Philip Richardson, President of Current Affairs
Philip Richardson, president of production company Current Affairs, is redefining the possibilities of what events can accomplish
Philip Richardson leans back against a simple black sofa in Current Affairs’ Kalihi warehouse office. Pink trunks with leather straps are stacked along a wall behind him and another wall to his side is painted green—his in-office green screen. He’s wearing designer jeans, a button-up shirt and a jacket. His English accent adds intrigue to his youthful smile. He projects an air of contentment, laughs often and chooses his words carefully with thoughtfulness and sincerity when he dives into a story. His vocabulary is so nuanced that he rightfully acknowledges the difference between saying “yes” instead of “no problem” when working with a client.
Philip’s entrepreneurial journey has been serendipitous and successful, yet also hard fought with determination, perseverance and a singular vision to uphold the principals of his brand. His conviction and empowerment of his team has uplifted Current Affairs to one of the most innovative, trusted and acclaimed production companies in Hawai‘i. A fan of the “royal we,” Philip’s confidence is measured by humility and he is the first to give all the credit to his immediate staff and extended family of partners. With creativity and a can-do attitude, Philip’s deep understanding of service is unmatched and has led to his ultimate success in a very competitive industry.
Talk about your first event. what was your business called at the time?
It was a brilliant name in my mind, as was the marketing strategy. It was called International Catering Concepts—international because we wanted that as a global market, catering because we were catering to the five senses and concepts because we would come up with all sorts of innovative ideas. It got quickly abbreviated to ICC.
One of the first big jobs was Northern Telecom on the Big Island. A week after we did that we got a call from CBS New York. They asked if we could go back in three weeks time to do an event for them. We were part of the wave as hotels expanded onto the neighbor islands and built up. We were there to enhance the experience for guests.
Hitting all the senses has always been your goal. Did you accomplish that in those first big events?
It’s not whether I’m happy. It’s whether the clients are happy. And yes, they were. I wasn’t focused on the long term of vision in that event. Getting catering perfected was the important thing. I was not touting that we were a production company. That’s like talking what we’re not. I had it in my mind. I knew we would be.
After eight years we ended up buying our own 4,000-foot warehouse. We had our offices and were fully legitimate by then. At about 12 years we ended up changing our name because we really needed to move the game forward. We had started developing our decor and design, but people still saw us as a catering company, so we had to change that. A PR agent suggested we change it to the name we were using for our newsletter, “Current Affairs.” So we did.
When were you confident that your team would be able to succeed at every event?
I would say 1997. We did an event at the Hawaii Convention Center where the client told us that there must be entertainment before the guests arrive and it must not stop till after they leave. We created an event with six different stages and seamless choreographed entertainment. At that time and as part of our strategy, we also joined an organization called TEAMNet. We were rubbing shoulders with production companies and learning the groove. That is when we were hitting our stride. We’ve done other events—Duty Free Shops—they wanted us to close down Kalakaua Avenue. That’s a feat to do that. Two years later they wanted us to do it again and this time the whole building was wrapped. Pow! Wow! was involved, doing the graphics, and Cir de Solei comes into the picture. Estel hits the mainstage inside for a private party and then we had to do an outside, on-the-street event for 4,000 people with a stage and additional talent. The whole thing was a rebranding, unveiling T Galleria.
What’s your definition of an event?
It’s nothing to do with the size of it. To me, it’s to do with the impact of the emotional charge. I’ve done an event for two people. To me, those are events just like the Duty Free Shops is an event.
Are you outsourcing parts of the business?
Team includes our partners. An event partner to us could be a chef, a musician, a sound technician, could be an artist. Team for us is all of those things. The people who check in at the office every day—15, maybe 17.
At one event, a formal sit-down dinner for 2,400 people at Bishop Museum, we employed 350 people for that one event. That’s like taking a restaurant outdoors where there is no kitchen. We had never done a formal sit-down dinner for more than 600 people. So the type of approach or attitude I apply is obviously can-do. We can do 600. We’ve done it. Why don’t we do four events of 600 people. We had four different kitchens and each one did 600. Get this—there weren’t rental companies with enough inventory for 2,400, so we ordered china and glassware for each of the four quadrants, so it matched in that quadrant. The client was amazed that we were serving hot food hot and cold food cold.
Do you change on event night, your personality?
I have become more controlled. I’m not as aggressive to the end goal. My confidence in my team is unsurpassed. They are incredible. This weekend we had three or four events on one night and they just handled. Done. Bad weather, they got it. They are a great team to the point where the next morning we’re getting accolades from the client. If I’ve got to dig in, I do, otherwise I’m there to ho‘omalemale with the client. My focus is anticipating the next step.
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
My recommendation would be to have sufficient funds, to raise sufficient funds, we have new ways to raise money these days when you have a great idea. When you’ve raised enough money then you can have enough people on board. I was working night and day, eight, nine days a week sometimes, because that was the only way I could make it happen. I still believe hard work is necessary, but it’s hard, smart work. I also recommend having various philosophies to hang your hat on, just like a road map and a business plan. Have some structure. For us, our word is our bond. Service is a primary concern. That’s some of what we believe in. When you have those, it’s your guiding light on how to operate. The other thing that came after a while was to learn the word no. We have said yes for so many years and we have realized that no is important because no allows you to avoid doing things that are not on brand. That’s really important.