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SISO CEO Summit 2022 Draws Hundreds of Industry Execs for Impactful Agenda

April 7, 2022

The Society of Independent Show Organizers (SISO) CEO Summit, the most important annual networking and information-sharing event for show organizers, took place in person last month for the first time in two years, bringing hundreds of eager attendees together for an experience punctuated by exceptional content and optimism for the industry’s continued recovery and evolution.

More than 300 independent show organizers and C-level executives from sponsoring companies gathered for the three-day event, held March 21-24 at The Vinoy Renaissance Resort and Golf Club in St. Petersburg, Fla.

“After the last two years, you could tell that everyone was extremely happy to be back together in person,” said SISO CEO David Audrain. “The SISO CEO Summit is the largest and most recognized annual gathering of the leaders in our industry, and this week, it was most definitely back to business for us all!”

CEOs from all major independent organizers were in attendance, including Informa Markets CEO Charlie McCurdy, RX Global CEO Hugh Jones, Emerald CEO and President Hervé Sedky, Tarsus Group CEO Doug Emslie, Clarion Events CEO Russell Wilcox and Diversified Communications CEO Ted Wirth.

“It has been a true honor to serve with such a talented group of professionals as we have worked together over the past year to address the many challenges facing the exhibit and trade show industry,” said Sedky, outgoing chair of the SISO Board of Directors. “This effort is a testament to the resiliency of our collective strength, as we have not only returned to safely staging successful in-person events during the ongoing pandemic but have also helped SISO to serve as an incubator of thought-provoking discussions focused on greater sustainability initiatives, advocacy support and diversity and inclusion for our association, community and industry.”

New Chair, Continued Progress

Sedkey handed the reins to SISO’s incoming chair, Cassandra Farrington, president of Anne Holland Ventures and co-founder, strategic advisor and board chair emeritus of MJBiz, which was sold to Emerald in January.

Farrington grew MJBiz, serving the business side of the cannabis and hemp industries, into one of the most successful privately held companies in the U.S., consisting of several publishing entities and MJBizCon, the fastest-growing convention in the U.S. since 2012.

One of Farrington’s top priorities as the new chair of SISO will be making sure the beneficial initiatives that have been established through SISO’s guidance continue long into the industry’s post-pandemic future.

“Our industry has come through a rough couple of years,” Farrington said. “SISO has been a key player in the community-building and the advocacy work that has been instrumental to pulling us all through COVID.”

Farrington added that she represents a different side of SISO than the individuals who are typically in the chair role, coming from a small-business entrepreneurial mindset and being a female leader in the industry.

“These cohorts are a critical part of the ecosystem of our industry, fueling growth and innovation each in their own ways,” she said. “As the chair, I’m excited to represent and advocate for what these groups need within the broader SISO community to ensure they can continue to thrive and fulfill their important roles to keep the organization strong.”

In addition to navigating the receding pandemic, Farrington plans to help the industry tackle the new shared challenges created by the instability in the geopolitical environment.

“I look forward to working with the SISO community to approach these challenges collectively, thereby giving all our members the benefit of the best ideas and cohesive solutions,” she said.

Meanwhile, numerous leaders on the sponsor side attended the summit, including Las Vegas Convention Visitors Authority VP of Business Sales John Schreiber, ASM Global EVP of Convention Centers Bob McClintock, New York Convention Center Operating Corporation President and CEO Alan Steel, Freeman President Bob Priest-Heck, Berkery Noyes Investment Bankers Managing Director David Loechner and Orange County Convention Center Executive Director Mark Tester, to name a few.

Impressive Content

Two important half-day forums kicked off the summit: the Small Business Roundtable and the Women’s Executive Forum.

The Small Business Roundtable featured programming developed by Small Business Special Interest Group (SIG) Co-Chairs Phil McKay, president and CEO of nGage Events, and Stephanie Everett, COO and partner of ExpoDevCo. The roundtable was jam-packed with content geared toward the key issues impacting small businesses, including ongoing pandemic issues, the road to recovery, staffing and recruiting, virtual and hybrid events and the path to profitable year-round community models and new business development.

The Women’s Executive Forum featured programming developed by Women’s SIG Chair Rachel Wimberly, EVP of business development, Tarsus Group US.

"I am honored to have been tapped to oversee the Women's SIG for SISO, which includes working with a fantastic group of people to help plan the SISO CEO Summit's Women's Executive Forum," Wimberly said. "This year's focus was on ‘managing through a crisis.’”

The Women’s Executive Forum featured a keynote, Non-Negotiable Tools for Mental and Emotional Fitness, by Leigh Weinraub, founder of Mind in Motion, followed by a panel, Managing Through a Crisis, featuring females executives from Informa Markets, Diversified Communications and RX. The afternoon was capped off with Wimberley interviewing Farrington about MJBizCon and how she helped it become one of the fastest-growing shows in the U.S. as well as her plans as SISO chair to drive more women into leadership positions in the industry.  

During the rest of the summit, other programming covered a wide range of topics, including the new normal for events, the future course of the pandemic, using data to grow audience and community, and the state of mergers and acquisitions.

Krakoff Award

During the summit, Tarsus Group’s Emslie presented SISO’s Robert L. Krakoff Industry Award of Excellence to Lew Shomer, chairman, 5Net4 Productions. Shomer was executive director of SISO from 2009 to 2015 and chairman of SISO in 2004 and served on the SISO Board of Directors for nine years. His firm produces the Abilities Expo, a consumer show that brings ability-enhancing products and services to the community of people with disabilities. The expo is held annually in seven major U.S. cities.

The award is named in honor of industry legend Robert L. Krakoff, who built and ran some of the most successful businesses in the exhibition industry.

“The Robert L. Krakoff award is the most prestigious award for for-profit organizers,” Emslie said. “It’s for an outstanding individual who has shown leadership and innovation and who has made a major contribution to our industry. Lew Shomer has not only done this in building his own business but also in the way he relentlessly rebuilt SISO to what it is today.”

“SISO changed the direction of my career, but the people I have met through SISO have become my closest friends, and in our industry it’s the most important aspect of doing business,” Shomer said upon receiving the award. “Thanks to the board and membership.”

Photo (left to right): David Audrain, Doug Emslie, Lew Shomer, Cassandra Farrington, Hervé Sedky 

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