5 minutes with Jonny Hillman


Meet the CEO of iLUKA

Describe your career in 5 words

But for the grace of god! That’s six words!
iLUKA, part of the CSM group, is a specialised agency, developing and delivering coordinated strategic activations for sponsors and other stakeholders at global events. Having worked at the most iconic sporting events in the world, which event has been the highlight for you and why?

Over my 25-plus year career, I have been privileged to be at some of the greatest events ever staged - 16 Olympic Games, numerous FIFA World Cups and European Football Championships and 5 Rugby World Cups. It’s hard to pick just one. Barcelona was my first Summer Games and was really fun… it’s the perfect city to burn the candle!  

But… it is hard to beat a Games in your home town - as a Londoner doing what I do, 2012 was special and not just because it was London. By 2012 iLUKA had grown significantly from our roots as a traditional hospitality company. We were offering a broader range of services to our clients, and the work we delivered was outstanding. iLUKA was the Number #1 Marketing Service Provider to the London 2012 Olympic Marketing Partners and we delivered on an incredible scale - the likes of which is still hard to imagine. We had 1200 staff to deliver for our clients in London 2012. We had 14 clients and built over forty bespoke venues, managed the International Olympic Committee’s  Olympic Club for the first time (which we continue to do), took on showcasing in the Park, delivered half a million pieces of merchandise, took over the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden for the period of the Games and built BP’s activation there. And during the planning of these Games we became part of the CSM family.

Finally, the Rugby World Cup in South Africa in 1995 has to get a mention. It was an amazing time in the history of the country and we ran an incredible hospitality program for Visa based out of the Palace Hotel in Sun City – it’s still one of my favourite programs we have ever delivered. For the semi-finals, we had our own private charter plane from Pilanesberg, and owned Sun City airport. We flew guests directly to Durban one day, and then to Cape Town the next! The incredible final needs a mention and has been immortalised in the movie Invictus – it was an amazing atmosphere and a fabulous celebration! It was an incredible time to be in South Africa - a legendary chapter in sports history and world politics.

This year alone, iLUKA has delivered at the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang and at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. As a global agency, delivering around the world, what challenges did you face working in countries such as South Korea and Russia and how do you adapt your ways of working to fit with the local culture?

iLUKA truly is a global operation and we sit right at the heart of global mega sport events ecosystem, but we simply wouldn’t be where we are today if we weren’t also able to be authentically local - we call ourselves cultural chameleons. In markets like Russia and Korea and currently in Japan (and looking forward to Qatar and China), language and cultural sensitivities can be a barrier to engaging with clients and suppliers. Our strength is in setting up local offices and recruiting the best people in any market. We then supplement that structure with our global expertise.

Securing local leaders in these markets gives credibility to our work, helps us navigate critical dynamics such as government and procurement, and puts us in the best position to advise on strategic/logistical integration with LOCs and OCOGs as well as with domestic partners and potential clients. Appreciating that other cultures work in ways that differ to ours is non-negotiable. We overcome challenges by working in ways that complement local structures and by building exceptionally strong, dependable relationships in-market rather than trying to inflict our view of how things should be done on our local hosts, however tempting this always appears to be….

Looking to the future, how do you see these global events changing and what does the future hold for iLUKA? 

I’ve recently returned from some time in China and was blown away by the way the Chinese population is beginning to engage with global sports events. We are seeing a huge Chinese middle-class population shift their buying behaviour from luxury brands (“what am I seen to be wearing”) to global experiences (“what international events am I seen at”). We are also seeing Chinese mega-brands leveraging international sport properties as their vehicle to break into the global vernacular -the best recent example is Alipay and UEFA. Digital engagement continues to evolve as properties like the Olympics shift their sport programming and broadcast approach to stay relevant to a younger and wider demographic.

The future looks good for iLUKA - Japan (RWC 2019 and Tokyo 2020) are well on their way to being a huge delivery for CSM, not without challenges - local resources are stretched and the heat will really impact things! We are already looking ahead to the next Winter Games of 2022 which will be the biggest Winter Games of all time. We are making significant strides in Beijing already and similarly in Qatar, where we already have FIFA Partner clients and CSM is already on the ground and operational. Qatar will be a very ‘different’ World Cup fan experience, but still historically significant.

A local Commonwealth Games in Birmingham 2022 bodes well, as do opportunities around Euros 2020 with the key matches being played at Wembley. We are also actively developing more day-to-day business opportunities with our football clients like AIA and Yokohama, as well as collaborative CSM projects like Lavazza at Wimbledon. We continue to find new uses for our bespoke information management system, called ‘Pulse’, which I think can benefit many areas of the CSM business.

But looking further into the crystal ball (and another significant step for our organisation), I am delighted also to be tasked to help shape CSM’s mega global event position with Dave Mingey out of the US (a Global Mega Event is defined as Olympic and Paralympic Games, FIFA World Cup, Euros, RWC and Commonwealth Games). In this scope of work, we want to maximise the already great position CSM hold in the Global Mega Event landscape and make it stronger. Its important work as we – iLUKA and CSM - look toward the exciting new markets opening up in global events such as France and the US. With RWC coming down the pipe in 2023, then Paris in 2024, FIFA World Cup changing things up in the Americas closely followed by LA 2028, it’s exciting times ahead!

When not at work, where might we find you?

Hanging with my kids (I have one daughter 19,  and two sons 17 & 16). We are a big skiing family and often spend time in Verbier and Val D’Isere. I was involved in skiing professionally, both my boys raced and my daughter just left London again for her second season in Val… a chip off the old block. Most winter weekends, I am on the side-lines managing the Teddington Athletic Tigers U16’s on a Saturday and the Kew Park Rangers Scarlets U17’s on a Sunday.  As a football manager, I like to think of myself as a morph of Pep Guardiola together with a bit of old school Alex Ferguson!  But most of all as a family, we like to be kite-surfing in the North of Brazil, Prea, near Jerricoquara. It’s a world mecca for kite surfing… such a cool place. Beach, sun, board shorts, constant wind and where the most difficult decision of any day is which size kite to take out!