It’s day four of the national coronavirus lockdown and Michael Gietzen tears himself away from supervising his two young children to spend a few minutes chatting via video link about his company’s extraordinary success story.
He’s very upbeat, despite the complexity of running a multi-million pound business from home, alongside two active sons playing in the garden of his house near Eastbourne on a beautiful, sunny spring afternoon.
Like everyone, Michael admits he’s finding life a bit crazy at the moment, but he’s focused on growing his business, Identity – described on its website as “a global, full service live events agency”, offering “experts in the planning, design, management and delivery of world class immersive experiences”.
So how did Michael reach the dizzy heights of MD of a company ranked in The Sunday Times Virgin Atlantic Fast Track 100, a finalist in the Queen’s Award for International Trade, and proudly claiming the title of “fastest-growing events agency in the UK”? All within eight years. He takes a swig from a glass of orange squash and considers his answer: “A great team, hard work and confidence that we offer a very competitive service in a very competitive sector.”
To prove his point, Michael reels off some of the contracts his team has won in the past few months – tier one supplier for Siemens UK, most recently delivering a hydrogen fuel cell activation at the Goodwood Festival of Speed 2019; multi-year contract to deliver exhibition stands and other events for Highways England; outreach events programme for the Royal Navy and the RAF; the “Get Ready for Brexit” campaign for the Department of Transport, that included the single largest event staffing contract of the decade, then the crème de la crème, delivering the full event production, management and media requirements for NATO Leaders’ Meeting at the end of the year at The Grove, London, on behalf of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
“That was some job,” Michael muses. “We were so excited to get the contract. You don’t get much higher profile than that.”
Not that he’s content to stop there. He hints at more big contracts to come, supporting the biggest names in business, the sport and entertainments industries, but his lips are sealed on details until the deals are done.
The origins of Identity are simple. Michael trained as an accountant and 10 years ago was invited by his father to “take a look at the books” of his small exhibition business in Sussex – with a view to succession planning.
Michael recalls: “At the time, the business employed just three people, focused on signs and exhibition stands for businesses and its profit margins were very tight. After reviewing the accounts, I starting thinking ‘shall I give this a shot? I think I could really make something of this business’.” And so the journey towards Identity began.
Michael’s father stayed on with the rebranded company for a while, before retiring. In the first 18 months, Identity reached £1.5 million and within five years, £5 million. In the eight years since it was formed, it has grown from three employees to more than 100 at its Eastbourne headquarters, with plans to open a London office as soon as life returns to some sense of normality.
Michael really values training within his business. Identity makes a considerable investment each year on personal development for the team – this includes weekly technical training sessions; monthly supplier product demonstrations; external coaches and an annual innovation day. “Keeping ahead of the curve is what differentiates us from our competitors,” he says.
I sense Michael will be far from treading water during these next few weeks of isolation. His eyes glint as he shares an ambition to reach the “champions’ league” of £50 million-plus businesses in his sector, which he is convinced can be done within three years.
“We’ll be up there with the household names, like Jack Morton, Imagination and George P Johnson,” he tells me with a broad smile. And I believe him.