Trade Show Leader: Corcoran Expositions' Tom Corcoran

April 9, 2016

Tom Corcoran is CEO of Corcoran Expositions, Inc., one of the largest independent trade show organizers in America, having produced more than 700 expositions in 100 cities over their 25+ years in business.

Corcoran organizes events that range from beer to brain surgery. In 2015, an impressive 7,000 companies purchased more than 1.1 million square feet of exhibit space, of which 3,000 were new exhibiting companies.

Before this, Corcoran managed the National Restaurant Association annual trade show for 11 years and grew the National Restaurant Hotel-Motel Show from 900 exhibiting companies to more than 1,900 exhibitors.

Prior to this, he served as director of restaurant operations during the early years of the Taste of Chicago, America’s largest annual food and entertainment festival.

Corcoran started his career working for a general services contractor, manning a service desk at the McCormick Place.

He took time out of his busy schedule to share some insight into his time in the trade show industry.

TSNN: How did you get started in the industry? 

Corcoran: I first learned the ropes manning a service desk at McCormick Place, then served as director of restaurant operations during the early years of the Taste of Chicago, and for more than a decade managed the National Restaurant Association annual trade show. 

TSNN: How different was the industry when you started, compared with today? 

Cocoran: Well, the obvious difference is technology, which has changed the world.  When I started, there was no texting, no email, no internet, no fax machines and no mobile phones.  The one thing that has remained constant over the years is that we are a people business.  Associations want to work with people who can increase revenues and produce a good show, but also people that they like and are going to be working with them year after year.

TSNN: What are some of the lessons you have learned being a part of this industry?

Corcoran: That your people are critical to your business success.  Our average client has been with us ten years and we have one that has been with us all 25 years.  We try to keep our people long-term by developing a friendly, cordial workplace, and with a unique incentive:  when an employee reaches their 10-year anniversary, they are given three months off, paid, no questions asked.  In the last ten years, twelve Corcoran employees have celebrated ten-year anniversaries and have taken three months off to celebrate.  Some used it for extended maternity leave, some spent time with family, and some went biking in France.

TSNN: What is your favorite part of being in the industry? 

Corcoran: The relationships.  I am a people person – part of my Irish nature – and love getting to know people and then continuing relationships when I see them on the site the next year.

TSNN: Anything you miss that you wish was still around? 

Corcoran: When it comes to a trade shows, I am really not nostalgic. Change is part of every business and the trade show business will always keep evolving.  I do miss regularly seeing my early mentors that taught and guided me.

TSNN: Anything you are thrilled went away? 

Corcoran: Everything today moves quicker. I don’t miss long wait times for an attendee to register onsite or the long move-ins needed to set up a show.

TSNN: What do you hope your personal impact on the industry is?

Corcoran: That we did quality work and that we were able to launch future generations of trade show professionals, who I hope get as much enjoyment from the job as I have had.

TSNN: Any wise words about what this industry means to you overall? 

Corcoran: It has been an enormous source of enjoyment and achievement – absolutely no regrets looking back 40 years later.

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