David Audrain – Driven By a Passion for Trade Shows

April 16, 2012

The Face2Face Series is sponsored by MarketArt.

While some people might anticipate big challenges with a sense of trepidation, David Audrain thinks they’re what keep life interesting. But then, this 19-year trade show veteran, who recently became president and CEO of Clarion Events North America, has never been one to shy away from daunting propositions. Like the time he had to learn everything he needed to know about being a show manager – in nine weeks.

“When I moved to the U.S., I ended up working for the Texas Restaurant Association, managing part of their membership sales, which I enjoyed,” Audrain said.

He added, “But when the gentlemen who had been running their Texas Food Service Expo quit suddenly, I convinced the association executive to let me run it. I took it over just nine weeks before it was scheduled, running around like a chicken with its head cut off and learning everything I could.”

Audrain said, “Luckily, I had a really good general contractor at the time who made sure I didn’t do anything stupid. I knew I didn’t know anything so I listened to everything. It went off pretty well, nobody died and I was able to spend the next four years building and growing the show to record levels.”

And when young talent makes its presence known in the show management landscape, people take notice. That’s how Audrain ended up with a resume that reads like a who’s who of the trade show industry, with management and leadership positions at Miller Freeman, Hanley Wood, Advanstar, ConvExx and Messe Frankfurt North America.

After three months at the helm of Clarion’s North American division, Audrain says he is enjoying working hard building the U.K.-based company’s U.S. business from his home office in Atlanta, where he is able to work virtually, spend more time with his fiancée and two young children and log in a lot fewer frequent flyer miles.

“For the last six-plus years running Messe Frankfurt’s North American operations, I was traveling more than 200,000 miles a year,” Audrain said. “I had a team of 30 in Atlanta, and another team and office in Mexico City and some contractors in Canada, along with producing eight or nine shows in North America.”

He added, “I felt like I was spending close to half my life on the road traveling. I don’t miss that; cutting back has probably been a good personal step for me.”

Exploring and living in other parts of the world isn’t a foreign experience for Audrain, who was born in New York City but raised on the island of Jersey in the Channel Islands, off the coast of France. After jumping into the financial computer software industry straight out of high school and later selling his own software company, Audrain moved back to the country of his birth in 1989 and never looked back.

Now, when he does travel, Audrain enjoys the slower pace of family beach vacations in Florida and European adventures with his fiancée, Stephanie Everett, who also happens to be vice president of domestic shows at Messe Frankfurt.

And, while having a significant other in the trade show industry can have its upsides, it also can have its challenges, including not being able to turn his mind off work, day or night.

“My fiancée and I have been working together for many years and she runs all the shows at Messe Frankfurt still, so when you’re in a household that’s in the business, it’s hard not to come home and not keep talking business,” Audrain said. “What keeps me up at night is constantly trying to think of new ideas to keep my shows interesting and valuable to our customers.”

Although Audrain once entertained boyhood dreams of being an architect or a photojournalist and probably would still working in the computer software industry if he hadn’t moved to the U.S. and fallen into trade shows, it turns out destiny lead him into the perfect profession, he said.

“Honestly, I have never enjoyed anything more than creating and running exhibitions, and now running businesses that run exhibitions,” Audrain said. “It’s a great industry for control freaks, anal retentive, detail-oriented folks – you have to be good at juggling, having lots of balls in the air at the same time.”

Ask most people in the prime of their careers about where they hope to be in 20 years and many probably will describe starry-eyed fantasies of carefree lives of leisure or adventure. Not Audrain.

“I have no desire to leave this industry,” Audrain said. “I love this business. I love the people I’ve met and developed relationships with, and I love the creativity you get to use and build upon, so I can’t think of a business I’d rather be in. It’s what gets me up in the morning – and what keeps me from going to bed at night.”

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