Predictions of a mass consolidation of the meetings industry have been swirling since the World Health Organization started advising lockdowns in early 2020 to “smooth the curve” of what was then known as novel coronavirus.
The way companies join forces at this point in the recovery may not follow traditional models of hostile takeovers and mass mergers. Randy Hunt, vice president of the travel and event management company M-Plus Global Events and veteran of Utah-based Morris Air with JetBlue and Breeze Airways founder David Neeleman, is bullish about the power of meetings and incentives companies to thrive when they band together using a model he calls “a reciprocating equity partnership” to build win-win relationships.
M-Plus Global Events, which was founded by fellow industry alum David Simmons (now M-Plus chairman) during the pandemic downtime, recently announced that it had acquired Parsippany, New Jersey-based meeting and incentive management company IME Connect, which along with seven other sister events companies will continue operating as separate business units within M-Plus Global Events.
IME Connect President Steve Some explained the reason for the merger in a press release, “This partnership allows us to further expand our buying power while maintaining our personal commitment, exemplary service and integrity to our clients and our team.”
The acquisition of IME Connect follows the merger of Miami-based A-Plus Meetings & Events and Utah-based Columbus Travel into M-Plus Global Events earlier in 2022.
Most of the deals take the shape of a 25% to 49% minority position in a thriving MICE company with the added benefit of opening up the shared services and supplier contracts to the owner-operator so everyone benefits. Companies receiving the investments have used it to buy out retiring partners, invest in new technologies, expand sales forces and increase sales and marketing budgets.
M-Plus also employs a “book of business” model where a company like M-Plus operates and manages the back end while the founder continues to be a rainmaker, benefitting from being part of the group. In both the minority investment and the book of business models, M-Plus will eventually have the option to buy the owner out, but in the meantime, the founder can continue to do what they love doing while controlling at least 51% of their company with their brand and client relationships in place.
In essence, M-Plus acts as the “Good Housekeeping” seal of approval that signifies consistent service and buying power for clients, but ensures the ongoing personal attention of each of the member-owners, Hunt explained.
Hunt and the team are very selective about what companies are invited to join the owner’s group. “We have never wanted to opportunistically go after companies on life support,” said Hunt. “We want to build a value-added partnership with the member-owner.” It is a similar model Simmons has used successfully in the past to bundle and improve radio and billboard companies.
The goal, according to Hunt, is to help the member companies be as profitable as possible, provide the best services to clients, deploy supplier buying power within the group and let the end game (if any) take care of itself. David Simmons and his capital group are long-term value-added investor team members. “We are not a consortium, association or commission club. Our investors are successful MICE operators, not venture capitalists or Wall Street private equity investors looking for a quick turn,” Hunt stressed.
Combined sales for M-Plus Global Events now tops $200 million while generating more than 210,000 annual hotel room nights and managing 300+ events globally each year and Hunt said they aren’t done investing yet.
Hunt believes there will be fewer “mom-and-pop” small entrepreneur-owned events companies in the future, as retiring founders look for an exit strategy and younger entrepreneurs look for value-added capital support as they grow.