Industry trailblazer David Hackett dies after long cancer battle

Event agency trailblazer David Hackett has died aged 70, after a long battle with cancer.

He was one of the real pioneers of the event agency business and created a leading role for his agency and himself in the industry. When I first got to know him more than 30 years ago, I was struck by his directness, his candour and his low bullshit threshold. He could smell hubris a mile away and had no problem in calling it out amongst suppliers, staff and clients alike. When suppliers invited Hackett to comment on their products or participate in customer focus panels, they needed to brace themselves for what they might hear. Hackett didn’t do fluffy politesse.

He didn’t tiptoe around sensitive issues, either. He put hob-nailed boots on and stomped all over them. Suppliers all received the same treatment if things weren’t up to scratch, straight from the shoulder and right between the eyes. The Travel Organisation’s operations team followed the approach and would never accept second best – it wasn’t uncommon for them to demand hotel rooms were redecorated before they would allow their clients through the doors.

I admired the caustic honesty that Hackett imbued and I always enjoyed his company for that reason. You always knew where you stood with him. If your event was crap, he would tell you. And he did with me several times! He was a physically imposing man, tall and broad, and if he gave you a broadside, it was delivered with clarity.

Big hitter

The result was that Hackett’s word carried weight and he was soon anointed by common consent as the heaviest of the big hitters. When he co-founded The Travel Organisation, he and his fellow shareholders put their houses on the line to finance the business. Such a move concentrates the mind, so there was never any doubt that the company would succeed. Hackett’s contribution was an aggressive sales approach that delivered big corporate accounts.

The Travel Organisation (later acquired by BI Worldwide) began trading in January, 1980. I often sought his counsel and his advice was always invaluable. Others, too, recognised that he was the best place to seek guidance. The business was rebranded The Marketing Organisation in 1989 and by this time employed 140 people in the Newport Pagnell office. The business was sold to BI Worldwide in July, 2001, and after a couple of years, Hackett stepped down.

Hackett fought his illness with characteristic honesty and throughout it, continued to live life to the full. When he was told there was no more treatment for him, he faced the end of his life with typical stoicism and strength. His wife Sharon managed his spreadsheet of visitor appointments as friends travelled from far and wide to pay their respects and say their farewells and she kept him at home until the end, despite the problems caused by the pandemic, not least so that she and the family could remain close to him.

Grit and determination

Ex-business partner Chris Pouncey said: “Fortitude, resilience, grit and determination were some of David’s most notable qualities. He just refused to be beaten by anyone or anything. This was illustrated by his love of Chumbawamba’s famous hit Tubthumping to which he danced memorably at his party in Majorca – hurling himself to the floor at every chorus: ‘I get knocked down, but I get up again, you’re never gonna keep me down’. Amen Hackett. Keep thumping that tub.”

Former client Patti Heaven said: “For me, David’s love of his family, warmth, humour, compassion and professionalism sum him up. He had an inclusive way of letting you into his world. It was clear that all his suppliers respected and loved him in equal measure. He made a huge impact on anyone who crossed paths with him. To say he will be missed will be a massive understatement.”

Another ex-client, Peter Walker of BMW, said: “Having been lucky enough to have known David as a true friend and work colleague for over forty years, I can honestly say that to work with he was second to none in totally understanding the brief and objectives and always exceeding the expectations by going the extra mile in delivering the product. He was the most ‘hands on’ CEO, carrying suitcases for guests, table laying, cleaning – you name it, if there was an issue David would solve it instantly himself with no fuss or bother. He will be dearly missed by many of the BMW dealers who saw him as a friend and equal. To me, he was the kindest, most thoughtful and fun-loving buddy”.

Fun, focused and driven

Ex-business partner Simon Lawday said: “David was serious when necessary but always fun, focused and driven when required but always approachable – the man you wanted around when things got tough. But what I admired most about David was his generosity of spirit, his ability to care. Altogether a lovely man – a privilege to call him a friend.”

Former colleague and DMC Stuart McLauchlan worked with Hackett on many events in Spain. He said: “One of David’s many great assets was his ability to get to the nub of any seemingly complicated issue, cut through the crap and come up with a sensible workable solution – even if it meant ruffling a few feathers. He identified and encouraged talent, inspiring those around him with his can-do, go-for-it attitude. He was relentlessly positive to the very end, refusing point blank to be defined by his illness. A pioneer, promotor and legend of the industry, he was also generous, considerate and a genuinely good friend to all those privileged enough to know him well. He will be sorely missed.”

Ex-employee Shaun Casey said: “As a true professional David always demanded a best-in-class performance from everyone. His exacting standards in the events industry ensured customer delight time and time again, whilst helping us achieve the unimaginable in terms of service delivery and experiences we were able to curate.”

Extremely astute

Marriott’s Dominic Sherry added: “He was an extremely astute businessman who built his career and business on trust, relationships and knowledge. He had the ability to deal with people at every level and make them feel at ease. David also had a real ‘aura’ about him – people knew when he was in the room. But most of all David was a real mate and fun to be around.”

Lisa Lernoux Dock remembered her first meetings with him: “I arrived from the USA to work for a newly launched London outpost of a USA-based DMC. Aiming high we approached David to be part of our advisory committee and when he agreed, I and two colleagues felt like three freshman film students getting a private audience with Scorsese. David could not have been more kind, gracious and professional. He gave us excellent advice and remained a great source of support for which we were always grateful.”

Tim Abbott of BMW said: “David was a big guy in every way, a huge personality and a colossus in the travel industry. He was also a true family man who loved those close to him and was clear about who were his true friends. He was also one of the most humble people that I have had the pleasure of meeting. I will miss our special time together in Mallorca where he really looked at his happiest with Sharon, the kids and close friends, beer in hand and a steak from Dunn’s on the BBQ. He is a massive loss to us all, the irreplaceable David.”

Friend and former employee Andrew Harvey said: “David was a great mate and mentor for over 30 years and from those TTO days to the present he always had time and great advice for me. I shared many great memories with him, his family and friends and ,boy, could he throw a party! He took life by the scruff of the neck and wrung it dry. My thoughts and love to Sharon and the family.”

Great friend

Another ex-colleague, Michael Wigmore, said: “David was one of the most positive men I have known. He treated every challenge as an opportunity. If told that the kitchen staff at a venue were on strike, he would cook the breakfasts. He was intensely loyal to those who gave everything for him. He was a consummate professional and, above all, a great friend.”

Michele Cain said: “David and I met 37 years ago at The Travel Organisation – my first proper job. As a young rookie I was in awe of David (and to be honest a little scared) but his drive and work ethic, I really believe, has made me the person I am today. Over the years our relationship evolved from a business one to being a family friend, and did we all have such great fun! Lots of very special memories. David’s love of travel with Sharon, family and friends was a huge part of his life right to the end. His generosity, kindness, passion, energy and love of life will never be forgotten.”

Hackett served this industry in a number of voluntary roles, latterly on the executive committee of Meeting Needs, the event industry charity. At the M&IT Awards in February, Meeting Needs chair Jason Wilcock announced that the charity’s annual outstanding achievement award would be renamed the David Hackett Award for Outstanding Achievement. He leaves a wife, Sharon, and three children. A memorial service will be held when restrictions permit.

Martin Lewis

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