As the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair’s newly appointed chief executive officer, Charlie Johnstone (BA ’90, Recreation & Business) is no stranger to the vastness of Toronto’s Exhibition Place. He held a position there for 10 years as president of Honda Indy Toronto, which hosts some of the biggest names in the world of motorsports.
The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair is the largest in the world, bringing together equestrian and agricultural shows, exhibitions, food and more, and drawing crowds from all over the globe. Can you tell us about overseeing an event of this calibre?
Starting this past September as the new CEO, this year’s Royal was an ideal opportunity to learn about the history, operations/logistics, finance, marketing and promotions, special features, broadcast production, sales, hospitality and ticketing. I now have a better understanding and appreciation of “The Royal Experience.” The level of commitment, passion and emotional connection people have with the Royal is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.
With more than one million square feet of displays and competition facilities — and more than 300,000 visitors annually — how do you ensure everything runs smoothly?
An event of this scale and scope is only manageable with a dedicated staff of professionals, suppliers, contractors and more than 400 volunteers. A clearly defined “scope of work” outlines specific roles, responsibilities and, where applicable, corresponding budgets. As the CEO, my role is focused on supporting and guiding this team in the planning, execution and evaluation phases.
How has your University of Waterloo experience equipped you for this position?
It was during my time at Waterloo that my passion for event management was really ignited. It was the group work that really helped me develop the leadership skills I now use on a daily basis.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
At this year’s Royal I had the unique opportunity to host several dignitaries and VIP guests, including The Honourable Jeff Leal, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Ontario; The Honorable Pierre Paradis, Ministre de l’Agriculture, Quebec; The Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario; His Excellency, the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada; Her Royal Highness The Princess Sophie, Countess of Wessex; Toronto Mayor John Tory; and my friend Robert Herjavec (Dragon’s Den and Shark Tank). Touring the Fair with each of them, and watching them interact and engage with the public was certainly a career highlight.
Image credit: Ben Radvanyi Photography (CNW Group/Royal Agricultural Winter Fair)