“The NürnbergMesse Group has grown up developing exhibition concepts from niche to world market leadership: Organic food, IT security or embedded systems were niche industries for which there were no or no suitable industry formats.”
ES. Please take us through your professional journey since inception and some major milestones achieved over the years.
Dr. Roland Fleck. After completing my studies and doctorate in 1990, I worked for HYPO-Bank between 1986 and 1996, then as Vice Mayor for Economic Affairs of the City of Nuremberg until 2011 and finally took over the management of the NürnbergMesse Group together with my colleague Peter Ottmann in 2011. Together we have led the exhibition company through an extremely successful decade of exhibitions and have always been able to celebrate new sales and exhibitor records. This period also saw the NürnbergMesse Group’s record year to date, with sales of 315 million euros in the pre-Corona year 2018. With additional subsidiaries in India, Austria and Greece, we have accelerated the internationalization of the company and consistently expanded our worldwide event portfolio. As a result, we have established the NürnbergMesse Group among the top 15 exhibition companies in the world and the top 10 in Germany.
ES. How do you recount the journey at NürnbergMesse, working alongside Peter Ottmann, addressing the company’s ongoing challenges, preparing it for the future, and returning it to the winning columns?
Dr. Roland Fleck. The Corona pandemic came suddenly and virtually shock-froze the entire trade fair industry and us. We had to slow down our business model from top speed to almost zero – practically from the fast lane to the stand lane in a fraction of a second. As a result, presence fairs were not allowed in Germany for more than 19 months. But after the shock, we tackled the new challenge with courage. We created digital formats and platforms so that our industries can continue to meet. To this end, we have built up new digital competencies within the company and driven forward the digital transformation of the NürnbergMesse Group. Digital events build bridges during the pandemic. After the pandemic, attendance events definitely remain our core business. But we have expanded our formula for success: onsite and online we want to offer our customers real added value.
ES. What role NürnbergMesse plays for medium-sized enterprises who are active in international business?
Dr. Roland Fleck. The NürnbergMesse Group offers medium-sized companies numerous opportunities to take their first steps abroad, but also to expand existing business in international markets. Our worldwide joint stands, for example, are the perfect entry offer for companies that want to expand into new markets. Our own experts take care of literally everything, from travel to customs issues. For companies with a focus on specific target markets, we offer in-depth industry know-how in Nuremberg and through our subsidiaries and foreign representatives and have a worldwide network at our disposal. This makes it easier – and faster – for medium-sized companies to decide where to invest or focus their sales efforts.
ES. And what about international business? NürnbergMesse has its own subsidiaries in Brazil, China, India, Italy and North America. How significant is the Asia region of Nuremberg for you?
Dr. Roland Fleck. Peter Ottmann and I have consistently driven forward the internationalization of NürnbergMesse over the past ten years. When the first subsidiary, NürnbergMesse China, was founded, I was still there as Vice Mayor for the City of Nuremberg in Shanghai. By the time of the 10th anniversary celebration, I was already Managing Director, as I was when our subsidiary in India was founded in 2013. Asia is a big growth market for us. You can also see that in our event portfolio, where we develop new formats on exciting topics almost every year, even if we have to exercise a little more patience at the moment due to Corona.
ES. Undoubtedly, you’ve read tons of interpretations and opinions from those that have broke through the ceiling on what’s required. In what ways you have made your business stand out from the crowd. What does it takes to succeed a business?
Dr. Roland Fleck. The NürnbergMesse Group has grown up developing exhibition concepts from niche to world market leadership: Organic food, IT security or embedded systems were niche industries for which there were no or no suitable industry formats. The NürnbergMesse Group and its partners recognised this and developed suitable events for them in Nuremberg. Over the years, the aforementioned niche topics have become real growth areas, partly with international offshoots in other countries. As a relatively young trade fair company in Germany, we had to work hard to earn the trust of our customers and have always proceeded in a very cooperative manner. Talking to our customers at eye level and taking their needs seriously – that also helped us during the pandemic. The capital of trust we have built up over many years has paid off for us in this difficult time.
To ensure that our trade fairs always achieve the desired result for our clients, we always want to be number 1 or 2 in the relevant sector. Because this is the only way we can guarantee that the most important exhibitors meet the right visitors in Nuremberg or at our subsidiaries.
ES. How do you see the resumption of trade shows restoring people’s confidence? Could you tell us about the current state of trade shows in Europe?
Dr. Roland Fleck. From our point of view, confidence is back in full force! This was already shown by the first restart of the exhibition last autumn. During the pandemic, the NürnbergMesse Group created further trust among its customers with fast and reliable communication as well as conclusive hygiene concepts. This paid off when trade fairs were then possible again: Our customers have already rewarded us recently in Nuremberg, in Athens and in Sao Paulo for our reliability with their participation.
ES. The exhibitions and events industry, like the rest of the world, has seen a lot of change in a short period of time. What are the most significant changes you’ve witnessed during your time in the industry?
Dr. Roland Fleck. Firstly, the digital transformation of the trade fair companies and the event portfolio. Even if the presence event remains the core of our business, it is important to create further added value around these highlights. For example, with digital formats and lectures or via online industry platforms. In this way, the industry can stay up to date before and after the fair. Secondly, drive internationalisation and regionalisation forward in parallel at a global level. Successful models like our BIOFACH show how this works. In addition to the industry highlights in Nuremberg, where the entire global industry really comes together, we want to establish regional hubs that specialise in local conditions, such as a BIOFACH India, China or Saudi Arabia.
Thirdly: The focus on future topics. Because we want to continue to keep our ear close to the ground in order to identify topics with growth potential at an early stage. A current example is our hydrogen event HYDROGEN DIALOGUE, which will take place for the third time in Nuremberg in 2022. It offers the ideal international platform for the leading minds from business, science and politics to drive the ramp-up of the hydrogen economy.
ES. In your opinion, what does the Exhibition industry need to improve and what are some challenges surrounding this sector?
Dr. Roland Fleck. Our industry must firstly continue to internationalise consistently with regional focuses, secondly focus on future topics in terms of content and thirdly
intelligently and creatively link the respective digital and real spheres at all events. For all three challenges, we need the appropriate skills on board our trade fair companies!
ES. What are some of the most iconic shows of NürnbergMesse that you are particularly fond of (across various regions) and why?
Dr. Roland Fleck. Of course BIOFACH with its international product family. We currently have seven BIOFACH events worldwide, from Atlanta to Riyadh to Shanghai. This family of trade fairs addresses a central topic of the future on our globe: sustainable nutrition – and sustainably. The embedded world, a technology trade fair that has developed into the leading trade fair. The combination of HOLZ-HANDWERK and FENSTERBAU FRONTALE as our most visited show in Nuremberg. And my insider tip: the HYDROGEN DIALOGUE as a congress fair on the fuel of the future – hydrogen!
ES. What is your perspective on the role of sustainability in our industry? What practices can be adopted by the industry at large to promote the cause of sustainability?
Dr. Roland Fleck. Sustainability is an enormously important topic also for the exhibition industry and for us as the NürnbergMesse Group. When millions of people fly around the globe to trade fairs, the question naturally arises about the CO2 footprint – and how to compensate for it. On the other hand: How many individual meetings would be necessary to achieve the same result as at a trade fair? It would be a multiplication in travel. In this respect, trade fairs are a sustainable meeting tool with a future, even in a decarbonised world. The NürnbergMesse Group approaches the topic of sustainability very consistently. In our new sustainability strategy, we are now systematically bringing together a large number of initiatives, some of which have existed in our company for years. We pay particular attention to the responsible use of resources and our role as a responsible employer.
ES. What is your leadership style? What according to you are your strong points?
Dr. Roland Fleck. In every area in which I have worked so far – whether in the financial sector, in politics or now in the trade fair industry – it was and is important for me to think and work on issues in the long term. And never to lose sight of the goal. As CEO, you have to set a clear course in every company, including the trade fair industry. At the same time, you always give the employees the necessary leeway so that they can set their own accents within long-term objectives.
ES. How do you manage your professional and personal life? How do you cope with multi-tasking and stressful situations? We would like to know, what keeps you busy when you are away from work?
Dr. Roland Fleck. It is important to always use the accelerator and brake correctly and appropriately. That means finding the right balance between stress and deceleration. In this respect, my family is such an important haven of peace for me. In my free time, I also enjoy classical music and especially opera, where I was also involved as president of the “Friends of the Nuremberg State Opera” society until my serious illness three years ago. Although one cannot always speak of enjoyment when it comes to my home football club, 1. FC Nuremberg, I have been a loyal fan of “der Club” for many years.
ES. Would you like to reveal any announcements or share any news about your plans ahead with our readers?
Dr. Roland Fleck. Indeed, in this year 2022 there are pleasing and new things in my life, which is de facto my “second life” after my life-threatening illness three years ago: Over the years, I have also always been committed to science. Now, in April of this year, the tradition-rich Mittweida University of Applied Sciences in the Free State of Saxony has appointed me an honorary professor – for the teaching area of “Global Business”. For me, this is an honour, a pleasure and a responsibility at the same time. And for this interview it means: It is my first interview as Professor Roland Fleck. And thus a real premiere for ‘Exhibition Showcase’ as well!