77: Motivation, Mentorship, and Management with Dr. Debbie Stanford-Kristiansen

Today we are delighted to be speaking to an amazing and inspiring leader in our industry, Dr. Debbie Stanford-Kristiansen! Dr. Debbie was chosen as the 2020 Most Inspirational Woman in Entertainment Middle East and the Female CEO of the Year.

In this episode, Dr. Debbie has a lot to share about mentorship, managing people, and the importance of building trust.

We hope you enjoy listening to today’s conversation!

Dr. Debbie Stanford-Kristiansen’s bio:

Dr. Debbie is an accomplished leader with more than 30 years of International experience in Venue Management, MICE Tourism, and Events & Entertainment industries. Dr. Debbie is a Leader with an extensive understanding of public, government, and private sector organizations with a proven track record of driving growth and successful business development.

Dr. Debbie holds an Honorary Professional Doctorate in Global Leadership and Management from EIU, Paris, France. Her career started under the leadership of MICE Tourism Industry legends; Ray Bloom, Paul Flackett, and John Haynes in 1988 with Regent International Exhibitions and the launch of EIBTM Geneva, Switzerland. Following the sale of EIBTM to the world’s largest Exhibition Organiser; Reed International Exhibitions, Dr. Debbie took on the role of Group Director of Sales; MICE Global Events until rejoining Ray Bloom in 2001 as Vice President Global Sales with the launch of IMEX Frankfurt, Germany. In 2005, she moved to the Middle East to help establish the Bahrain Exhibition & Convention Authority, and later assuming the roles of Acting CEO and Deputy CEO for the Bahrain International Exhibition & Convention Centre, she then went on to become the CEO of events@bahrain, a company established under the Bahrain Mumtalakat Holding Company.

How Dr. Debbie Stanford-Kristiansen got into the industry

Dr. Debbie dreamed of joining the Royal Air Force and becoming an air traffic controller. Unfortunately, there were no opportunities for women when she applied, so she got a job with an exhibition company. She started as an Organizing Executive for what was EIBTM at the time, under the guidance of Ray Bloom, Paul Flackett, and John Haynes, all of whom ended up having a profound impact on her life and career. She initially thought she would only do the job for a few months and did not realize it would become her career.

A beautiful journey

The MICE industry got into her soul, and she loved every minute of it! It was a beautiful journey in the exhibition world, the events world, and the MICE Tourism world. She got lots of support and many opportunities to grow within the industry.

Dr. Debbie Stanford-Kristiansen’s defining moment

Dr. Debbie was very nervous when she did her first presentation. Paul Flackett advised her to focus on something at the back of the room rather than looking at anybody. Even though she could hear her voice trembling, nobody noticed, and she quickly began to gain more confidence and get into the flow. That was a defining moment for her, and things went very well from there.


Mentors tend to see things in you that you do not see in yourself. It helps to have someone to champion you and give you the motivation, encouragement, and confidence that you need.


Dr. Debbie’s husband has been very supportive since the day they met. He always advised her to take the opportunities that came her way in life. He said that if an opportunity did not work out, it would be better than having regrets and wondering what would have happened if she had taken that role.


A lot of trust was placed in Dr. Debbie when she was allowed to run the Exhibition Center in Bahrain. She reported to the Minister of Industry and Commerce. He was a very supportive and inspiring man, and she learned a lot from him.

Take chances

You have to be prepared to take chances in life without being afraid of things not going your way. If you spend too much time thinking about something, you might not do it. Take the bull by the horns, be passionate, and put your heart into what you are doing. If it does not work out, pick yourself up and move on.

Movie theatres in the Middle East

When she was in her forties, Dr. Debbie was offered the opportunity to be the CEO of Novo Cinemas, a chain of movie theatres in the Middle East. Although the processes were similar to those in the MICE industry and the senior management team was very experienced in the cinema industry, she knew nothing about entertainment. So she had to learn from the management team and earn their trust and respect very fast. She gave herself six months and put her all into doing it. As a result, they have become a very close-knit and successful team.

Gaining trust and building culture

Dr. Debbie engaged with every team member regularly, listened to them, and gave them a voice. She wanted to know about all the things that worked and did not work, what they were happy about, and what they wanted to achieve. She listened carefully, took their feedback seriously, and showed them that they mattered and she cared about them. She also sat with the HR team to develop a career plan for every team member.

The last eight years

Everything that Dr. Debbie has been doing for the last eight years has been focused on creating a united, passionate, and supportive team and ensuring that the customer has the best time ever.

Dr. Debbie Stanford-Kristiansen’s advice to young women

Dr. Debbie encourages young women to trust in themselves, follow their dreams, and find a mentor. She also advises them not to worry about what others think or fear making mistakes. She explains that anything is possible if you believe in it and have passion.


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Eric Rozenberg

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