Trade Show Leader: The Expo Group’s Ray Pekowski

April 16, 2016

Ray Pekowski, CEO and chairman of family-owned The Expo Group, has been in the trade show industry for 41 years and said the key to success is creating strong relationships. 

Besides TEG, he also worked at Greyhound Exposition Services Co. and then United Exposition Service Co. Pekowski’s experience and unique vision of customer service led to the development of the Single Source Solution® for exhibitors and show managers.

TEG, with its patented customer service model, is celebrating its 25th year in business in 2016. He is very active in the industry and community charities alongside his wife, Linda. He holds a bachelor of science degree from Northern Illinois University.

Pekowski graciously answered a few questions about his time as a trade show leader.

TSNN: How did you get started in the industry? 

Pekowski: I dated a girl in high school whose dad owned a carpet and furniture company that supplied trade shows.  I started working for him in between semester breaks in college, then went to work for his company full time six years after graduating.

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

Pekoswki: It is very much a different industry from when I started.  The pure enormity of it -- from number and complexity of shows, size of shows, number and size of facilities to name just a few – is what has changed.  McCormick’s East Building was the largest in the country when I started; it’s where CES was held in 1977. The number of jobs this industry has created through that growth is also enormous. 

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

Pekowski: In 41 years, there are plenty of lessons. Perhaps the one with the most impact on me is the lesson on relationships in general. All are built on Trust and Forgiveness. Having both with employees, partners, suppliers and clients is key to long-term success.

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

Pekowski: I still love seeing a show come together onsite after months of planning. It’s still exciting that we literally create business environments that change from one show to the next depending on the industry.

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

Pekowski: In many ways, I miss the old-fashioned telephone. Over the years I cannot count the number of hours I spent on the telephone talking to people and building relationships with them.  Today most of my speaking is done with my fingers!

TSNN: Anything you are thrilled went away? 

Pekowski: Moving past sign print presses has been a great advancement. Every sign used to be done with block letters that had to be mounted on a rod, placed on the press and then rolled with ink and set on a rack to dry.  It was a slow and laborious process.

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

Pekowski: My prayer is that I had a positive impact on the people I worked with, as well as the people I served over the years.  I hope that I taught people to look at things with an open mind, to be creative and to see that you can make a difference and impact an industry. 

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

Pekowski: I think this industry has a bright future.  I believe trade shows are the last venue for human interaction and community building for common causes…doing business to improve a marketplace.

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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.