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Mentoring Insights: Lourda Derry and Alex Brlajova

October 19, 2023

Exhibitions News has teamed up with Women in Exhibition’s UK Chapter to publish Mentoring Insights: a series of monthly Q&As between senior mentors and female mentees as the pairs share aspirations for their mentorship. 

In the sixth Q&A of the series, mentor Lourda Derry (pictured left), COO, Easyfairs UK and Global, and mentee Alexandra Brlajova (right), senior producer, George P Johnson Dubai, give an insight into what they have gained from working together, as their mentoring journey comes to an end following sixth months of working together. 

 

Lourda Derry, COO, Easyfairs UK and Global

 

Why did you want to become a mentor?

Committing to being a mentor is a really awarding endeavour for both mentor and mentee, having been part of our internal programme here at Easyfairs it was a pleasure to open the conversation with other peers in the industry. Sharing experiences, being able to offer advice, working through challenges, being a sounding board is what I thrive on, and being able to cultivate a new industry friendship is a complete bonus.

Describe where you were in your career at the same stage as your mentee is now. What opportunities laid ahead and what challenges did you face?

Asked where I was in the same stage as Alex, I don’t really believe in comparing people or their careers. I do believe in championing those around us, learning from each other’s successes and failures, treading well-trodden paths, and venturing on new. As many will know who are reading this, I spent years running events as an operations manager, maybe it’s luck that I joined a company that grew at a speedy rate (and still growing), however the biggest hurdle I faced was never saying no. Essentially, I’ve been on 16-year sprint without the waist line to show for it. Volume of work can always be tiring in this industry, so build a strong team and do your best to create an engaging and rewarding pathway for them.

What do you think the biggest challenge is for someone at your mentee’s stage of career to overcome? And what are the top skills needed to overcome this?

For anyone in this stage in their career a true skill can be is to truly define ‘what are the five most impactful elements of my role’ this kind of definition of role and within a layered team can create structure and autonomy whilst enabling everyone the opportunity to thrive and give the space to step up at the right moment for their career. Leadership starts with understanding yourself, how you work, and then adapting yourself to those around you. Then of course you can get the results needed.

What do you hope your mentee will gain from mentoring?

Alex and I hit it off from the moment we started our six months mentorship and I really hope she will have gained some tips and tricks for her incredible future pathway in the industry. I also hope she has gained another perspective for the future, and she’s got my number so she can always give me a call!

What are you yourself learning or gaining from being a mentor?

Personally, I enjoy this time to listen and reflect with an industry peer. Not always jump to find the answers and ‘fix’ but be a sounding board and work through some challenges when needed. I have felt that being impartial to a situation can really offer a different perspective and I sincerely hope this has been beneficial to Alex too.

 

Alex Brlajova, senior producer, George P Johnson Dubai

 

Why did you seek a mentor?

Seek support, a different perspective, discover new insights, abilities, and solutions.

How many mentoring sessions have you now had with your mentor?

We met lot more than the mentor programme suggested, we had calls every two-three weeks over a sixth month period.

What has surprised you about your mentoring journey so far? / What do you hope you will gain from mentoring? 

Sadly, we have come to end of my mentoring journey with Lourda, I have really enjoyed it, and found it invaluable. I have learnt a lot from Lourda, especially around the leadership skills such as listening, giving, and receiving feedback. I really appreciated having someone to speak to who understood my role and how it fits within the wider industry, without it being someone I worked with directly.  Lourda never told me what she thought I should do; she simply shared her perspective and experience.

I would strongly encourage anyone and everyone to consider signing up to have a mentor, whether you have one specific objective you want to meet, or a broad idea of something you’d like to explore. Having someone independent to talk to and learn from is helpful, and you might just end up making a new industry connection into a friend.

Describe where you are in your career and how you got to where you are now.

I am a senior global event operations manager with over 10 years’ experience in delivering world leading events. I have led operations in various capacities from concept to completion and I specialise in the efficient and effective management of small to large scale exhibitions and events across Europe, Middle East, and Africa. I started my career in events in a small conference company and worked my way up. I have been lucky to work with some incredible teams and inspiring leaders who have helped shape my career, many of which I met through various industry networking events and platforms. I have recently accepted a new role in Dubai as Senior Producer for an events agency, following two years at dmg events in the UK.  

Why did you choose this industry?

I love organising and creating events and experiences. I’m a people person who loves making sure all those little details are covered, the variety the industry offers – every day is different, the opportunity to travel and meet new people.

What opportunities lie ahead and what challenges did you face?

I have faced a few challenges over the years, learning to say no was a big one. Last year was challenging for me as I delivered five international events within six months, across three continents, with two running for the first time in-person under dmg events since the CWC acquisition in 2020.  The newest opportunity that lies ahead for me is an exciting new role which is client side and based in Dubai.

Please can you tell us about your career goals?

Advancing into a leadership position and taking more responsibility is how I see my career developing in the near future!

Applications for the mentoring programme, from both potential mentees and mentors, are open to all Women in Exhibitions’ UK Chapter members.

Find out more about membership at https://www.womeninexhibitions.co.uk/become-a-member/ and apply now to be a mentor/mentee at www.womeninexhibitions.co.uk/mentoring.

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