Industry doyen Jimé Essink looks back on a colourful career and continues to scout new opportunities
Give us a snapshot of your career?
My first job in the industry was with UBM, and I became the managing director of Expoconsult (part of UN&M) in the Netherlands. That was a company that developed the successful Food Ingredients and CPhI brands. Later I joined Jaarbeurs/VNU Exhibitions, first as international director and later as CEO of VNU Exhibitions Asia and VNU Exhibitions Europe. I started VNU Exhibitions Asia in Shanghai, together with my Chinese partner David Zhong. We also organised successful exhibitions in Southeast Asia and other parts of the world. This gave me ample international experience and exposure, which made it possible to take on the challenging job of president and CEO of UBM Asia for which I moved to Hong Kong in 2007 after having lived in Shanghai for one and half years.
What were the main reasons for your decision to step down as president and CEO of UBM Asia once it was acquired by Informa?
I definitely did not step down as a result of the UBM acquisition by Informa. I communicated this decision with the UBM Group management six months before the acquisition talks commenced. The main reasons were that managing a company with more than 2,000 staff, 35 offices in 15 countries with more than 200 events annually is quite intensive, especially if you take into consideration that we concluded more than 25 acquistions (among them the large acquisition of Allworld Exhibitions). My travel schedule was hideous with at least one or two flights a week and, as a result, I rarely saw my family. So I decided to move back to Europe, where we chose Spain as our new home, to enjoy a more balanced lifestyle. I also thought that after 12 years it would probably be good that the reins would be taken over by a new person with fresh ideas and different visions. It was not an easy decision since I loved my work, the industry and especially my colleagues, including the one and a half years with Informa as the owner of the company.
Since Informa, what have you been up to?
The first three months I did absolutely nothing besides sports and leading a very enjoyable family life. However, it got a little boring, so when Jochen Witt called me to ask to join his consultancy, jwc, I did not have to think too long. Jochen and I are long-term friends and I love working with him and his team. The role of a senior consultant is very different than being a CEO of a large company, so I am learning a lot while I can make good use of my experience and network. Currently, I am working with jwc on a few M&A deals. It is very interesting doing this not as a buyer.
Are you optimistic regarding the return of events for rest of 2022 and into 2023?
I am very optimistic for Europe, US, and most of the rest of the world. My concern however is China. The Chinese government took another approach with their zero Covid infection rate policy, which was well accepted by the population at the beginning. However, the recent lockdown in Shanghai demonstrates that this acceptance is diminishing. When Chinese citizens see examples of mass gatherings and events on TV such as a full football stadia in Europe, they may rethink their own current situation. Still, it is a difficult situation for the Chinese government to make a sharp U-turn. There are health risks for the elderly given China’s low vaccination uptake for that demographic as well as political and economic issues at play.
As the world begins to return to face-to-face, what do you think the ‘new norm’ for event organisers and participants will look like?
One of the positive outcomes of the pandemic was finding out many people, exhibitors and visitors, really missed events and are now eager to join again. However, based on the normalisation of virtual meeting formats, cost cutting measures, and sustainability, international business travel will likely take more time to resume to pre-pandemic levels. Regional/continental events will become more important as the cost of global events and the time spent at events will need to be more effective to justify the cost of attending. Digital tools, like matchmaking, should support this trend optimally.
The pandemic has pushed digital transformation. How is this reflected in the events industry?
There are organisers who just want to go back to the ‘old normal’ and to organise live events without making too many digital efforts. And there are organisers who understand the ‘new normal’ where on-line will play a very important role in combination with off-line – or the Omnichannel Model.
We need to realise, however, that to develop and execute a successful Omnichannel Model, a lot of commitment, hard work and investment is needed. This will not be easy for the smaller organisers and could lead to a trend of more concentration.
What are the types of needs, technology, or skills event organisers and planners will have to take into account when planning for future events?
Mostly digital, which requires very different skills beyond traditional event organising and business skills. Think about database-management, data analysis, multi-channel marketing and selling, etc. As well, event organisers expect to gain a lot more data regarding the venue and location where they want to launch a new event or host a meeting. They want to be able to discover new locations and venues and quickly understand and compare different capabilities and options.
Tell us more about the new venueScout venture you have embarked on with jwc
venueScout is a digital platform where event organisers and meeting planners can easily find the best venues from exhibition, congress/convention centres, to hotels, and other unique venues for their specific needs. Our platform is developed on a global scale, with extensive and consistent information for every venue. Service suppliers will also be included on the platform based on the location(s) where they provide their services.
Why did you and the team start venueScout?
We wanted to make the whole process of finding the right venue a much easier and more efficient experience, as well as support venue and service suppliers to promote their business to organisers and the exhibitor community. We found that there are no other platforms doing this in a consistent way or on a global scale. We want to become the Booking.com for our own events industry marketplace. And, like Booking.com, we add ratings and evaluations of venues and service suppliers by organiser, exhibitors and even visitors to their profiles. The aim is to increase transparency in our industry and to provide venues and service suppliers with insights to improve their products and services, which will then improve the quality of the events at the same time for the benefit of our entire industry.
You once famously recounted lessons from working with the Alibaba project and impressed with just how much can be learned from a failed project.
Tell us about that?
The most important lessons we learned from working with Alibaba was that organisers do not have to fear these big e-commerce giants. We found our trade show audience data was far richer and in-depth than theirs, and the types of customers Alibaba serves are very different. Their objectives and goals were also different than ours which made it not so easy to work together during points in our partnership.
Any other stand-out trade show experiences that stick in your mind?
When I visited our Food exhibition in Rangoon, Myanmar there were heavy rains and the primitive venue was totally flooded with water a metre deep in the main hall a day before the planned opening. The local team did an amazing job by building a platform of 120cm covering the surface of the hall and we rebuilt the whole exhibition on top of that platform. The event took place as planned and customers were very happy.
What advice would you give US or European organisers, in particular, looking to collaborate with Asia?
Almost nothing is the same as it is in your own country, so you need to adapt many elements of your event and the processes around it. Working with a partner with local experience is crucial, otherwise the risk of failure is enormous. Get to know your local partner very well and respect especially his/her knowledge about the local way of doing things.