My First GPA Summit – by Chris Isak
GPA Global Summit 2019 – Cape Town, South Africa
A little while back, I wrote a preview article about the GPA Summit 2019 in Cape Town, South Africa, as it was slowly approaching. At the time of preparing the article, I did not know that I would happen to end up attending the very same, so you can imagine my surprise when I was told that I could go as well, to meet all my fellow GPA teams and people I used to work with only remotely until then. As one of the people who joined the GPA summit for the first time, I wanted to share my experience with you and put my thoughts down on (digital) paper.
As the name suggests, the Global Presence Alliance (GPA) is a global organization with teams from all over the world. While modern communication and collaboration through digital means is what we do on a day-to-day base, getting together in person at least once a year keeps the human aspects of the relationships alive and in good shape. The GPA summit is held in a different country each time it takes place and, after fantastic locations like Singapore and Dubai, the summit was held this year around in the lovely city of Cape Town, South Africa.
After a 12-hour flight from Frankfurt, I arrived early on a Sunday morning to check into my hotel near the event venue and rest a bit. Even though the official agenda of the event was planned from Monday to Wednesday, there was a fun cricket match, paired with good food and refreshments. Even though I had no idea about cricket rules, I just felt the spirit of everyone and regardless of the nightfall and rain, we just played and were in a good mood, knowing the next couple of days shared together would be not only beneficial for us on a professional level, but also strengthen our overall relationships with each other.
Monday: The official kick-off
So here it was, Monday morning. I met with a few of my newly made GPA friends in the hotel lobby and we went down the street to check into the event venue which was going to be our temporary home until Wednesday night. To my surprise, it seemed like even more people were joining the conference than the cricket game the night before. Some might have arrived late or might have been busy with work but, after a few rounds of shake-hands and grabbing a coffee, we were ready to catch a table and start the official part of the agenda. But, wait, I could not sit with my boss? There was a seating order, carefully prepared that made sure the participants would not gang up with the people they already know. Everybody was sitting with people outside of their originating countries which was a bit weird at first, like always when you meet new people, but in retrospective, it made a lot of sense.
Throughout the day, we saw several presenters and speakers. Some were directly from the GPA, delivering the latest updates on shared projects, as well as strategy, others joined us from the teams of our vendor partners and last but not least, we also got to hear interesting industry insights from external thought leaders, who were kind enough to join us for the summit and share their experiences with us all. In the coffee and lunch breaks, we got to see a lot of new products and innovative solutions at the booths of our vendor partners. We could stroll around and have all sorts of geeky-conversations that many of us enjoy about the AV integrator industry, with the experts from the respective companies, such as Shure, Bose, Logitech, and LG. We also had a demo unit of the new GPA Velocity system being displayed there. That was the first time for me to check it out in person, as we are still building the experience center in Germany.
The first day was the busiest for me. I had to meet a whole lot of new faces. If I am not wrong, I think I heard someone say that about 100 GPA representatives attended the event plus our partners and friends. Many hands to shake and many virtual contacts to upgrade into “real” ones. After so much work, we deserved a bit of rest as we took a bus to the destination of our dinner venue. But would it be a dull evening and just chit-chat with the people around you? No way. Everybody got some proper African face painting, and we could witness a dance group rocking the floor beneath us. What a night!
Tuesday: Action! No more listen-only!
With the rhythm of the night before in the bones, we met up in the event location again on Tuesday morning. That day I would find out that the GPA summit is not only about sitting there and listening to speakers but to listen to problems, ideate, and finding solutions together in various workshops. We would all be teaming up in groups and collaborate on a particular subject for some time, and we would then present the results to all of the audience. Doing this was very interesting to me as I was able to better understand the thought process of my team members and find out how they go about finding solutions. Remember group projects from your days in school? This time around, I would be lucky, and I did not have to present the results, but this would not be the case on the day after, but at the time, I could not already see that coming.
On Tuesday evening I thought I could finally find some rest but how wrong I was. They took us to a fantastic location for Dinner, but was that all? No, of course not. As you might expect it by now, the GPA fun never ends, and as part of the evening program, I was chosen to join one of the ten chef teams for the GPA BBQ Championship 2019. Boy, if I had an idea what was going to hit me, I would have smuggled in some of my special marinade and spices, but no. We all had to use the same meat and the same stock of spices to work with and had to grill a piece of meat to perfection in 15 minutes time. All the teams did their best and managed to prepare fantastic dishes. After the judges have compiled their scores, the winners were announced, and while it was not the team I was in, I was still happy for the winning team because they did a really great job as well. All good fun!
Wednesday: Open exchange of ideas and innovation
After another restful night, we met up once again at the event site on Wednesday morning, and we knew it would be the last time. The day was filled with great insight from our teams around the world. People would stand up and present freely on innovation they have encountered and shared with everyone how they go about solving a particular issue. Next to another set of workshops and presentations, the overall engagement on Wednesday was a lot more open for the audience to engage with the speakers and with other spectators. As I mentioned above, this time I was not going to escape the presentation of my group’s work and as the time was running out, we quickly prepared our results in a theater-play sort of style. Even though I was shaking on stage, I think we did a good job and found a nice way to convey our findings in an interesting and engaging way for the others.
Wednesday night was my first time to sport a proper tuxedo along with all the other gents to attend the GPA Annual Awards Dinner. The ladies naturally enlightened the room with their evening dresses. After a lovely meal and good conversations with all the people around, the award winners were announced, and they shared a bit about the winning projects with us. Even though my home team did not win any awards for this year, I don’t feel any bad about it. We are all one large organization, and while everybody likes getting awards, I feel like everybody won a little fraction of each award, because this is how the GPA works. We enable each other, and we solve problems together. I was genuinely happy for all these great projects being recognized properly and receiving a well-deserved award.
Thursday: Our day off and tourist tour
Thursday was the last day to share with my GPA colleagues in South Africa. Business is now done, and we were fortunate to join a tour through various locations to learn more about the country and the culture of Cape Town and surrounding areas. We learned about the history of townships, saw fantastic vineyards, and at the end of the trip, went on top of the Table Mountain, which is one of the new seven world wonders, which I recommend everybody to see throughout their lifetime.
With my heart full of memories and my mind full of newly learned knowledge, I departed the next day, and I am already looking forward to the next GPA summit in 2020 in China. Maybe I’ll see you there?!?
Author: Christopher Isak
Photo credit: Images taken by Christopher Isak for the GPA.