As many of you know, my mom, Denyse Selesnick, was a pioneer in the exhibition industry and we were business partners for many years. She was the first “gringo” to produce a show in Mexico (pre-convention center days, circa 1975).
Since mom is visiting this week, I figured a bit of nepotism now and then is a good thing! Now she has moved on to community involvement in Los Angeles, but we took a few minutes to reflect back on the expo business.
Stephanie Selesnick: What had changed the most since you started in the exhibition business 50-plus years ago?
Denyse Selesnick: “The type of people who are now entering the expo industry. When I started out, it was 90-percent associations and 10-percent private show organizers—primarily entrepreneurs. The explosion of the kinds of expos (there’s at least one for everything you can think of) is amazing. Also, capital venture money and publicly held corporations are in the game, and it’s had an impact on how shows are born.”
Stephanie: What’s the best thing you’ve seen that’s different from when you began?
Denyse: “The number of women in management positions, although not enough as CEOs. During a NAEM annual meeting [now IAEE] in the late 70’s or early 80’s, the NAEM president and board told me I couldn’t wear my Equal Rights Amendment [ERA] pin. I didn't remove it. It’s also been my pleasure to mentor a fair share of both men and women, particularly entrepreneurs, through my career.
“Another great thing we’ve seen here in the U.S. is internationalization. In 1984, Sandy Angus [chairman, Montgomery Worldwide] was the first international person to ever visit NAEM and address the group about international possibilities. Look where we are today!”
Stephanie: What’s the worst thing you’ve seen in terms of “progress”?
Denyse: “The tremendous emphasis on the bottom line, by both corporations and associations—coupled with the loss of humanity, of improving whatever industry you serve.”
Stephanie: Any advice for newbies?
Denyse: “Get involved in your local expo and meeting industry associations. You’ll learn more from your colleagues than just attending classes or doing your job. Diversify your experience and knowledge base. Be able to fill in wherever needed in your organizations. Ask questions. Read. Read. Read. Lastly, enjoy this business because if you don’t love it, you won’t do well.”
Stephanie S. Selesnick is president of International Trade Information, a longtime global exhibition industry specialist helping U.S show organizers increase international participation in their exhibitions and a well-known speaker and trainer. Follow her on Twitter at @stephselesnick.