On 24 April, the Forest of Arden Hotel once again hosted the AIS Annual Conference.

The conference offered a very strong line-up of speakers and the supplier exhibition in the marquee had a wide range of excellent exhibitors. The theme of Stronger Together is the essence of AIS in appreciating the individuality of members but recognising that collectively we have more presence, leverage and overall strength in the market.

The main day was again facilitated by Philip Hesketh and opened with a view of the future from two very different perspectives. Firstly, David Smith, the renowned Economics Editor of The Sunday Times, who gave us his respected views on the economy, particularly in the wake of Brexit and what we might expect to see during the coming year of inevitable change.

David Smith, renowned Economics Editor of The Sunday Times

Whilst David is very much grounded in fact or evidence based forecasting our second speaker made more speculative predictions on the future. Magnus Lindkvist is a futurologist, spotting trends in the way we think and live in society and business and his presentation was, without doubt, interesting, exciting and thought provoking.

Magnus Lindkvist

We closed the morning with Professor Adrian Furnham, a world authority on various aspects of psychological management, self-awareness and how individual leaders’ behaviour influences their teams and shapes the mood and personality of a business.

Opening the afternoon we had an up and coming young speaker who has already established a significant business reputation. Josh Valman was still a teenager when he had built a business valued at over £1m. RPD has innovation at its heart and gives companies a cost effective means of getting to market from research and development to production to logistics. His exceptional entrepreneurship was an inspiration to us all.

Josh Valman

We then heard from Julian Neal, Director at Sofa Brands International, with over 20 years commercial and marketing experience and he has recently been the driving force behind the launch of The Lounge Co. This is an innovative approach to harnessing physical store showrooms with online presence and Julian told us about this as well as what he has learnt from his time in retail.

Finally, we were delighted to have Justin King CBE to close the day. Justin is one of the foremost retailers in the UK having formerly headed J Sainsbury Plc over a ten-year period that included major change within retail in general, such as online growth, as well as the grocery specific challenge of discounters entering the UK. What he experienced and put in to practice, about the customer and effecting business culture change was valuable and applicable to everyone.

Justin King

In the evening we welcomed back Lord Digby Jones. He was voted one of our best recent conference speakers and we enjoyed his latest inside information from Westminster and his outspoken opinions on Brexit and business.

To conclude the conference we had an additional workshop on Tuesday morning. It was delivered by Paul Burrows and Matt Fowler from one of our main training partners, Blue Sky Performance. The topic was “Incredible Thinking” about challenging your own thinking and effectiveness as leaders in order to be successful personally and in business.