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Interview with Dr. Andreas Gruchow

Digitalization brings additional opportunities for trade fairs

Dr. Andreas Gruchow, Mitglied des Vorstandes der Deutschen Messe, Hannover.

Dr. Andreas Gruchow is a member of the Managing Board of Deutsche Messe, and as of this year, also President of the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry (UFI). In this MBB-Media interview, he talks about his goals for his term as President, the challenges facing the sector, and why perceptions of Germans by other nationalities have changed in recent years.

Mr. Gruchow, you are a member of the Managing Board of Deutsche Messe, a key global player in the international trade fair business. Tell us a little about your daily work and company.

Let’s start with the company: Deutsche Messe is one of the world’s leading organizers of capital goods trade fairs, both in Germany and abroad. Our success is built on events such as HANNOVER MESSE, CeBIT, LIGNA, DOMOTEX and CeMAT. Our average sales of 300 to around 350 million euros put us among the ten largest trade fair companies globally. As one of four members on the Managing Board, I am responsible for the trade fairs we stage for the woodworking/wood processing, floor coverings, refrigeration/air conditioning/ventilation, emergency/rescue and automotive/commercial vehicles industries. This includes the DOMOTEX and LIGNA events, for example. I am also responsible for our foreign subsidiaries, in countries such as Brazil, Mexico, USA, Italy, Turkey, Russia, India, China, Indonesia and Australia. In addition, I am in charge of the operation of our foreign exhibition centers, such as SNIEC in Shanghai and ICE in Jakarta. Ours is a highly international business, involving a lot of travel on my part. I particularly enjoy my interactions with decision-makers across a wide range of industry sectors, because to be successful in the trade fair business you have to stay close to your markets. And we are successful – all around the world.

This year you are also serving the global trade fair association UFI as President. What are your goals and objectives for your presidency?

What I have learned from my many years of involvement with UFI can be summed up in a single sentence: “The more you give, the more you get.” Networking at UFI events, the surveys, analyses, exchanges of ideas in working groups and think tanks – all this has been highly enriching for me over the years. It has been a constant source of inspiration for my day-to-day work, and a wellspring of fresh ideas for the ongoing development of the sector and Deutsche Messe in particular. As the organization’s President, I will now have more input into strategic policy, and will be able to tackle and progress the issues of the day for the good of our industry as a whole. Under my tenure, a key focus will be “glocalization”. That means distilling the issues facing the sector globally down into debates and dialogues in our chapters, committees, and events at the level of individual regions, continents and markets. Another key goal I have set myself for 2017 is to encourage more of our members to become actively involved in our organization’s activities, and here I will be working closely with UFI’s Managing Director, Kai Hattendorf. Because it’s absolutely clear to me that this will benefit both the organization and the individual member companies.

How can members engage more actively with UFI?

This year is an ideal time to become more closely involved, because we have an almost unprecedented number of chapter chair positions and other functions on UFI committees to be filled. That offers plenty of scope for highly motivated trade fair professionals to contribute and make a difference. UFI also promotes talent initiatives such as the “Next Generation Leaders Grant”. I can only encourage everyone to participate actively in our work, because this will benefit not only their companies, but also their own personal development.

Recently UFI launched “UFI approved events”. Can you tell me why UFI has launched this program and what its goals are?

The key to quality is the willingness of organizers to have their exhibitions and events audited. Its audit scheme sets the UFI seal apart from many other “certifications”. The mutual recognition of quality events has been at the heart of UFI activity ever since its establishment in 1925. That is why the UFI Executive Committee and UFI Board of Directors decided to grow the reach of the quality label “approved by UFI” by expanding their accreditation scheme. Quality exhibitions and events that focus on national audiences will also be able to apply for, and receive, UFI Approved Event status. Previously, UFI approval was reserved for exhibitions that meet the highest global standards, provide officially audited statistics and serve an international market. Under the new system, organizers can apply for either “UFI Approved Event” status or “UFI Approved International Event” status, depending on their share of international visitors and exhibitors.

Why can buyers and sellers trust UFI approved events to deliver the best possible results?

To maintain approval, a new audit certificate must be supplied for every other edition of the event – except for events that take place once every three years, or less frequently. For such events a new audit certificate must be provided for each edition. People trust the UFI brand and are more likely to participate at an exhibition that has UFI approval, either as an exhibitor or as a visitor. We have also designed two separate logos for UFI Approved Events, and UFI Approved International Events, which both reflect and reinforce the quality and the strength of each brand.

Looking into the future, what challenges do you think our industry will be facing over the next few years?

The key themes in the trade fair sector, and therefore for UFI, are clearly globalization and digitalization. Both bring opportunities for our sector, but also a number of challenges. Globalization enables our sector to get involved in dynamic new markets with growth rates that we in Europe can only dream of. But successful international trade fairs are built on the foundation of global free trade. The trend towards protectionist trade policies seen in a number of countries around the world is not helpful in this regard. And the international involvement of many exhibitors is further discouraged by the increasing terrorism threat.

Digitalization is introducing new competitors to the trade fair industry: online platforms, for example, which, like trade fairs, bring buyers and sellers together. But digitalization also brings benefits to our industry. For example, increasingly powerful matchmaking tools can greatly improve trade show outcomes for both exhibitors and visitors.

Are we in good shape to face these challenges or is there further homework to be done?

Trust remains a key element in all business interactions. Trust is created by face-to-face encounters, and our trade fairs offer the ideal platform for such encounters. If we can successfully enhance this benefit with digital tools, I am absolutely certain that trade fairs will retain their central role in the marketing mix in the digital age. This is also the message we keep hearing from our customers, in the regular surveys conducted by AUMA, the German trade fair association, for example. Another challenge I would like to mention is recruitment: Over the next few years we will have to intensify our efforts to be attractive employers, and to actively recruit emerging talent into the sector. This is another key issue that UFI is addressing.

Germany is famous for its beer and cars, and perhaps a bit less so for its sense of humor. Tell me something the world might not know about us Germans.

Well, in the Internet era I’m not really sure there is anything people don’t already know. It’s true that we brew great beer, and that our cars are in high demand all around the world. And it is also true that we are reliable, punctual, disciplined and ready to compromise. But there is something else that I have observed over the last few years, also in my own behavior: We have become more relaxed, more open towards foreigners, and we enjoy learning from other nations. I, for one, always enjoy a good joke, of the kind we hear especially from our English colleagues. In fact, they often tell me: “Andreas, you are a very ‘un-German’ German” – in other words, quite different from what they expect…

Our sector events and trade fairs, of course, are the ideal platform for this sort of personal interaction. Let me give you an example: Formerly us Germans tended to sit at home watching TV in the evening, or at best go to the pub to watch sports on television with a few friends. These days, we gather in thousands in beer gardens or at the Brandenburg Gate to watch live broadcasts of World Cup or European Cup football matches. People want to meet and spend time together, to enjoy and talk about a collective experience. And there is another aspect that is becoming increasingly important: Us Germans put a very high value on our personal freedom, presumably partly for historical reasons. Accordingly we are also prepared to grant the same freedom to others, to the greatest extent possible. This makes us tolerant, which benefits our guests. The best way to appreciate this is to come to Hannover and spend a few days at one of our trade fairs. You’ll soon see what I mean!

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