‘It’s An Entertainment Thing’: Kilimanjaro Live COO Zac Fox On Her Love For The Biz
Zac Fox made the most of last summer soaking up the atmosphere in the field one last time. When promoted to COO of Kilimanjaro Live, she stepped away from delivery of concerts. But after two years of near-silence, Fox longed for that part of the business she loves most: the audience.
“It doesn’t matter what’s on the stage, as long as the audience love it. They are the ones that paid their money, made the choice that that’s how they’re going to spend that day. And if they are having the time of their life, you can see it in their faces, and that’s where I’ve always got my buzz.”
Fox had zero interest in the music industry when she first joined it in the 1990s. Born and raised in the British army, joining herself aged 17, she has lived all over the world. A friend took her to her first show at the age of 16, Marillion at the Müngersdorfer Stadion in Cologne, Germany.
She had no idea the British rock band were supporting Queen till she arrived. “One of the things about the army is, you don’t really know what’s current music wise or who is big enough to fill a stadium. I remember when I lived in Hong Kong, somebody wrote the words Sex Pistols on our lift wall. I knew what those two words were, but I didn’t know what they meant together,” she remembers.
One day, Fox decided she “wanted to see what the real world was like,” and left the army at the age of 24. A friend from England, who was working for concert promoter MCP Productions as an assistant, was looking for a flatmate. Fox took her up on the offer, and eventually got asked to fill in for the receptionist at MCP, who went on maternity leave.
In those months, Fox found “her spot,” as she puts it, and got offered a job when her stint as receptionist came to an end – even though there were no vacancies. Maurice Jones, the MD, said he’d figure something out.
That was 27 years ago. Today, Fox regularly holds guest lectures at universities. When students ask her about the path that led her to becoming a chief operative at one of the UK’s most successful promoters, she apologises and says, “I failed all my exams, joined the army and then accidentally got a job in the music industry.”
But she’s being overly modest. Some qualities cannot be trained nor studied. Fox has an eye for such candidates, having been one herself. And having no so-called higher education whatsoever, she doesn’t judge people for not having one either. “If you can find somebody who’s capable, and interested, you can teach them anything. It’s much better than somebody who comes with a whole raft of experience and qualifications, but actually isn’t that bothered.”
During her time at MCP, there wasn’t an aspect of the business she didn’t gain experience in, apart from finance and marketing. When her friend left, she took over as assistant to Stuart Galbraith. When the company needed a new ticketing manager, she did that for a few years. “Every time I moved to a new job, it seemed like it fitted me better,” she says.
Fox joined the business just as Britpop was conquering the world. One of the legendary shows promoted by MCP, together with SJM Concerts, was Oasis at Knebworth Park, Aug. 10-12, 1996. “That was my first free bar, so I remember it very fondly,” she says. Fox has no qualms admitting she’s no music fan. “When you work in a building like I do, where people are forensic about an artist, I very much stand out because I have no clue,” she says.
Whether she did it for the artists or for the audience, Fox learnt everything about the trade at MCP , working alongside 15 people out of an office in Walsall, England. “There’s nothing sexy or interesting about Walsall, it’s just another town. But we did some incredible stuff from that building,” she says.
Aside from Stuart Galbraith, founder and CEO of Kilimanjaro Live, her colleagues included Adele Slater, Liam Gallagher’s agent at Wasserman Music, or Conal Dodds, co-founder of Crosstown Concerts. “There’s loads and loads of people all over the industry from that little company. It was a great place to work. We didn’t get paid very much, but it was a lot of fun,” she remembers.
She only left after a fallout with Galbraith, which wasn’t nearly enough to permanently damage their working relationship, and most importantly friendship. Fox eventually returned, joining the production side of things an having “an absolute ball out in the fields.”
At the time of leaving MCP it had been bought by SFX and then Clear Channel Entertainment and she “just wasn’t enjoying it as much. I like working for a small company where we all know each other. And I found being managed by people in America that we were never going to meet quite challenging,” she remembers.
So, when Stuart Galbraith, who had gone on to become MD of Live Nation left to launch his own business in 2008, she joined him. She wouldn’t have, had his vision not been to rebuild what they used to have at MCP. “Everyone knows who each other are, we’ve got each other’s backs. It’s not endless corridors with various people that you may never have a conversation with.
“A couple of years ago, it became quite clear that with the expansion of Kilimanjaro and the various other companies that became part of our group, somebody needed to think about how those parts all fit together, how to get the best out of it. I suggested that maybe that was a job that I should be doing and so became COO,” Fox recalls.
“This industry asks a lot of people, so if you can give a lot back and make people have a place where they can be happy at work, then you’re winning. That’s what we’ve tried to do here at Kili, and I think on the whole we’ve managed it. Even as we’ve got bigger, we tried to bring the the new areas of the group into that sort of feeling. It should be fun, it’s an entertainment thing, we should be having a good time.”
Fox started an internship scheme a while back, and “we decided to make it completely open so it didn’t matter where you came from, what you’ve done before, as long as you could demonstrate some basic skills of comprehension and that and you had the right attitude. And you weren’t allowed to get into it by knowing someone,” explains, adding that the scheme has produces various business professionals, including promoters, since launching.
Fox, who was inducted into the Women in Music Hall of Fame in 2020, is also the co-founder of the Network of Women in Event (NOWIE). “We found all these female riggers, engineers and people that just never win any awards, because it always seems to be the same men. But I know they’re out there, because I’ve seen them. So, we’re trying to raise their profile. We started to get more women on panels for conferences, and now we have a membership of 3,000 people that we can reach if a panel needs certain expertise. I’ve recently handed it over to a brand-new committee of young women who are really excited about taking over. That feels like a good thing to have done, a nice legacy.”