Tributes Pour in for the Late Peter Nathan, SISO Founder and International Trade Show Trailblazer

February 1, 2023

Peter Nathan, founder of the Society of Independent Show Organizers (SISO) and international trade show trailblazer, passed away on Jan. 28 at 89. He spent nearly 60 years working in the exhibitions, conferences and events industry and left an indelible mark in the lives of event professionals and the industry at large along the way.  

After graduating from University of Connecticut, Nathan served in the U.S. Marine Corps, attaining the rank of captain. After leaving the military, he joined Clapp & Poliak and is credited for organizing the first U.S. events in the former Soviet Union and China. After Clapp & Poliak was acquired by Reed Exhibitions, he worked at Javits Convention Center in New York. In 1996, he formed his own company, PWN Exhibicon International and produced the only two U.S. exhibitions sanctioned by the U.S. government in Cuba: The U.S. Healthcare Exhibition and The Food & Agribusiness Exhibition. 

Nathan is credited with transforming a primarily domestic U.S. exhibition industry into a global one, either on his own or by forming joint ventures with other organizers. He served as a member of boards at a number of major industry associations, including the International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE) and its affiliate chapters; the Society of Independent Show Organizers (SISO); the Major Association of Trade Show Organizers (MATSO); and UFI - The Global Association of the Exhibition Industry.

Nathan, who was often a speaker at industry conferences, wrote the chapter on Exhibiting Internationally in the IAEE Handbook. He received a number of industry awards, including the Pinnacle Award from IAEE for Lifetime Achievement; the Robert L. Krakoff Industry Award of Excellence from SISO; the Award for Excellence and the Kings Glove Award from the NY Chapter of the IAEE; and the Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Hall of Leaders from the Convention Industry Council (now known as the Events Industry Council). 

Beyond the trade show industry, Nathan was an active member of his community in Westport, Conn. He served as an officer and a club chairman of the Y's Men, an association of more than 400 retired men; as a governor-appointed member of the Connecticut Judicial Review Council; as an elected member of the Westport Representative Town Meeting (Westport's Legislative Body) for four terms; and as an advisory member of the Mid-Fairfield County Child Guidance Center and the Domestic Violence Crisis Center.

Nathan leaves his wife of 68 years, Lois (Sandy) Nathan, his children Tamara Rydz, Corynne Colfax, Mark Nathan and Leslie Nathan-Street, and their spouses Gary, Dina and Bryan. He also leaves behind nine grandchildren, their spouses and one great grandchild.

Tributes and Memories for Industry Pioneer

TSNN asked trade show industry colleagues and friends to share their memories and experiences with Nathan. 

Leslie Nathan-Street, his daughter who worked at GLM on apparel, gift and home shows for 21 years and now serves a personal stylist partner for J. Hilburn Men’s Clothier, said: “I was privileged to have Peter as my dad, but also my mentor. He taught me some of my most valuable lessons when I started my career in the trade show industry. When he asked if I wanted to come down and help with his second show in Cuba, The Food and Agribusiness Exhibition, I jumped at the opportunity to assist him and used vacation time from GLM to go down. 

My most vivid memory from that experience, other than, of course, meeting Castro, was when I came up with a strategy to deal with an issue we needed to resolve (which at this point, I can’t recall what the issue was), and he told me to go negotiate with Castro’s second in command. This man was not accustomed to taking direction from women in a business atmosphere, which I pointed out to my dad, who basically said, ‘Your idea, your meeting.’ This was truly a crowning moment for me because in that moment I realized that my dad truly trusted my business acumen and my leadership skills.”

Lew Shomer, president and owner of Shomex Productions and former executive director of SISO, said, “Peter was the most gifted and benevolent person one could ever know. He was introduced to me by a mutual friend as a possible investor in Shomex, but due to his non-compete, he could only advise us, which he did with great care and insight. He cared so much for the industry and brought me into a very young SISO, and of course the rest of that is history.

His courage and panache to look east and start shows in China was groundbreaking, and he didn't stop when he decided there must be a market in Cuba. Peter was one of the most beautiful humans, sharing his knowledge and mentoring so many in the community. Joerg Uthmann from Germany told me he did his first M&A deal with Peter. His family, kindness and just the ability to say, ‘Hi Peter, how's it going?’ will be sorely missed, but his presence will guide those he knew forever.”

Vincent Polito, CEO of SISO, said: “Although Peter won nearly every award available to trade show professionals and was truly a titan in our industry, virtually everyone has a story about Peter’s kindness. He always made time for all in the industry and was never impressed by titles, but I would say was always impressed by character. He had a way of making whomever he spoke to feel like they were the most important person in the room. He epitomized the idea of being both strong and gentle. His accomplishments and awards are plentiful, and I believe he was most proud of his family—his wife Lois (Sandy) of 68 years and his four children and their families.” 

David Nussbaum, chairman and CEO for America's Test Kitchen and former trade show executive at Penton Media and Miller Freeman, said: “Peter Nathan was my first boss, in my first job, in the trade show business. At the time, Peter was essentially running Clapp & Poliak and was Saul Poliak’s right-hand man. Clapp & Poliak was one of the largest and definitely most respected companies in the events sector and much of it was due to Peter’s class, intelligence and kindness. Peter was the top guy at the company, I was the bottom guy, but he always was patient and always had time for my dumb questions, and he never got frustrated when I made rookie mistakes.

Over the years, I ran into Peter at industry events and despite being a living legend in the business, he always had time for me, was constantly curious and always interested in what was on the horizon. I cherished his words of wisdom even after I climbed out of the lowest spot in the totem pole and reached a rung or two higher. The trade show industry lost one of its pioneers, and he will be missed.

Tom Kemp, chairman and CEO for Northstar Travel Media, said: “So sad to hear of Peter’s passing. He was a true class act in the trade show business and always a very warm and thoughtful leader for young people in the business.”

Lawrence Dvorchik, global director, business development, Operating Partners Forums & CU Leadership Convention, said: “Such sad news. For whatever reason, Peter took an interest in a much younger version of me and always had a kind word, a thought to make me ponder and an idea to make things better. His words helped more than he probably realized. A genuinely wonderful human being who will be missed.

Read Danica Tormohlem's tribute to Peter on LinkedIn here, and please feel free to add yours in the comments.

Celebration of Life Details:

Peter Nathan’s family is extending an invitation to all friends, family and colleagues to a Celebration of Life. His family will share a few of their favorite memories of Peter and celebrate the incredible impact he had on all he came into contact with. Please wear bright colors to contribute to the celebratory spirit.

Peter W. Nathan (March 31, 1933 - January 28, 2023)
March 12, 2023
11 a.m.
Fairfield County Hunt Club
174 Long Lots Road
Westport, CT 06880

For those who are so inclined, contributions can be made to the Westport Library, Senior Center or the Westport County Playhouse. 

Photo (right to left): Peter Nathan receives the SISO Krakoff Award in 2013 from Tony Calanca, former chair of the Krakoff Award Committee, David Audrain, former chair and CEO of SISO, and Lew Shomer, former executive director of SISO.


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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.