ES. Please take us through your professional journey since inception and some major milestones achieved over the years.
Vibha Bhatia. I began my career in early 2003 with a European Travel-Tech company that is the market leader in dynamic holiday packages and operates a portfolio of well-known brands from the travel, airlines, entertainment, and gift industries. My primary responsibility was to manage relationships with large key hotels, suppliers, and restaurants offering a diverse range of products and services. Later, I worked with a consulting firm that provided corporate advisory services and established shared service centres across India and abroad. From there, I moved into the MICE industry, where I managed various portfolios for various event management organisations. In the interim, I worked as the Director (BD) of India’s first Regional Convention Visitors Bureau (HCVB). My primary responsibility there was to promote, represent, and market Hyderabad as a desirable meeting and conference destination. I represented Hyderabad at a number of national and international trade shows, seminars, workshops, and other events, as well as developed strategic bids for international conferences for the city. My current responsibilities as President (Events) at MM Activ includes conceptualising, curating the Conference & Expo events, Planning & supervising the stakeholders interactions, communication and execution.
Regarding significant accomplishments made over the years: Early in my career, I was given the best outstanding performance & best employee award when I was tasked with leading, overseeing, and directing others on a significant project. And in another situation, I was assigned a supervisory position where I was expected to provide advice, assistance, and direction to other official leaders. This was a key turning point in my career and a learning opportunity for me. The most significant accomplishment of my career was to use strategic bidding to win some prestigious international conferences for India. In addition, I successfully completed an offshore project without any prior knowledge of the subject and received laurels from the management, and, most importantly, pushed myself to pick up the intricacies of the trade on my own.
ES. You have elaborate & diverse experience in the exhibition industry. How have you seen the industry evolving over these years from the time when you started in this industry?
Vibha Bhatia. Organizations from all over the world are taking practical steps to connect with their customers, create more positive experiences, generate more value, deepen loyalty, and build long-term relationships for the future. While trade shows used to be primarily business events, they have evolved over time in tandem with changes in societal values. Instead of simply “going to do business,” there is a stronger social component that is being augmented by digital technology. As a result, exhibitions are evolving alongside, rather than against, the online landscape.
Therefore, I believe that digital technology has had a significant impact on how exhibitions are organised and accessed these days. Exhibitors, for example, no longer require a storage room full of leaflets and catalogues because product information can now be sent digitally. Making events sustainable has also become essential for success in today’s exhibition and conference industry. Today, the registration process for both delegates and participants for exhibitions has been completely revamped and made more sustainable,
efficient and seamless. You can register by simply filling out an online form on a website or an app. Badges can be sent on email before the event starts and scanned at the site for smooth check in. Only those who have witnessed the exhibition industry in India since its inception will recognise the magnitude of the change. The exhibition industry is a prime example of a transitional, innovative industry. The industry has evolved from being primarily organisational to being largely experiential.
Vibha Bhatia. It’s harder to think of an industry that serves as a better demonstration of the transformation society has undergone over the last two years than events and exhibitions. But the industry quickly adapted to the situation, and virtual events sprung up in their place. In fact, the way the industry adapted to the situation makes it stand out from others quite dramatically. However, organisers are eager to resume doing what they do best—bringing people together in one place to enjoy, celebrate, or learn about the things that are important to them—now that constraints on gathering in person have almost been lifted. Everyone is aware that something fundamental has changed, therefore it’s fair to say that there isn’t really a sense of things “going back to normal.” And it is obvious that the industry’s future will be greatly influenced by the lessons learnt from the pandemic.
Even though virtual events have been great when it comes to maintaining connections during the pandemic, there’s certainly a keenness among event organisers and marketers, in general, to get back to organising in-person events. I think the exhibition market will expand more quickly and experience a pleasant qualitative shift in 2022 and beyond. The exhibition industry’s trends are always changing, and they may change even more quickly in the future. In order to give customers or visitors the “Experience,” the exhibition sector will increasingly adopt the newest trends and technologies.
ES. What are the benefits of having a more diverse workforce, especially in senior management positions?
Vibha Bhatia. A diverse workforce has several advantages – including people from various backgrounds and perspectives can promote better decision-making, more innovation, and increased workplace engagement. Additionally, it might enhance a business’s reputation and make it simpler to draw in top employees. Diverse workforces provide companies a competitive edge and help them perform better. This strategy can encourage innovation, boost creativity, and aid in business growth. Diversity of thought implies diversity of leadership. A management team of five people from various backgrounds, for example, has a better chance of developing ideas that cover a broader range than to a management team made up of only one category of individual (same age demographic, sex, background, etc.). Diversity entails different trails of thought as well as access to a wide range of cultural and personal experiences. This is also known as “thinking outside the box.” A diverse workforce and management team prevents a company from becoming stuck in one way of thinking. Another advantage of diversity in leadership is that it improves relationships with employees. When they see themselves represented in leadership, most employees feel a stronger connection to their company. This not only communicates that management is accepting of people from other cultures and backgrounds, but also that there are opportunities for advancement within the company. Finally, diversity improves a company’s ability to connect with the outside world, resulting in more opportunities.
ES. Would you like to share your thoughts on the “Women in Leadership” initiative organized by IEIA?
Vibha Bhatia. The Women’s Leadership Forum initiative by IEIA is to acknowledge women’s leadership in the exhibition industry. The Women’s Leadership Forum has been designed to focus on topics that are unique to women in the exhibition and events industry. It is made for all women,
regardless of age, individual situation, or current position held within their company. The forum will provide knowledge and strategies for attendees to succeed in their current positions, as well as motivation and inspiration to take their careers to the next level. The first full-day leadership programme, ‘WeConnect WeRise’ 2022, was held on August 17th, 2022, at The Lalit in New Delhi, under the aegis of the IEIA’s Women in Leadership Focus Group. It was inspiring to see the fervour with which industry men and women participated.
The programme brought together exhibition industry professionals for in-depth discussions about their perspectives on addressing the critical agenda of increasing inclusivity and diversification in India’s exhibition sector. The event also helped attendees understand the impact that female leaders can have on organisations, as well as the impact that leadership roles can have on the women who hold them. It also explored the distinct qualities that women leaders bring to the table, with the goal of developing initiatives to inspire future female leaders and raise industry awareness about intentional and unintentional bias during the recruitment and appraisal processes. The event also featured open and candid discussions on topics such as work/life balance, flexibility, resilience, burnout, fears, strengths, and failures, among others. We intend to host a number of similar events in the near future in order to engage, educate, and empower women in our industry.
ES. What is one of the hardest challenges that you’ve come up against and what did it teach you?
Vibha Bhatia. My most difficult challenge to date was being asked to manage the accounts process as part of a company project in Sri Lanka (for one of Asia’s largest apparel manufacturing companies) because the team leader in charge of the process had to leave the project in the middle. I was required to travel to Sri Lanka to map their AS-IS AR and AP processes, and because I did not come from a financial background, it was difficult to understand the requirements and confirm the effort required. I hesitantly requested one of my senior colleagues for assistance. She was extremely helpful, kind and made me understand the fundamentals of the mapping process and methodology. She also gave me a few accounting books to read before I left for the site and made sure I had all the support I needed onsite through regular phone calls and emails. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have had her support and guidance. She exemplifies female leadership; she engaged with me by educating me on the subject, and I emerged victorious. Her name is Poonam Masand. She currently works as a Director for GENPACT India. This experience taught me that (a) one should never be afraid to ask for help and (b) anything is possible if you just put your mind to it and maintain a positive outlook.
ES. What does a normal working day in your life look like? Please take us through the course of your day from the time you wake up till the time you retire to bed.
Vibha Bhatia. I start each day by going over my schedule to make sure any calls or meetings I have are top of mind and I get any prep work for those done first thing. Then, I usually answer my emails while I’m still fresh. This way, I can reply to clients and get everything organised at the start of the day. I then look over my to-do list and get started on the projects that are my top priority. I spend most of my day taking stock of the projects. I find that I am most creative and happy in the morning, which is why I like to do my brainstorming and team follow-ups right away. In the afternoon, I find I’m more social and high-energy, so I channel that into connecting with clients. Usually, I’ll have two or three scheduled or unscheduled calls with clients for our exhibitions. Depending on what time I’m done with that, I usually spend the remainder of my day on focused work, whether that’s doing analyses of ongoing or completed projects or putting together proposals and presentations.
ES. What one piece of advice would you give any aspiring female business leaders reading this?
Vibha Bhatia. First, decide what you want from your career and be specific and focused on how you intend to achieve it. You can’t get what you want if you don’t know what you want. Take some time to reflect on your own abilities and strengths. From there, devise a strategy for achieving your career goals. Finally, keep in mind that no woman has ever achieved leadership without taking some risks. It’s natural to be wary of what you don’t understand or are unfamiliar with. However, don’t let fear keep you from pursuing a great idea or objective. Don’t be afraid to try something new or challenging!