Heiko M. Stutzinger, COO, Royal Jaarbeurs | VNU Group

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There’s a reason why the Jaarbeurs | VNU Group has excelled in this industry for so long – it’s because we continue to innovate and look for new solutions to the ever-changing market place

ES. You have assumed charge as the new COO, Jaarbeurs | VNU Group from 1st December 2021. How have you managed your onboarding process so far and what are your goals and vision for the company?

Heiko M. Stutzinger. Yes, I recently moved from being MD of VNU Asia Pacific to Chief Operating Officer (COO) for Royal Dutch Jaarbeurs | VNU Group, which also involved relocating from Thailand to Utrecht/the Netherlands. My onboarding started back in November – I was given a warm welcome by my predecessor and team and inducted into the organization very smoothly. Even though I’ve been with the company for three years, it’s a very different role, so I’ve been acquainting myself with the new organizational structure, processes, systems, operations and challenges afoot, and most importantly – meeting my new team as well as first key stakeholder meetings outside the company. For me, onboarding is about learning as much as I can, while at the same time immediately adding value to the teams.

In terms of goals and vision – my current focus is to oversee and drive the implementation of our ambitious post-pandemic growth strategy, which underpins the company’s commitment to sustainability, digital and technological innovation, employee wellbeing and overall business growth. Expect to see exciting things from the group in the months ahead.

ES. Tell us about your first introduction to the exhibition industry. Please share with us your past experiences and achievements that shaped your journey as a successful leader in this industry?

Heiko M. Stutzinger. After roles in top management consultancies, I joined Messe Düsseldorf in 2008 as an Account Manager. A role combining sales and business development. It’s here where I first realized that the trade show business was my true calling and – at the same time – where I could build a solid base for my future career. Milestones at Messe Düsseldorf were the establishment of a glass show in India, as well as launching an international event series in the energy storage business in Germany, China, USA, Japan and India. In 2015 I was asked to help restructure the operations of Messe Düsseldorf in China. As Deputy GM, I managed 70 people over three offices covering 16 domestic Chinese exhibitions as well as 30 shows in overseas markets.

After successfully restructuring the company through an amazing team effort, most of our shows broke records in year four of the intensive turnaround project. That’s when I got the call from Jaarbeurs | VNU for the regional MD role in Bangkok, which started in February 2019. Shortly after that, I additionally took leadership of the VIV worldwide event portfolio as well as the VNU Exhibitions Europe operations as fully owned legal entity of Jaarbeurs B.V. – flying back and forth between Bangkok and Utrecht to manage both teams. As with anything in life, I think the key to success is being passionate about what you do and give it your absolute everything. I am very driven and committed, my goal is to add value in every interaction. My personal mission in one word is ‘growth’. Helping projects and teams, companies and businesses to grow, and ultimately, to encourage every individual team member to be their best. I feel very privileged to work in an industry that I genuinely love and have such committed and passionate teams around me.

ES. What do you think makes a successful show? Could you please share with us the success story of your recently held shows?

Heiko M. Stutzinger. My ethos is “Less conversation, more action” and it’s a philosophy I subscribe to. There is a time for thinking and analytics, and there is a time for action. A time for making things happen and be able to learn and adjust along the way – be flexible and agile. At the same time, trade shows are about creating superior experiences for exhibitors, visitors and stakeholders. So, we must show a commitment to service, showcase quality and infuse that spirit in those around us. Last but not least, what are our shows about? They’re about learning, networking and deal-making. We provide platforms to make this possible. And our platforms need to stay up to date and keep evolving and innovating. There’s a reason why the Jaarbeurs | VNU Group has excelled in this industry for so long – it’s because we continue to innovate and look for new solutions to the ever-changing market place. So, in summary, for me a successful show is a combination of learning, networking and deal-making and attracting the relevant community and content of the industries at our events. All of that delivered by a passionate and driven team who goes the extra mile and delivers high service and experience quality in a safe environment. And do that show by show, year by year and keep learning, adjusting, growing!

ES. Influence has long been the key to successful leadership. What artistic influences have stayed with you the longest?

Heiko M. Stutzinger. I’ve been extremely privileged to work with some of the great leaders of our industry, including Hans Werner Reinhard at Messe Düsseldorf and Albert Arp, our former Group CEO at Jaarbeurs | VNU. Both are crucial leaders who helped fast-track my learning, trusting me to do the job and providing great mentorship. Critical thinking is an essential skill any leader is well versed in, but to become a problem solver, you need to be given the opportunity to tackle challenges head on. If anything has stayed with me, it’s the importance of empowering teams to stay agile, be brave and make their own decisions without too much red tape in the way.

ES. How was VNU Asia Pacific’s PCO-Team (Professional Conference Organizer) instrumental in delivering service by physical conferences as well as online/virtual formats and/or webinars?

Heiko M. Stutzinger. The whole team at VNU Asia Pacific is super talented and experienced and our PCO team is a real diamond in building conferences; physically, and more recently virtually. Although my focus now is on our global operation, from my time at VNU Asia Pacific, I know just how brilliantly responsive they are. When the industry came to a standstill in early 2020, I saw first-hand how the team pivoted to find new ways to bring people together again. Within weeks they were setting up online webinars and migrating in-person events to digital versions. And whilst most of this was initially a temporary measure, it turned out to be rather successful in creating a blueprint that we continue to use. It’s a true credit to the PCO team who has been doing this in challenging circumstances and with a small team, whilst still taking responsibility for all our other conference driven topics.

ES. How many other projects do you expect to launch in the coming years? Do you have any other expansion plans?

Heiko M. Stutzinger. We’re always looking at new and innovative ways to grow the business, always with our ear to the ground. Right now, as we are still in the wake of a global pandemic and the disruption it has caused (and continues to cause), our immediate focus is on the various topics we have launched in the last years and bring these to growth.

ES. Wrapping up the unprecedented 2020-2021, we are looking forward to the upcoming year with great hopes. What are your expectations for 2022?

Heiko M. Stutzinger. I greatly share this optimistic outlook! I believe 2022 is going to be a very promising year, – although not without its challenges. We’re now coming through the other end of this pandemic and learning to adjust to the new normal. With this comes fresh challenges – or as I like to see it – new opportunities. How can we move forward in a Covid-secure way? What can we do better as an industry? What have we learnt from the past months? How can we meet the changing needs of our employees and customers and create trust in our platforms? How can we deliver substantial value add for our exhibitors and visitors with our digital offerings? These are just some of the questions I constantly ask myself and my team. After many restrictions in place, and now with a large number of the public vaccinated, there’s a feeling that we must get back to some normality. I wish that Dutch policy makers will follow the example of other European countries and open up further. It’s great to see that Thailand has this month reintroduced the ‘Test & Go’ scheme. In part, exhibitions and trade events have already returned with a great sense of optimism, we need to get our teams and the entire organization to master the restart; not an easy task to accomplish having staff shortages and our high service standards in mind. However, we will crack this and continue to focus on our sustainability agenda and digital transformation roadmap, as online offerings and 365-days-communuty platforms continue to play their important part.

ES. South East Asia is one of the most important growth drivers of the global economy. According to you, what key trends are emerging in the MICE industry?

Heiko M. Stutzinger. Yes, absolutely agree, just looking at the data is fascinating: 655m people are living in SEA with 46% of them in urban areas and large cities, which means there are 140 million more consumers in SEA than in the EU. Also, other indicators such as lower median age, rising middle class, higher average regional GDP growth rates are key drivers that will fuel event platforms in SEA over the next years. I strongly believe, that the MICE industry can return to pre-covid strength over the next 2-3 years. Some of the key trends I think we will continue to see globally involve digital solutions as well as tackling sustainability issues.

ES. Are you re-evaluating any of your current projects based on the current situation? What are your current goals and how they align with your strategy and current business environment?

Heiko M. Stutzinger. It’s best practice to constantly review projects – not just to make sure you’re delivering, but to also see if there are better, more efficient ways of operating. As part of our Jaarbeurs ‘nine-point’ business strategy, we have a number of benchmarks and objectives to meet, and we’re constantly looking at how we can function more productively and efficiently as a business. As with before, our current goals are to continue leading the way in innovation with sustainability and safety at the fore. Since our latest business strategy was devised in response to the pandemic, all our objectives align with the current business environment. Also, the new Jaarbeurs venue strategy keeps being pushed forward as a long-term game changer for our operations in the Netherlands.

ES. Each of us strikes balance between our own enrichment and depletion which is critical to our physical, emotional, and spiritual health. On a personal note, we would like to know, how do you manage your professional and personal life? What keeps you busy when you are away from work?

Heiko M. Stutzinger. Agreed – wellbeing is very important. I find that in order to be successful at my job, I must strike a balance between my professional and personal life. Of course, that’s not always easy when you’re working with teams in different time zones, and especially now at the onboarding phase where there’s a lot of urgent requests. But I try to set the example that it’s important to take time-out too. I find that daily meditation and sports really helps me to reset. In Bangkok you could find me biking or playing golf and tennis. However, since these are all outdoor sports, I haven’t yet gotten into a good rhythm since arriving in the Netherlands! It’s definitely on my to do list once onboarding is complete, and spring and sunshine break through the clouds.