafting in the great outdoors of B.C., Australia and New Zealand, Jay Martin never thought he’d go indoors to run the family firm. Not that Martin felt any pressure to take over the reins of Vancouver-based Cambridge House International, a mining and technology events organizer started in 1993 by his father, Joe, who also founded this magazine in 1972. But during a brief stint, he ended up falling in love with the business. After all, the conference floor is where the father of one and downtown resident found his future wife, Gretchen…
This much I know…
“We all have transformational periods in our lives. I love my hometown of Vancouver now, but when I was 18 I was hellbent on leaving. I wanted to shake things up a bit. So I moved to Gold Bridge— population 40—north of Pemberton and got a job guiding on a 5,000-square-kilometre ranch. I was an urban kid, a skateboarder, with long hair and baggy jeans, and I was told, ‘Cut that hair, pull up your pants and get to work…’ It was really challenging and fun.
“I went on to part-own a whitewater rafting business, but of course, that life is seasonal, so you need to have something else. Going into the family business was never on my radar until 2010. I intended it to be a one-year project, but I got really excited about the potential. All my previous work had taught me the importance of providing an experience—giving people that ‘Wow’ feeling—and events are very similar. I go to some 30 trade shows a year worldwide, and you just know how it’s going to be, from looking at the website to getting your lanyard. So the biggest risk to the trade show industry is the trade show industry; it can be archaic. People come to our events for many reasons—but we have to deliver a really fun show, too. We have one-on-one meetings in the deal room and invest in high-profile speakers—we had Edward Snowden one year. For me, show days are like being at the biggest party ever.”
“There were times in the past, however, when rafting felt significantly less risky. It’s been a wild ride: 2011 through 2014, we saw 76 percent of our junior mining clientele become defunct, and we went from 11 shows to three a year. We’ve climbed from barely 20 booths to just shy of 400 now. We rebuilt our team of 10 with gritty street fighters. They don’t know what an easy buck is because they’ve only had a bear market, so it forced us to get more efficient with our models and diversify into tech in 2013. The aim of Extraordinary Future [in September], for example, is to put Vancouver’s tech scene, such as virtual reality, on the podium. I love where mining is now, too; it’s not a good market, but it’s no longer horrible, so quality companies are getting financed. In a bull market, you get everybody in the room, whether or not they know what they are doing.”