An Annual Pilgrimage with a Difference………

Every year for the last 10 years I have made the trip south to the VPMA Congress or as it is now known the SPVS/VMG Congress. It has become an annual pilgrimage for me, time to get away, get some head space and surround myself with other practice managers all keen to learn and network. It’s a bonus that congress has been held at The Celtic Manor in Newport for the last few years which is the most fantastic 5* hotel and the gym, swimming pool and cocktail bar all help to relax the mind.

For the last seven years my best friend and partner in crime has come with me. The seven hour car journey gives us the chance to talk none stop, without our little people interrupting our chat. We usually spend the whole weekend bouncing ideas around, wondering what the hell happened to the last year, setting goals for the new year and drinking rather too many cocktails.  Our return journey is spent chatting non-stop about our plans for the business and what we have learnt from the lectures and importantly from speaking to others I practice. During the 14 hours of driving we have never run out of things to talk about but then that’s pretty normal for us both!

This year for only the second time Hugh came with me. His first visit was years ago when congress was relatively small and it would be fair to say he was not a fan. I can still remember feeling completely deflated as I am so passionate about practice management but for Hugh it was everything he’s not. He still talks about the opening speaker now but for all the wrong reasons which says a lot about the quality of the talk!

So I was slightly nervous setting off with him, I can’t say we chatted non stop the whole way but given we have been together for 18 years (god how did that happen) I think we did pretty well.

Being a 5* hotel the staff are incredibly well trained and nothing is too much trouble. I had spent a lot of time telling Hugh how it is a fantastic example of top class customer service, and I know from a lecture with their HR manager a couple of years ago they invest a huge amount in training their team and it usually shows.

Unfortunately for me when we arrived there had been a cock up with our room that took some time to resolve. As we were sitting in the foyer waiting for them to sort it out Hugh remarked about the ‘not so good customer service’ and suggested that any 5* hotel worth their salt would have taken us to the bar and offered us a complimentary drink. Queue a member of staff who did exactly that…….a free drink will always help smooth things out especially for a Scotsman!

Thankfully SPVS and VMG have seriously upped their game with the opening speakers since Hugh’s last visit and this one didn’t disappoint. We were treated to a fascinating and very funny talk from Benjamin Mee who is the author of the book ‘We bought a Zoo’, which has now been made into a Hollywood blockbuster.  The highlight for me was the story about an escaped Jaguar that jumped into the tiger enclosure clearly fancying his chances against the big cats. The fact that this happened on only day four and involved a work experience student who neglected protocol and decided to crack on with cleaning out the enclosure on their own, in the process forgetting to lock the door, just made it all the more amusing.  But humour aside, his story is one which includes tragedy, hard work, risk and opportunity, and whilst most of us can’t say we have bought a zoo and had Matt Damon play us in a Hollywood movie, we can relate to many of the every day issues that Benjamin and his family have encountered.

So for me this was Congress with a difference, thankfully Hugh came home as inspired and motivated as I did and perhaps the take home message for me is that sometimes change isn’t all bad…….although I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss my partner in crime a little bit!


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