Getting Down to Earth With Sandy Voss

May 20, 2012

The Face2Face Series is sponsored by MarketArt.

Imagine your typical trade show executive and you’ll most likely picture a high-powered, type-A individual with a commanding persona, not someone as easy-going and down-to-earth as Sandy Voss.

If anything, she seems more like the kind of person you’d envision running a small organic farm or leading hikes through the Colorado mountains rather than running the exhibitions group and lifestyle division of trade show and conference producer Penton Media.

“I’m a real, pretty laid-back, approachable kind of person, and I think sometimes people are surprised when they find out what I do,” Voss said.  

After a brief stint in fashion merchandising post college graduation, Voss left a bustling city life in Chicago to pursue a more natural lifestyle in the boutique mountain city of Boulder, Colo., where she soon realized she would have to choose another profession.

“There’s not a lot of fashion out here in Colorado and when I was looking for jobs when my husband and I first relocated it was mostly outdoor apparel, which wasn’t really exciting to me,” Voss said.

She added, “A friend of mine knew someone who worked for New Hope Media (now Penton) and said they were always hiring, that they had a nice work/life balance and that it embodied the culture of Boulder. So I ended up getting an exhibit sales job.”

And, like so many who live and breathe the trade show industry, Voss admits she was an accidental convert.

“I didn’t know what (the trade show industry) was but what I really enjoyed about it in the beginning was the client contact, being in that sales role and having the one-on-one relationship with our customers,” Voss said.

She added, “It felt like a really good fit and aligned with things that I had done before but the next piece was understanding what the natural and organic products industry was. I saw that it was really different than selling jewelry, that it means something, and while I’m not saving lives, our industry has an impact in a positive way.”

In her 15 years at Penton, Voss’ career has continued its upward trajectory through the company ranks, from selling exhibit space to operations management to managing its lifestyle division events (including its two largest trade shows, Natural Products Expo West and East) and finally, to overseeing the majority of Penton’s shows and conferences and a team of 70 people.

“I really enjoy the exhibitions piece, and I’ve been working on Expo East and West for my whole career, so it’s been time to move on and allow the opportunity for my staff and our teams to grow,” Voss said.

Maybe the secret to her success is not just about having an innate understanding of what it takes to build successful events, but also caring about the people she works with. Because while other show managers may lay awake at night worrying about hitting their numbers, Voss is preoccupied by the success and professional wellbeing of her staff.

“What I think a lot about is making sure that the people I’m working with are happy, fulfilled and have clarity in what they need to be doing,” Voss said. “I just want to make sure they’re taken care of because I think that’s the key to success.”

She added, “You always worry about will the attendees come, will the exhibitors show up, will we make our goal – that’s part of life. But my sleeplessness lately has a lot to do with just making sure people feel settled and inspired to do their job.”

Then there are always the fun little surprises that can come with the trade show territory, including a fire and flood at last year’s LDI, a trade show and conference for live entertainment set design professionals.

“We happened to have a pyrotechnic show that was going to be in one of the meeting rooms on the second level and although we weren’t so convinced that it was a great idea to do it in the meeting room and had talked about doing it in the exhibit hall, the fire marshal said okay,” Voss said.

She added, “The fire show ended up setting off the sprinkler system. I guess the water comes out at 40 gallons a minute, so it seeped through the floor and down into the meeting rooms where the exhibitors had been setting up their equipment for three days. We flooded the lobby but the building was awesome and it all worked out.”

Natural or unnatural show disasters aside, ask Voss what she’d be doing if she weren’t in the trade show industry or where she sees herself in 20 years and she doesn’t have much to offer up. After all, it’s hard to picture doing anything else with your life when you love what you do.

“The industry is really evolving, not just the trade show aspect but media in general and that feels really exciting to me,” Voss said. “So I think that there are many more years to spend in this industry trying to impact how we bring communities together and how we facilitate commerce – I just don’t see an end.”

Even though a successful career can demand a lion’s share of one’s time and energy, Voss seems to have found a balance between fulfilling her professional aspirations, while making time for what matters: her husband and two small children.

“The most important thing to my husband and me is that our children have a safe environment and that they feel nurtured and loved and grow to be successful people,” she said. “From a work aspect, I want to make sure that the time I spend working makes a difference, to people, to products, to industries, to something. I don’t want to look back and just say I worked a lot – I want it to be memorable.”

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Partner Voices

The Massachusetts Convention Center Authority’s Public Safety Team at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center (BCEC) and the Hynes Convention Center (Hynes) have taken their experiences to develop a comprehensive crisis management and emergency preparedness training program.