Olivia McLean

Olivia has worked as an operations manager for over 20 years, across a multitude of venues & major sport events. Events Olivia have supported on include Glasgow Commonwealth Games 2014, London Olympics 2012, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, BBC at the Edinburgh Festivals and The Great North Run to name just a few!


How did you get started in the industry / what was your first job in events ? 

When I started at University a friend allowed me to interview her for a paper that I was writing for my course. She was in the middle of a great events career in Glasgow with a company, at the time, who were considered one of the best in the business. I started work experience in their office and then worked throughout my University years on their events, which included International Arts Fairs, Radio 1 weekends and Cultural Festivals in cities across Scotland. I was extremely fortunate to be able to work and learn, which is the key to being able to move into a job once education is finished. I absolutely loved being part of the events team and instantly knew this was what I wanted to base my future in.

Once I finished the four years in Glasgow I was again fortunate to get the opportunity to work full time with one of the UK’s finest music promoters, DF Concerts Ltd. We worked on gigs and festivals across Scotland including T in the Park and amazing stadium shows such as Robbie Williams, Bon Jovi, Eminem and many cool other artists. As a 20 something it was so much fun, highly pressured and extremely long hours, but I absolutely loved that adrenaline and being part of something massive where everyone attending was having a great time.

You’ve achieved a lot since that first role , what would you say is your proudest achievement so far? 

I think being able to go from one role to then next, maintaining great relationships along the way and balancing the life that I wanted with work. Everything that I have worked on I have wanted to be part of;  I have never had to compromise on a role and always been able work across a multitude of areas in this industry. From mass international sporting events to Art Fairs, 80,000 fans watching their favourite artist to intimate Book Festival performances and now delivering a Host City for one of the largest sporting events in the world. I think I interviewed for two roles in the 20 years that I have worked so I have been fortunate to be able to maintain my career on relationships and previous experiences.

And what has been your biggest learning

You should have, and need to have, common sense and an ability to problem solve. Attention to detail is also really important, whether that is the quality of grounding for a car park, to heating in a marquee, to the quality of food services and training of staff. Thinking about what you would hope to experience if you were attending helps to make the event site or spectator journey better and put your plans into perspective. I find it frustrating when the actual event is overshadowed by poor planning or key items left out to minimise spend or sometimes a lack of thought.  It is very difficult to put on events at low budget these days, but removing core items to minimise spend often compromise’s the event and reduces the positive experience of the spectator/ customer, which if you are hoping to make an event a regular/ annual setting, will cost you in the long run. Plan with the wider thoughts in mind, consider weather, consider journeys and experience outside the main event. If your experience getting to and leaving an event is poor it will overshadow the experience you had during the performance or match, which is not what anyone should expect or deserve when attending…so always remember the wider picture.

What is it about working in the events that you love? And why would you recommend it as a career choice? 

I really love the problem solving of events. Whether that is an operational aspect or a strategic direction for an organisation. I sit across all areas of the operation and make sure all the parts work together. Having worked in the industry now for over 20years, I still enjoy being part of an event, secretly loving the fact that most people attend without knowing how much planning, thought and effort is given to make sure a spectator has the best experience and leaves with memories. I like being involved in the background of something and watching customers/ spectators enjoyment, its of great satisfaction to see all the effort resulting in success.

As a career, there is a width of opportunity and diversity available. You can enjoy moving countries with one kind of event, or move from sports to culture to festivals to conferences and many more. Working with a range of people and the same people (it’s a small world) and I love creating a plan and then problem solving when the plan needs adapted. Working on events give you a mix of adrenaline, exhaustion and elation so be prepared for all emotions, but the opportunity and sense of satisfaction is worth every minute of effort.

And what do you think are the characteristics or qualities you need to succeed in events?  

I believe if you have a good level of common sense, ability to adapt your way of thinking and good problem solving skills. Safety should always be at the forefront of your mind and fundamentally, is a core part of the role of anyone involved in events. You need to be organised and have the ability to multi-task. It is very rare that you have the ability to focus on one thing, juggling a mixture of requirements is how large-scale events can be organised. Communication skills are also key to succeeding. Being able to talk across different levels or areas and expressing your requirements without compromising anyone is a skill that will need development and experience but it will be the key to working as a team.

If you are hiring someone is there one thing you look for above anything else?  

My general desire when I work with someone is that they are enthusiastic, keen to work hard with an understanding that this industry is never 9am-5pm and who can show initiative with a common sense approach. Good communication skills, confidence when speaking and general desire to find solutions is ideally what I would expect in someone who worked with me.

If you had to pass 3 pieces of advice to our younger self  or someone else trying to get a job and succeed in the industry what would they be

For my younger self- Enjoy more of the events you are involved with. I always found the disconnect from planning and working at an event to participating/ enjoying it very hard.  I have seen some amazing performances but I also avoided some as I wanted to separate work from life and there was some really cool missed opportunities! I am also a nightmare to take to an event as I spend more time watching the management team, stewards or looking at infrastructure and crowd flows more than the sport or performance I am at. You can never switch off really either by being impressed by something or critical of bad planning!

For others, this industry can be tough with working hours long and stress levels high. However, it is about common sense, maintaining and calm approach and relationship building. Talk to people, engage with them. We rely heavily on emails these days but one of the key things to remember is that everyone is a valuable contributor to the safe and successful delivery of an event. Building relationships, interacting with everyone, where you can, is key to your career and the satisfaction of a positive operation. Talk to the security staff, check in with the toilet teams, know who is on your site. It will be the best way to all work towards the successful delivery of your event, whatever that might be.

Also, a lot of roles come via recommendation so you will want to be working to the best of your ability, keeping positive and calm. Always maintain good relationships whether that’s with clients or partners or suppliers. It is a very small world and is based a lot around relationships and who can support your plans so it is really important to build those connections with suppliers, clients and other people in the industry.