Exhibition News June 2018 - Page 25

I think it would be a shame, and also unrealistic, for anyone to think that trade shows will become this entirely tightly managed set of thousands of pre-booked, pre-programmed interactions, because that’s not the point. People can do that without going to a trade show. They can identify suppliers they want to meet with. You need the magic of discovery, the magic of scale, the magic of content and spontaneity and everything else. We are investing in products to help support that. Others are, I think, a bit further on than we are – our scaled investment in technology is relatively recent – but it is an area we’re very focused on and are committing a lot more resource going forward. What we also have is a culture around leadership. There’s a human dimension to this where, if your show directors are empowered, then they can get a lon g way by being in contact with their marketplace. You need to encourage that culture; don’t rely on computers, or data or technology to give you the answer. Is there an over-arching ‘Clarion’ way of running an event that applies throughout the business? Historically, one of our strengths has always been that we have been a relatively devolved business. We believe there’s more benefi t in empowering people to have that view of how they should go to market in their own sector. You can get great commitment and output from people if they feel a sense of ownership. It’s a cliché, but it’s absolutely true. It’s also helped by the private equity model because people are quite literally invested in the outcomes. What changed when Providence Equity acquired the business in 2015? The overall strategy of buying and building decent assets is attractive, and that didn’t change, but what did change were the resources. We had access to resources via Providence that we didn’t have before, so we were able to really accelerate that and go through another phase of expansion. The main strategic goal at that point was a meaningful presence in the US, because we didn’t have any at that stage. We were delivering some product into the US, but we didn’t have an infrastructure there. We had been talking to the guys at [US trade and consumer organiser] Urban Expositions for some time, and we were able, with Providence’s support, to acquire Urban as an infrastructure and a foothold in the US. That was really signifi cant, and we’ve pressed subsequently with follow-on deals, which, if you fast-forward now, leave us in a position to be able to do a transaction like [US trade organiser] Pennwell. We made 18 acquisitions, the bulk of which were bolt-on and supported the existing portfolio positions in places like retail, gaming and energy. We also started the process of investing in that technology infrastructure under Providence as well. Two years later, we were in market again, which is testament to how much the company had grown during that period In Blackstone [the investment fi rm that acquired Clarion in 2017], we have found the right partner to really accelerate the growth. They’ve got terrifi c resources, they’re one of the largest investors in the world, they understand the space, they’re very supportive of the business model and their ambition is well aligned with ours. Where did we start this cycle? If you look back to the presentation we discussed with Blackstone and other potential buyers last summer, where did we think the next stage of the opportunity was for us? From a portfolio perspective, the opportunity was obvious for us, which was Asia, and we were underweight in Asia relative to the growth of that market and relative to the fundamental underlying economics of that part of the world, so we wanted to move into that part of the world if we could. Clearly, there are not unlimited opportunities to do that at scale, but we had that opportunity with [Hong Kong-based trade organiser] Global Sources, so that’s a really signifi cant deal for us. Is this rate of growth sustainable for Clarion? You can have the ambition, you can have the strategic aspiration and the energy as a management team and as an investor group to go after that, and clearly that’s necessary, but you also can only play the cards that are out there. You have to take the world as you fi nd it, opportunities like Pennwell don’t come along very often; our opportunity to do something like the Global Sources deal doesn’t come along very often. The great thing about where we are at the minute and the partnership with Blackstone is that we are willing and in a position to be able to act on those opportunities and make them happen. The company has more than doubled in the six months since Blackstone acquired us. Could we more than double again in the next six months? I think that that would be quite a tall order. Hopefully the private equity interest and high-level mergers in the industry will incentivise more launches at a lower level? Defi nitely. If you don’t have a developmental mindset in the business, and if you’re not focused on your MDs or your divisional leadership or your sector leadership, then someone will, for sure, because there’s gold in them there hills. There are plenty of people that come out of industries with good ideas, and I think a lot of the best launches, through time, have been by people who’ve come out of markets and said, ‘I can do this better than any of the incumbents, and I’m going to give it a go’. Those people end up selling to people like us, and doing very well out of that. I think the industry’s in a great place, and I think that amidst all of the noise – all of the digital noise – it’s more differentiated than ever before. EN exhibitionnews.co.uk | June 2018 25