Career Path

Chris Trimmer on Building Relationships

‘The relationships that you have built are the thing that will get you out of trouble.’

Chris Trimmer, Executive Director, ISID

Chris Trimmer

Executive Director, International Society for Infectious Diseases (ISID), Boston, Massachusetts

EDUCATION Undergraduate degree in biology, Royal Holloway, University of London; masters in business administration from Southampton University, U.K.

MY FIRST INDUSTRY JOB Executive officer for the Society for Experimental Biology.

MY PREVIOUS THREE JOBS  Executive director, World Obesity Federation, 2010–2017; CEO, Society for Experimental Biology, 2005–2010; executive officer, Society for Experimental Biology, 1999–2005.

WHAT I DO NOW I work with [ISID’s] board of directors to formulate strategy and ensure that the association is governed properly; then I work with the team to implement the strategy.

FAVORITE THING ABOUT MY JOB The diversity. I am involved in so many different projects, there is never a dull day.

MOST INFLUENCED IN MY CAREER BY My favorite college professor. He told me that you never know what is around the corner, and that you should take every opportunity as it comes with enthusiasm and commitment, because you never know where it will take you.

I was working as an ecologist and tutor at an outdoor environmental center and still involved in scientific research projects at the university I had graduated from the year before. I had mapped out a career for myself in ecology and basic-science research, and out of the blue was contacted by another of my university professors about a role with a scientific association. I had been a member of a number of associations throughout my degree, so I vaguely knew what they did and why. I took the job, saying I would stay at least six months to get them through their annual congress. I walked into the office on my first day as the only full- time member of a team of three, and was handed a box filled with abstracts and registrations that had been sent by post and the congress program from the previous year, and let loose.

It was a baptism of fire, organizing a 1,000-person international congress in six months, and I loved it. I see my favorite college professor every couple of years, and he says that he loves seeing that I have found a career that suits me so well. I get to indulge my scientific background (and general geekiness) at work every day, and I contribute to the good work that my associations have delivered to the general public. I love my job!

WHAT I LEARNED FROM MY BIGGEST PROFESSIONAL MISTAKE There have definitely been lots of learning moments through my career: the time I had to erect a marquee for the exhibition and scientific-poster sessions, and it blew down in a storm; the time I trusted an IT company to deliver a new registration-management system by a crucial deadline without a backup plan; the time I didn’t order enough wine for the wine tasting and had to buy in bulk from a local supermarket; that time I drank a little too much at the conference dinner and started a dance party.

I learned time and time again that planning is crucial. Check and double-check everything and everyone, but you will always forget something, and at that point, the relationships that you have built are the thing that will get you out of trouble. Knowing who to call from the venue at 3 a.m. when I was holding the corner guy ropes of the marquee to try and stop it blow- ing down, having a friend in another association who could put me in touch with the tech people who managed their registration system and could pull a bespoke system out of the bag in record time, knowing that I could call my venue contact and ask them to drive me to a local supermarket (multiple times, as they had a small car) to buy many, many cases of wine — no excuse for the dance party, but it was a lot of fun and the association now has a really popular annual dinner dance! Relationships are the key to success in this industry. Build them and build them strong.

MY NEXT BIG CAREER GOAL My next big career goal is to move ISID into a more strategic way of working, connecting all of the different programs we put on and delivering value to our stakeholders.

MY ADVICE FOR YOUNG MEETING PROFESSIONALS Get stuck in. Learn everything you can, experience as much as you can, and enjoy it. As a business-event strategist, you must focus on the bigger picture at the same time as ensuring the detail is taken care of. You have the chance to work in a fast-paced and energetic, results-driven environment, in many different countries, experiencing different cultures and making friends all over the world. Embrace it and have fun.

Christopher Durso

Christopher Durso is executive editor of Convene.