Tributes Pour in for the Late Peter Nathan, SISO Founder and International Trade Show Trailblazer
Peter Nathan, founder of the Society of Independent Show Organizers (SISO) and international trade show trailblazer, passed away on Jan. 28 at 89. He spent nearly 60 years working in the exhibitions, conferences and events industry and left an indelible mark in the lives of event professionals and the industry at large along the way.
After graduating from University of Connecticut, Nathan served in the U.S. Marine Corps, attaining the rank of captain. After leaving the military, he joined Clapp & Poliak and is credited for organizing the first U.S. events in the former Soviet Union and China. After Clapp & Poliak was acquired by Reed Exhibitions, he worked at Javits Convention Center in New York. In 1996, he formed his own company, PWN Exhibicon International and produced the only two U.S. exhibitions sanctioned by the U.S. government in Cuba: The U.S. Healthcare Exhibition and The Food & Agribusiness Exhibition.
Nathan is credited with transforming a primarily domestic U.S. exhibition industry into a global one, either on his own or by forming joint ventures with other organizers. He served as a member of boards at a number of major industry associations, including the International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE) and its affiliate chapters; the Society of Independent Show Organizers (SISO); the Major Association of Trade Show Organizers (MATSO); and UFI - The Global Association of the Exhibition Industry.
Nathan, who was often a speaker at industry conferences, wrote the chapter on Exhibiting Internationally in the IAEE Handbook. He received a number of industry awards, including the Pinnacle Award from IAEE for Lifetime Achievement; the Robert L. Krakoff Industry Award of Excellence from SISO; the Award for Excellence and the Kings Glove Award from the NY Chapter of the IAEE; and the Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Hall of Leaders from the Convention Industry Council (now known as the Events Industry Council).
Beyond the trade show industry, Nathan was an active member of his community in Westport, Conn. He served as an officer and a club chairman of the Y's Men, an association of more than 400 retired men; as a governor-appointed member of the Connecticut Judicial Review Council; as an elected member of the Westport Representative Town Meeting (Westport's Legislative Body) for four terms; and as an advisory member of the Mid-Fairfield County Child Guidance Center and the Domestic Violence Crisis Center.
Nathan leaves his wife of 68 years, Lois (Sandy) Nathan, his children Tamara Rydz, Corynne Colfax, Mark Nathan and Leslie Nathan-Street, and their spouses Gary, Dina and Bryan. He also leaves behind nine grandchildren, their spouses and one great grandchild.
Tributes and Memories for Industry Pioneer
TSNN asked trade show industry colleagues and friends to share their memories and experiences with Nathan.
Leslie Nathan-Street, his daughter who worked at GLM on apparel, gift and home shows for 21 years and now serves a personal stylist partner for J. Hilburn Men’s Clothier, said: “I was privileged to have Peter as my dad, but also my mentor. He taught me some of my most valuable lessons when I started my career in the trade show industry. When he asked if I wanted to come down and help with his second show in Cuba, The Food and Agribusiness Exhibition, I jumped at the opportunity to assist him and used vacation time from GLM to go down.
My most vivid memory from that experience, other than, of course, meeting Castro, was when I came up with a strategy to deal with an issue we needed to resolve (which at this point, I can’t recall what the issue was), and he told me to go negotiate with Castro’s second in command. This man was not accustomed to taking direction from women in a business atmosphere, which I pointed out to my dad, who basically said, ‘Your idea, your meeting.’ This was truly a crowning moment for me because in that moment I realized that my dad truly trusted my business acumen and my leadership skills.”
Lew Shomer, president and owner of Shomex Productions and former executive director of SISO, said, “Peter was the most gifted and benevolent person one could ever know. He was introduced to me by a mutual friend as a possible investor in Shomex, but due to his non-compete, he could only advise us, which he did with great care and insight. He cared so much for the industry and brought me into a very young SISO, and of course the rest of that is history.
His courage and panache to look east and start shows in China was groundbreaking, and he didn't stop when he decided there must be a market in Cuba. Peter was one of the most beautiful humans, sharing his knowledge and mentoring so many in the community. Joerg Uthmann from Germany told me he did his first M&A deal with Peter. His family, kindness and just the ability to say, ‘Hi Peter, how's it going?’ will be sorely missed, but his presence will guide those he knew forever.”
Vincent Polito, CEO of SISO, said: “Although Peter won nearly every award available to trade show professionals and was truly a titan in our industry, virtually everyone has a story about Peter’s kindness. He always made time for all in the industry and was never impressed by titles, but I would say was always impressed by character. He had a way of making whomever he spoke to feel like they were the most important person in the room. He epitomized the idea of being both strong and gentle. His accomplishments and awards are plentiful, and I believe he was most proud of his family—his wife Lois (Sandy) of 68 years and his four children and their families.”
David Nussbaum, chairman and CEO for America's Test Kitchen and former trade show executive at Penton Media and Miller Freeman, said: “Peter Nathan was my first boss, in my first job, in the trade show business. At the time, Peter was essentially running Clapp & Poliak and was Saul Poliak’s right-hand man. Clapp & Poliak was one of the largest and definitely most respected companies in the events sector and much of it was due to Peter’s class, intelligence and kindness. Peter was the top guy at the company, I was the bottom guy, but he always was patient and always had time for my dumb questions, and he never got frustrated when I made rookie mistakes.
Over the years, I ran into Peter at industry events and despite being a living legend in the business, he always had time for me, was constantly curious and always interested in what was on the horizon. I cherished his words of wisdom even after I climbed out of the lowest spot in the totem pole and reached a rung or two higher. The trade show industry lost one of its pioneers, and he will be missed.”
Tom Kemp, chairman and CEO for Northstar Travel Media, said: “So sad to hear of Peter’s passing. He was a true class act in the trade show business and always a very warm and thoughtful leader for young people in the business.”
Lawrence Dvorchik, global director, business development, Operating Partners Forums & CU Leadership Convention, said: “Such sad news. For whatever reason, Peter took an interest in a much younger version of me and always had a kind word, a thought to make me ponder and an idea to make things better. His words helped more than he probably realized. A genuinely wonderful human being who will be missed.”
Read Danica Tormohlem's tribute to Peter on LinkedIn here, and please feel free to add yours in the comments.
Celebration of Life Details:
Peter Nathan’s family is extending an invitation to all friends, family and colleagues to a Celebration of Life. His family will share a few of their favorite memories of Peter and celebrate the incredible impact he had on all he came into contact with. Please wear bright colors to contribute to the celebratory spirit.
Peter W. Nathan (March 31, 1933 - January 28, 2023)
March 12, 2023
Fairfield County Hunt Club
174 Long Lots Road
Westport, CT 06880
For those who are so inclined, contributions can be made to the Westport Library, Senior Center or the Westport County Playhouse.
Photo (right to left): Peter Nathan receives the SISO Krakoff Award in 2013 from Tony Calanca, former chair of the Krakoff Award Committee, David Audrain, former chair and CEO of SISO, and Lew Shomer, former executive director of SISO.