Trade Show Leader: Fern’s Aaron Bludworth
As CEO of Fern, Aaron Bludworth oversees all executive management of the company and its subsidiary companies. Bludworth’s career in the exposition industry began in 1992 with Modern Display, where he filled numerous executive positions during 15 years. He also was briefly an executive with GES, where he managed the National Corporate Events Group and oversaw Las Vegas trade show sales. Bludworth is very active in the exhibition industry; he currently is chairman of the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) and a past president and board member of the Exhibition Services and Contractors Association (ESCA). Bludworth and his wife Holly live in the Cincinnati area with their five children.
TSNN: How did you get started in the industry?
Aaron Bludworth: I entered the industry in 1992 through an uncle, who worked as a salesperson for Modern Display in Salt Lake City, Utah. I can’t recall exactly how it went down, but it was intended to be temporary stop for me and I never left the industry. So like most, I kind of found the industry by accident and it got in my blood.
TSNN: How different was the industry when you started, compared with today?
Bludworth: The fundamentals are the same; face-to-face marketing is the most powerful tool commerce has and our industry facilitates it better than any other method. That said, technology has improved and empowered the industry in incalculable ways. From graphic design and production to big data intelligence, technology has made us much more efficient and allowed us to deliver more meaningful value to our stakeholders. In 1992, few people had cell phones (and they were bricks or in bags) and almost nobody had computers, it was impossible then to imagine where technology would take us and how it would impact the industry.
TSNN: What are some of the lessons you have learned being a part of this industry?
Bludworth: More than anything else, integrity and character matter. I’ve seen people and companies come and go and those who are successful are focused on honestly fulfilling their commitments. I believe this matters in life and business in general, but in our industry an extra amount of trust is placed in us and these characteristics are of utmost importance. Fortunately, the market eventually takes care of the rare violator, and I’m proud that our industry, as a whole, is value based and honorable.
TSNN: What is your favorite part of being in the industry?
Bludworth: I have a short attention span and like to see things accomplished quickly. This is a great industry for someone who can’t sit still. We get a lot done in our business, I find that very satisfying.
TSNN: Anything you miss that you wish was still around?
Bludworth: Competitors used to be friendlier with each other and we’ve grown more competitive and even insular over time. Though I have hundreds of friends in the industry who could be viewed as competitors, I think we’ve lost the institutional friendliness that gave us a kind of “cottage industry” feel. I believe that the current generation of worker, aided by technology, is bringing these type of “friendly competitor” relationships back and that’s good for the greater industry. I’m a very competitive person, but I get far more value from friendships, than from the game.
TSNN: Anything you are thrilled went away?
Bludworth: Paper Service Kits and Exhibitor Manuals! Though necessary in their time, we wasted small forests, countless hours, and lots of money in producing material that was barely used and served no long-term purpose. We are inherently a sustainable business as we reuse and recycle extensively and source in a way that allows us to do so effectively, so it is great to have the era of using plastic, paper, and freight in providing manuals behind us.
TSNN: What do you hope your personal impact on the industry is?
Bludworth: I hope I represent the characteristics I described above. It is always my objective to fulfill my commitments and I have the same expectation of those who work with me. On a larger scale, I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in many boards and committees over the years and hope that I’ve made some useful contribution to the industry’s success and future. I think we make our impact on the industry as we work together, and I don’t put a lot of weight on my individual impact.
TSNN: Any wise words about what this industry means to you overall?
Bludworth: I believe we impact lives as we help people tell stories, build businesses, develop relationships and drive the economy. We shouldn’t underestimate the impact of what we are doing in the exhibition industry. We improve lives and are personally enriched in the process, that is a very fulfilling combination.