If you ever required an example of the antithesis of sibling rivalry – in business at least – then CEO Event Management could qualify.
The company provides personnel for some of the nation’s biggest sporting fixtures and was founded by Charlotte Oliver after she visited Dubai for a holiday and stayed.
Before long, her younger sister Lucy was helping during UK university breaks and two years later joined the Barsha Heights business created in coffee shops full-time.
“I was fresh out of uni with a degree in business and fashion, didn’t know what I wanted to do and came with Dh2,500 to my name,” recalls Charlotte, 35, the managing director of CEO Event Management and a mother.
“After I’d spent that money I started to do work for a promotional company. While I was working an event someone approached me to help at another event.
“It grew from there; there was a gap for quality event staffing in the region and I decided to take a risk.”
Lucy, a law graduate working with London’s Financial Ombudsman Service, brought different skills to the business.
“Any holiday I’d come out and help,” says Lucy, now living in Dubai Marina with their brother Michael.
"Then I worked in London, dispute resolution, was commuting from home - it wasn't really for me. I loved being a financial ombudsman but it wasn't quite the career path I thought I was going down. I wanted to be a lawyer; I got into it thinking it was going to be [like the star in the movie] Legally Blonde.
“I missed my sister as well. Charlotte wanted to grow the business, at that point where I wasn’t happy. It slotted into place.”
Lucy became a director, involved in the daily management and strategic responsibilities of the company.
Now with 10 full-time employees, CEO Events Management – taking the initials of its founder – is celebrating 10 years.
Mostly involved in corporate hospitality, it has staffed everything from product launches, Al Ain Zoo’s birthday, Art Dubai, gala dinners and lavish weddings – “some want you to be bridesmaids”, says Lucy - to major events, including the Rugby Sevens, the Etihad Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.
Success largely sprang from those sports events becoming regular clients.
“The business snowballed in the boom period,” says Charlotte, who lives in Jumeirah Golf Estates.
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“We’d done small golf events, very corporate. Our first big event was the Barclay’s [now Dubai Duty Free] Tennis Championships, at Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium.
“We love sports and I worked out from a business perspective, property launches come and go but the main sports events happen year on year - with those we had a foundation to build on.”
Now the English sisters activate up to 600 part-timers when needed, training and providing temporary work for recent graduates, wives or mums seeking part-time work, others between jobs.
“We want people to have brand knowledge, can hold a conversation, who are intelligent,” says Lucy.
Clients include HSBC, Chanel, Mubadala, Sony and Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority. CEO also ensured the Expo 2020 team successfully reached Dubai’s showcase locations in what became a winning bid.
“Most of it is on a scale. Rugby Sevens, for example, you’ve got a premier suite you staff from start to finish, so they have a bigger budget.
“We have 25 staff at the tennis [supporting existing venue employees]. We design uniforms, source tailoring; guests arrive for the opening hospitality, you sign them off, show them their seats. There’s a hospitality suite. We make sure who is meant to be there is, meetings happen.”
Adds Lucy: “Guests come and we meet them, itinerary for the day, any questions.
“Most CEOs are invited to most things. In the end you know them all; they know we’re part of it and can get them where they need to be.”
With some evidence of a tougher economic climate, the Olivers are optimistic but realistic.
“It’s a very different market now. It’s evolved, very competitive,” says Charlotte, who says she got the entrepreneurial bug from her father.
“I didn’t have any fear back then [in 2008]. It was a very immature market. I really believed in myself; we were in the right place at the right time. As years go you see different challenges.
“We’ve been lucky to ride difficult periods of economic uncertainty as we have a very loyal client base.
“We’ve never lost clients. Sponsorship stops or changes, for example Barclays with the tennis, budgets change or don’t have so much activation.”
With brother Michael also in Dubai and Lucy lending intuitive sisterly expertise, there’s a familial strength to the company.
“I’m really grateful I work with my sister; I’ll be having anxiety about something and she’s, ‘we’ve done this for years, pull yourself together.’
“Events are fun, but you do get some challenging situations, especially when people want to get to a certain area, police are saying they can’t and you’re the buffer. Lucy’s good at defusing the situation.
“We’ve done everything on gut feel, but we’re specialist in what we do. We’re not the cheapest, nor the most expensive, but we’re very hands on. For us it’s roll up your sleeves and hard work.
Occasionally, even, when they should be elsewhere. “I was nine months pregnant and at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship,” adds Charlotte. “They thought I was going to go into labour at the 18th hole.”