It’s not unusual for Steven Freudmann to take to the stage at the end of each ITT conference to sum up the sessions and announce forthcoming initiatives and events.
But this year, his closing remarks were notable for a passionate defence of networking. Speaking the following day, Freudmann explained: “Networking is a term that is often sneered at. But the foreign secretary was recently quoted saying how important it was and the prime minister has also referenced it as useful.
“For an organisation like the ITT, which attracts senior executives, networking is vital.”
Asked if this is now the main purpose of the organisation, Freudmann said: “Yes, we’ve set our stall out and we are primarily a networking organisation for decision-makers in the industry.
“We have lots of other activities, like training and education, plus our relationships with universities, but our lifeblood is networking.”
Freudmann said training and education still play a role but conceded employers might not pay the membership fee if the ITT was only about networking.
“People wouldn’t feel comfortable belonging to an organisation that was just for networking. They wouldn’t get that signed off,” he added.
“But do we make any money out of training? No. Could we survive doing it? No.
“There have even been discussions about the training and education side, questioning our continued involvement in it. But any self-respecting institute has to have an underlying commitment to raising standards, and some means to deliver on that commitment,” he said. “So one feeds the other; they are interdependent.”
Asked if the ITT had any role in lobbying for the industry, Freudmann said it did, but only a “soft” kind.
“We don’t have formal committee meetings in Westminster, but we do gentle lobbying. Lord Adonis (a speaker at last week’s conference) is one of the major players consulting on the future transport infrastructure in Britain and is an important conduit for us.”
Freudmann said the introduction of regular Pollit membership surveys, announced at the conference, would contribute to the ITT’s lobbying efforts.
“We’ll be publishing the results but also showing them to ministers, government officials, influential people over lunch meetings at [London restaurant] The Ivy or wherever,” he said.
So the focus may have changed but Freudmann insisted some things remain the same. “The ITT continues to be an aspirational organisation,” he said.
“The fact that four of our directors on the board are under 40 is telling. We want to attract the new high fliers.”Freudmann appeared unfazed by the fact that the ITT missed its delegate target of 400 for the annual conference for the first time in seven years, attracting 368 people to Barbados.
He said: “It was a reduction, but if we had relaxed our rule of capping it at two delegates per company we could have smashed the target. We didn’t want to do that.
“Clearly it would have made life easier financially if we had hit the target, but the majority of senior people were there.
“We took a risk coming to a long-haul destination, given we’re in challenging times, but the feedback has been positive and early indications are members want us to continue to go long-haul.
“However, Portugal is the frontrunner [as host] for 2013, so it could be short‑haul first before we try long-haul again, which might be easier for people to justify.” He added: “One thing’s for sure, a resort environment works for us. People at this level network better in Bermudas than a collar and tie.”
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