Messe Frankfurt USA promoted two of the company’s vice presidents to co-presidents of the German tradeshow company’s largest overseas subsidiary. Kathryn Fitts, now former vice president of finance, and Dennis Smith, now former vice president of sales, have replaced John Gallagher, who resigned in October as president of the Atlanta-based unit of Messe Frankfurt. Fitts and Smith, who worked alongside Gallagher prior to his departure, talked with Expo Associate Editor Arti Patel about the transition to a co-president model, corporate goals for 2014 and why 2015 will be a big year for the tradeshow giant.
EXPO: Congratulations on your promotions to co-president. How did you end up at Messe Frankfurt?
Kathryn Fitts: I’ve been with Messe Frankfurt for a year. Prior to that I had 30 years of experience in manufacturing—a variety of different opportunities in different industries. Most recently, I was with a Microsoft gold partner that sold ERP software and consulting.
EXPO: How about you, Dennis?
Dennis Smith: I was active in the U.K., Europe—primarily Germany—and the Eastern Europe and Middle Eastern regions. I worked for several tradeshow companies [including] ITE Group and Hanover Messe. For both of those companies I was the managing director in their subsidiaries in Istanbul, Turkey.
EXPO: Messe Frankfurt USA has always had just one person in charge. What’s the strategy behind the co-president model?
Smith: It’s the strategy of Messe Frankfurt in a lot of its subsidiaries to balance the management. One president is focused on the finance, administration, human resources, corporate governance, legal, and then the other is focused on the actual events organization, sales, marketing operation, the outbound business.
Jointly, the two presidents are responsible for the business development. So, myself and Kathy are both jointly responsible for developing new opportunities here in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
Fitts: I really think the strength that Dennis and I both bring to the company is why it’s going to work. We will work well together and can build our goals that way.
EXPO: What launches or acquisitions are being planned for the next few years?
Smith: Our primary strategy is to stabilize and strengthen the events we currently have. We’re a strong player in the textile industry and we hope to develop and grow the events that we currently have, look for opportunities for co-operations or acquisitions in the textile industry.
Secondly, we’re the world’s largest organizer of automotive aftermarket events with our Automechanika brand, so we are also looking at some co-operations and possible new projects in that area. We are also one of the world’s leaders in consumer goods shows and this is an area where we would also be looking at some opportunities.
Finally, we have a commitment to sustainable events, sustainable sectors, and this is another area where we’re looking at some shows and some possible launches or exhibitions.
Fitts: Launches would be something that takes a little bit of lead time. You have to plan it out ahead of time, so 2015 would be where we’re looking to do our first launches.
Smith: We have a clearly defined pipeline that we’re not at liberty to share.
EXPO: What are the biggest challenges to the tradeshow market right now in the U.S. and Europe?
Smith: Europe is coming out of a recession [but] there are still many opportunities for the U.S. I’m highly optimistic of the tradeshow industry in the U.S. There are strong signals that the U.S. market is recovering. It’s not a quick recovery, but it’s stable recovery. There’s a lot of investment coming back to the U.S., especially from China and from the Far East. There’s going to be more opportunities for shows in the U.S. and current shows will have the opportunity to grow.
EXPO: What are your goals for the long term?
Smith: Our first goal is to make Messe Frankfurt—based in Atlanta—one of the top and most desired tradeshow companies to work for in the United States. Our second goal is to have international shows that are of a very high quality that provide an excellent value for both exhibitors and attendees. The third thing would be to develop and co-operate with U.S.-based associations and for-profit organizers to increase our market share in the United States.