Bhupinder Singh, CEO, Messe Muenchen India Pvt Ltd.

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The pandemic offered us an opportunity to stop, dig deep and comeback stronger with a clear purpose

The pandemic has had a debilitating effect on all businesses around the globe. The Exhibition Industry was at the forefront among those that were hit the hardest. The trade fair industry across the world went into a limbo as the pandemic spread its tentacles across a dumbfounded world. Even as the first wave started waning, the uncertainty over government mandates on large gatherings kept the industry on tenterhooks.

Elaborating on the tsunami of uncertainty that gripped the organisation, Bhupinder Singh says, “We at Messe Muenchen India were like deer caught in the headlights; survival took precedence as we explored newer business models to stay afloat. Although several organizations attempted creating digital marketplaces, they at best became a tool to stay connected with the communities that were being hitherto served. As the industry started coming to terms with a post-pandemic new world order, industry ecosystems needed to be satisfied with the risk mitigation measures that organizers were adapting to deftly manage uncertainties. Thus, even credible and trusted marketplaces were being viewed with a doubtful lens. It was amply evident that we needed to rebuild trust and confidence in trade fairs and, by extension, our commitment to deliver meaningful marketplaces to the communities we served. We at Messe Muenchen India needed a paradigm shift in describing our existence. The pandemic had presented the opportunity to stop, look back and reload our purpose statement, redefine our mission, and rediscover our values, aligned with the parent company but customised for the Indian market.”

Earlier this year, through a week-long brainstorming session called ELEVATE, Team Messe Muenchen India carefully curated its Purpose for existence, Mission Statement for the defined future pathway, and the Core Values that the organization stands by. Bhupinder Singh explains:

Our purpose is “to enable meaningful handshakes; to unlock business opportunities

Our purpose articulates why we exist as an organization. This is our North Star and helps us determine the direction to take in ambiguous business scenarios. Our core purpose flows from a set of unwavering beliefs that we have about our industry and our organization.

Our mission includes the long-term business objectives that we are striving to achieve. This will be the foundation for our short term and medium-term goals.”

What sets us apart?
Achieving a purposeful mission without clear guiding principles can be unrealistic and hence, Messe Muenchen India’s core values play an important role. “Our values define how we conduct ourselves not just when all is calm but also in times of adversity. These are common behaviours that we practice and want to get better at practicing in our organization. Our workplace practices and rituals are derived from our values, thus making them liveable and real across the organization. As Messe Muenchen India team members, it is our responsibility to reinforce them day in and day out. We will drive into the future whilst espousing our values of “Trust, Team Spirit, Craftsmanship and Entrepreneurship.”

In an exclusive conversation with Exhibition Showcase, Bhupinder Singh, CEO, Messe Muenchen India, shares how the organisation has emerged from the pandemic ashes and how it is poised to soar higher and ride the post-pandemic growth wave in the exhibitions industry.

ES: How have the last 27 months been in terms of organisation evolution and key learnings?

BS: The last couple of years were full of uncertainty but we were quick to re-calibrate our services to best suit our customers’ needs. We have steered innovations through a series of Webinars and Online Expos, including one of the largest online gatherings of industry professionals-Messe Muenchen India Online, a three-day online expo in December 2020, featuring 10 exhibitions and representing 6 clusters. This expo brought together 334 exhibitors from 16 countries, displaying 2,135 solutions, and drawing 8,715 visitors.

The idea was to keep B2B engagement quick and seamless despite all the uncertainty. As the global economy was reeling under demand and supply-side shocks, bringing manufacturing and services sectors to a standstill, we continued to believe in our mission of bridging stakeholders’ interests and offering them a platform to share their concerns via our well-curated online shows. Our digital platform MMI Connect was born out of this necessity to bridge trade communities while avoiding pandemic risks. This platform was developed in-house to offer constructive solutions for networking and brand engagement. We are proud of this indigenous solution which has now extended as a one-stop support platform for all partners of our on-ground exhibitions.

ES: How important is the role of talent acquisition for a sector like exhibitions, especially in the post-pandemic world?

BS: The pandemic threw our industry into an existential crisis. We required clarity of purpose that we exist to solve business problems of the real world. With this clear sense of purpose, we need to attract, sustain, and develop talent to achieve our mission through lived values. Ours is a service-based, people focussed industry where we use a vast variety of tech tools to achieve the end-goals of buyers and sellers within a given marketplace. While we use and showcase the latest cutting-edge technology to promote trade and unlock sectoral potential, people remain the key focus of our business.

Hence, our in-house talent team is called Human Asset Management, and not human resources because resources are used but assets are built. Our strong focus on Core Values stems from the belief that skills can be taught when there is a willingness to learn, but alignment with the organisation’s Core Value system is non-negotiable.

With the right blend of technology-backed skill sets and a values-driven attitude, we are confident that our teams will live our purpose as we move towards our mission. I believe going forward exhibition management will leverage a host of technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented/Virtual Reality (AR/VR) and Machine Learning (ML) to make data-driven decisions. Hence, we have been investing in technology, training and skill-building so that our teams are pre-emptively prepared today with the skills needed to work with tomorrow’s technology.

We are pleased to be associated with the Certified in Exhibition Management (CEM) program and we have nominated our team members for the same. This program is conceptualized by the International Association of Events & Exhibition (IAEE) and managed in India by the Indian Exhibition Industry Association (IEIA). As a company, we ensure to enrol the most passionate team members in the right leadership and alignment programs that contribute to their skill and personality enhancement. Our employee exchange program (EEP) and visits to headquarters in Munich is another step towards realizing our employee development objectives. We also plan for sporting events which I am sure serves as a good time-out from our busy event calendar.

ES: How do you perceive the changing dynamics of technology in our industry? How can technology assist show organisers in future?

BS: Technology plays a crucial role in helping organisers design a holistic experience for visitors and exhibitors. Following the pandemic, we have adopted increased digitisation of internal operations to fully leverage the power of automation and improve customer experience by reducing turnaround times.

Customer experience before, during and after each of our trade fairs is very important for us and measuring these outcomes through NPS is something we are passionately working towards. The exhibition industry’s NPS for on-site exhibitions is currently -15, so we have a long road to improve customer centricity. Thankfully, NPS for online exhibitions stands at -50, so we can be sure that our focus on onsite shows is in the right direction.

Due to our compliance with EU’s data privacy laws, we avoid invasive technologies that build on visitors’ personal information. However, we use various technology tools to develop experiences that respect visitors’ time invested with us. And this has an immediate impact on the exhibitor and helps him to strategize which segment should be placed where and why.

Our experience shows us that online events might not be the best substitute for face-to-face networking, but it is necessary to keep developing them for hybrid formats in industries where they are relevant. We have identified a very niche segment of show visitors who actively participate in online events and thus, they are a vital value addition to the main on-site events.

ES: Please share with us the highlights of your recently concluded shows and what key takeaways can be taken out of them?

BS: The first half of 2022 so far has concluded on a confident note, with Indian Ceramics Asia, analytica Anacon India, and India Lab Expo receiving excellent response. Indian Ceramics Asia saw enthusiastic participation from the business community, with over 100 exhibiting companies from 11 countries. Participants from Bangladesh, China, Germany, India, Iran, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, UK, United Arab Emirates, and others showcased their solutions and innovations to the visitors. In terms of visitors, the 16th edition of Indian Ceramics Asia saw 6,440 visitors.

analytica Anacon India and India Lab Expo 2022 attracted nearly 4,000 visitors at the Bombay Exhibition Centre, giving much cheer to the laboratory equipment and analytical sector that was looking for an ideal platform to bridge them with business opportunities post the pandemic. Our next show air cargo India is scheduled from 31 May 31-2 June 2022, at the Grand Hyatt, Mumbai. This is the world’s leading trade fair for logistics, mobility, IT, and supply chain management.

ES: How do you see the evolving role of trade fairs and their relevance in the coming years?

BS: This post-pandemic growth phase is an exciting time to be in the trade fairs business. Various estimates peg the CAGR of the Indian events and exhibitions industry to be in double digits. There is a dire need for on-site events in every industry imaginable in order to recover from the pandemic lull, leapfrog innovations to meet post-pandemic necessities, and establish new trade networks and connections that might have been impacted due to supply chain disruptions. As the world order changes due to geopolitical crises and new manufacturing hubs displacing conventional ones, the Indian trade fairs industry will play a pivotal role in realising the country’s aspirations for self-reliance and sustainable consumption.

ES: Please share with us your plans for the rest of the year and beyond.

BS: In the coming quarters, we are looking forward to some of our leading shows like electronica India and productronica India, IFAT India, drink technology India, PACK MACH, World Tea & Coffee Expo, and bauma CONEXPO INDIA 2023. Another exciting new avenue for us is the South Africa market where we have already planned three shows in 2023—air cargo Africa, IFAT Africa, and analytica Lab Africa.

In keeping with our focus on improving customer experience, we will continue to innovate with our trusted exhibition brands and deliver value to our loyal industry partners. This year’s exhibitions will see more content-focussed conferences, buyer-seller meets, and networking opportunities, in addition to product displays.

ES: Exhibition Excellence Awards are back in 2022. Please share with us your comments and feedback about this initiative and its relevance.

BS: This is a relevant platform for the Indian exhibitions fraternity to get together, collaborate and celebrate the good work being done in the industry. In the spirit of ‘united we stand’ this awards program can help us collectively overcome challenges and inspire us to see the larger picture when taking focussed decisions for our organization’s growth. Like every year, I will look forward to this positive and motivating event this year too.