Going Global with Reed Exhibitions’ Chairman and CEO Mike Rusbridge

October 1, 2012

From where Mike Rusbridge sits as chairman and CEO of Reed Exhibitions, which has more than 500 events in 39 countries across 44 industry sectors, he has a distinctly unique viewpoint on the global pulse of the trade show industry.


And, as big as Reed Exhibitions, a division of parent company Reed Elsevier, already is, it's getting even bigger, with an incredibly busy year launching new events and acquiring others to add to its worldwide portfolio.


It’s not even the end of 2012 yet, and the company has launched 32 new events this year and made $150 million in acquisitions (eight deals), with more on the way before year-end.


“In the past few years, we’ve been building sizable businesses in Brazil and China,” Rusbridge said. “We’ve also entered Russia as well. This year has been a particularly busy year for us.”


Reed Exhibitions launched and/or acquired businesses in Indonesia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and formed a partnership in Turkey.


And, Rusbridge added, “Despite rumors, we’ve never left India.”


Deciding what markets to launch new business into isn’t “rocket science” he said, it’s a matter of taking into consideration the following factors: Is it an attractive market? Does it have a high-growth economy? Does it have a high population? Does it have the appropriate infrastructure and accessibility?


“It’s also about picking the right timing,” Rusbridge added. “Some you can’t rush. One thing that is striking really is the speed in which new exhibition markets are opening up.” There are at least four or five more new, emerging markets on Reed Exhibitions’ radar the company is looking to possibly expand into, he said.


“We’re also growing our core events,” Rusbridge added. “… Launching new events and acquisitions are really the icing on the cake.”


With shows all over the world, Rusbridge is keenly aware of the economic uncertainty in several regions, but stresses that so far, Reed Exhibitions’ businesses are holding their own.


“Obviously, a lot of issues floating around in the Euro Zone is putting it mildly,” Rusbridge said. “We still see growth, but the headwinds are there.”


When taking into account the sometimes gloom-and-doom outlook that economists have about what might happen in Europe, he added, “You have to be careful. What we see on the ground is rebookings and optimism. … If we took these sorts of (economic) forecasts literally, we would be in a very different sort of place today.”


Rusbridge said he was particularly pleased with how Reed Exhibition’ shows were performing in the United States.


“We’re getting extremely healthy, double-digit growth out of the U.S. right now,” he added. “The U.S. for us, at this moment, is one of the highest growth markets that we have. We’re actively looking to launch and acquire in the U.S.”


Looking into the future, Rusbridge says that with Reed Exhibitions bringing on 700 new employees in the past three years, he is concerned there is a dearth of qualified people to work in the trade show industry to keep up with growing demand.


“It’s a positive problem to have … we can’t find the talent fast enough,” he added. “I feel passionately we need to respond to that.”


Rusbridge said a lot people don’t even know that the trade show industry exists as a career choice. “It’s not on a lot of young people’s radar,” he added. “We all end up fishing from the same small pool of talent.”


Expanding even more into the online universe is another focus for Reed Exhibitions right now, Rusbridge said.


 “We need to continue to deliver online products to extend the life of events beyond the four-day period,” he added. “Also, what’s happening in mobile. I think that continues to challenge all of us and the investment we need to make in that area.”


In addition, Reed Exhibitions rolled out a new program in the U.S. tied to value-led pricing in which exhibitors can choose to pay for different levels of booths depending on where they are on the showfloor.


“They can choose pricing points at our shows that fits their purpose,” Rusbridge said. It’s been so successful in the U.S. that Reed plans to expand the program worldwide, though he added it’s not “one size fits all” and each market will be examined appropriately.


It’s been a good year for Reed Exhibitions, not only with the growth of the company, but also with its revenues for six months ending June 30 climbing 32 percent year-over-year from £ 368 million ($595 million) during the same time period in 2011 to £ 486 ($786 million) in the first half of 2012.


“We’re looking forward to excellent growth this year and excellent growth next year,” Rusbridge said. “The need to meet face to face remains very powerful, and we have great prospects ahead for us. We have a global playground to play with.”


He added, “I am very optimistic about the industry, and I am very optimistic about Reed.”

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