Lisbon was the beautiful setting for ALTO’s professional development and networking conference, a conference that brings together leaders of the language and travel industry and, more recently, international higher education.  The event leads the way in honest, open and frank discussion on the many topics that affect our industry, as well as an opportunity to develop and improve ones’ self and ones’ business through animated presentation delivered by well-prepared keynote speakers.

Lisbon was no exception; the two full days encompassed a packed schedule ranging from how responsible our businesses really are, what it takes to climb a big mountain, an engaging panel of industry experts, performing as the best leaders we can be and the ALTO’s first attempt at unconferencing – it was a wonder we had time to fit in the fantastic evening meals, lunches and speed dating!!

Alex Edmans – London Business School

Responsible businesses are happier, more profitable businesses.

Going so much further than simply discussing what corporate social responsibility is, the first development session – delivered by the excellent Alex Edmans , ‘Responsible Business:  The Evidence and Implementation’, was a very enlightening session looking at how truly responsible businesses (those with clear ethical and moral beliefs that are embedded through everything that the business does, and whose beliefs are clear and felt by all internal and external stakeholders) are happier, more profitable businesses. 

Alex delivered a fascinating topic, highlighting how we live in a ‘post truth’ world and where, if we search hard enough, we can find any data to support any theory or any business decision, but that ultimately a responsible businesses’ primary goal is to create value for society – profits grow as a by-product – and ultimately responsible businesses pursue excellence and are driven by purpose.

Bonita Norris – The girl who climbed Everest

Focus, don’t fret!

The second keynote speaker, Bonita Norris, gave a thrilling and inspiring presentation on how, at only 22 years old, she climbed to the summit of Mount Everest.  After 2 years of hard work and determination she fulfilled a dream that had started after a talk she herself attended whilst a university student.  She has gone on to break mountaineering records and ski to the north pole.  Whilst I am not sure whether there were any in the room who now find themselves in training for a climb up Mount Everest, I do know that many of the females in the room were as impressed that Bonita had given birth only a few months ago and looked fitter than anyone else in the room!!

Orlaith Carmody – Gavin Duffy and Associates

We looked at ways to improve our leadership presence

Lisbon’s final keynote speaker was the wonderful Orlaith Carmody.  Orlaith is a highly skilled corporate trainer who has spent much of her career in journalism, with several years as a news reporter in her home country of Ireland.  She taught us about Patsy Rodenburg’s ‘3 circle’s of energy’ and how we should all strive to be in the second circle and gave us some excellent advice on high level communication and how to build a perfect communication ladder.

We learned about Millennials and Gen Z’ers and how, with the change in how our young people are now educated, we are producing young adults who want to be part of the decision making, part of the journey – they are looking for businesses with a vision (linking nicely back to where we started two days earlier with Alex Edmans).  Finally we had an interactive session on active listening – a fascinating insight in to the many people in the room willing to share their personal and professional stories!

ALTO trialled its first unconferencing session

Outside of all the professional development, ALTO also provides a trusted environment for participants to explore together issues and topics they feel are currently impacting their business, whether negatively or positively.  On day one, ALTO trialled its first unconferencing session lead by Lisa James.  Unconferencing is a concept growing in strength in the US and is essentially a conference where the participants themselves design the agenda and spend time discussing in as little or as much detail topics they want to.  With so much knowledge and expertise in the room, the unconferencing session was a real success with some excellent output and engaging feedback rounds.   

L-R: Edward Lee, Jane Dancaster, David Anthonisz, Ulises Ortega and David Fougere

We discussed many of the pressing subjects we spend much of our time thinking about back in our own board rooms and businesses.

Day two, and the end of the ALTO event typically sees the Industry Panel – giving their insights and thoughts on many of the pressing subjects we spend much of our time thinking about back in our own board rooms and businesses.  Lisbon was no exception.  The panel of esteemed industry experts was made up of Edward Lee, Jane Dancaster, David Anhonisz, Ulises Ortega and David Fougere covered topics in great detail such as Brexit (a general sigh in the room on how much longer this topic can possibly go on for!), and consolidations and acquisitions (an interesting look at how some of the smaller independent schools are managing to balance the larger chains and how, ultimately, with channel costs doubling, acquisitions could be the way towards a healthier industry, something we would all like).

We discussed future trends and auxiliary products and how technology should and needs to drive both and the panel gave a thoughtful and interesting response to a question raised around bad debts, with particular reference on debt owed to educators by agents.  After all, as one wise man in the room said, ‘it’s not profitability that kills the business, it’s cash flow’.

The perfect size event for impactful networking and idea exchange

So, in a mere 48 hours, we discussed, we debated, we learned, we developed and we grew.  We also had lots of fun!  ALTO is an impressive event, a conference small enough to allow for impactful networking, but large enough to ensure everyone who attends leaves feeling they have genuinely grown through the expertise and knowledge they have been surrounded by in the room.

Thank you ALTO – look forward to the next event!

Lisa James

ALTO members! If you would like to watch the Lisbon speakers’ full presentation , log in to the website and go to Members/ Members resources.