By Mary Tucker, Sr. PR/Communications Manager
Rick Simon, CEO and President of United Service Companies, has contributed to the industry over the past four decades in vastly substantial ways. His passion, dedication and pioneering vision has helped guide the industry – especially in 2020, as exhibitions and events faced the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most notably, through the creation and launch of the Trade Show & Events Recovery Act (TSRA), the significant contributions he has made in the development of the GBAC STAR™ accreditation program, and the supportive development of the Go LIVE Together coalition.
Rick has been involved, helping and guiding – front and center – and has also been recognized by Tradeshow Week as one of the trade show industry’s most influential people. His contributions earned him the IAEE Distinguished Service Award last year, for which he was recognized this past December during virtual Expo! Expo! IAEE’s Annual Meeting & Exhibition (watch the awards presentation and Rick’s acceptance speech here).
Here, Rick shares with IAEE what sparked his passion for the industry, the evolution of the industry as he has experienced it, and steps he believes the industry should take to recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
IAEE: How did you get involved in the exhibitions and events industry and, after four decades, what do you find most satisfying about being in this industry?
Rick: Many years ago when the industry was emerging and Chicago was the “convention capital,” my grandfather decided that it was time for me to get a job because that’s what people did as a young teen. After school and on the weekends you had a job; I still have that job. And, to be truthful, it was more than four decades ago. As to the industry, what is not to like? As a young person I got to work 80+ hours a week during shows, with many all-nighters the day before the show opened. But during those times on the show floor, I worked with many great people that are friends to this day. So, most satisfying to me are the people. I think that is closely followed by the diverse industries we see each show, as we all learn a lot about what’s new in the world. I would have never known that an orthopedic surgeon uses the same power tools as an auto body shop, but for my job.
IAEE: What inspired you to take on an active role in advocating for the industry? And, what do you find to be the most effective ways to get your message across to those unfamiliar with the industry?
Rick: I didn’t seek an active role, I think it found me. Years ago, the industry’s press and information sharing was not what it is today. Consider that the internet, as we know it, really was not much until about 20 to 25 years ago. And as the industry evolved, things changed. Some good, some not so good. The information about the industry was slow and was not really widely circulated. I didn’t like that, so I started Trade Show Executive magazine (TSE) to help facilitate the flow of more in-depth information about the industry. So yes, I own a cleaning and security company and started a magazine, makes perfect sense… only in the trade show industry. So here we are with 20+ years of TSE in print and sponsoring some of the industry’s best events about the industry and its people. That is one way to get the message out.
As to those not in our business and uneducated as to the benefits we provide the community, that’s a bigger problem for all of us in the industry. I have spoken to groups, elected officials and the press from across the U.S. about our industry. But that’s just a small drop of what we need as a group, especially in today’s post-pandemic environment as we restart. We need everyone telling our story to the public and elected officials.
IAEE: One of the most challenging aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic was the fact that the industry had never experienced anything like it. In developing the Trade Show & Events Recovery Act, what was your approach in formulating a plan for something so unprecedented?
Rick: After experiencing the past few economic downturns and the financial hangover we had for several years after each one, we know that we need to stimulate exhibitor and attendee participation, which are at the heart of our industry. I know from experience that asking the government for grants is harder than asking for tax credits on monies invested to promote jobs, especially with record unemployment. So we created the title and gave it four short bullet points of tax credits. I then enlisted the people at TSE to promote this in the industry while I spoke to labor and management executives from across the country. We added Ken McAvoy from Informa as well as a few other show management people. This was followed by adding leaders from IAEE, SISO, ESCA and Go LIVE Together, and they took over. It is amazing, when both labor and management want the same goal, how things can progress.
IAEE: As the industry recovers from the effects of the pandemic, what do you see as the most important hurdles that need to be overcome first? Is there an aspect of the industry’s recovery that you feel is being overlooked – or perhaps is not as obvious – but may prove relevant in the future?
Rick: Other than getting the tax credits to help pay for exhibitors and attendees, I believe there will be funds to offset the added disinfection costs – or should be – for a period of time. Which brings in the idea that, as an industry, we have really not kept up with the political education of our elected officials as we should have. Consider that as a business we are a multi-billion dollar machine of jobs and payrolls touching our staff as well as the employees in their constituent facilities, hotels, airlines, airports, transportation and shipping. But because of the fragmented business model we have, it goes unrecognized. We need a seat at the table in Washington, D.C. and the state capitals.
IAEE: How would you like to see the GBAC STAR™ accreditation program continue to develop as the industry moves forward?
Rick: I think it is great that the industry as a whole endorsed it. IAVM, IAEE, SISO, ESCA and even the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) as well as several hotel associations are adopting it. I understand it is now in over 62 countries with thousands of participants and growing. Understanding that this program constitutes third-party validation and training by world-class scientists will not only make people be safe, but feel safe too. It is also important to note that this is an ongoing process as the people at GBAC continue to monitor infectious diseases as they may develop. This will be a great source of information on not only diseases, but also the new technologies to combat them. I know that since this started, in just one year, I have seen many new positive developments. That, and the ongoing training, will be very valuable to all in the industry who participate.
So to the question: I think people in every venue and company in our industry should look into adopting the program and telling people they follow the program and displaying the logo. I think it will make people feel safe, and safe is what we are going for… I know that we definitely are at United Service Companies.
The Call for Nominations for this year’s IAEE Awards is now open! Check out all of the award categories here and be sure to submit your nominations by 31 August!