Trade Show Leader: Exhibition Services & Contractors Association’s Larry Arnaudet
Larry Arnaudet has spent more than 45 years in the meetings and convention industry, starting in 1970 with Manncraft Exhibitors Services in New Orleans.
When Manncraft was purchased by Greyhound Exposition Services (GES) in 1972, Arnaudet remained with the company and was promoted through a series of positions in warehouse operations, drafting and design, show site operations, sales and executive management.
In 1979, he was named regional vice president, Southwest Region of GES, based in New Orleans.
In 1981, Freeman Decorating Company purchased the eastern half of GES and Arnaudet assumed the position of general manager of the New Orleans office. He was promoted to regional vice president in 1982 and was named vice president, Sales Administration in 1983.
In 1987, Arnaudet was promoted to vice president sales for The Freeman Companies, relocating to the Corporate Offices in Dallas.
In 2001, Arnaudet was promoted to executive vice president of sales, with responsibilities of directing and overseeing the sales activities and direction for Freeman’s 26 North American sales operations and 250+ member sales team.
Arnaudet served on Freeman’s Long Range Planning Committee, Executive Committee and Board of Directors. He was presented with the Buck Freeman Award in 1992 for his outstanding contributions to the company.
Arnaudet has served on the Exhibition Services & Contractors Association Board of Directors in the positions of board member, secretary-treasurer, vice president and president and also served as Annual Meeting program chairman for the ESCA Annual Summer Educational Conference for five years.
In 2004, Arnaudet took early retirement from Freeman, established The Arnaudet Group and joined The Augusta Group and in 2005. Shortly thereafter, he and associate Don Vaughn started a new division, Augusta Group Management (AGM). In 2006 AGM assumed association management of ESCA and Arnaudet named executive director.
In 2014, Arnaudet was presented with the ESCA Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to the exhibition and meetings industry during his 45-year career.
Luckily, Arnaudet took a break from his busy schedule to answer some questions about his time in the industry so far.
TSNN: How did you get started in the industry?
Arnaudet: Spring of 1970, after going through basic training at Fort Dix New Jersey and serving time in the Army National Guard, it became obvious that a rewarding career was not to be found in my hometown of Jennings, LA. Mary Lee, my wife of 48 years today (God bless her), and I made a decision that moving to her hometown of New Orleans was the logical move for even better career opportunities. After using all of my valuable coin collection to pay for parking at the employment office the last day, I accepted an inside sales position with a material handling and packaging supplies company. Soon after I met the GM of a good client of ours, Manncraft Exhibitors Service. What was related to me about the industry seemed quite interesting (much more so than selling cardboard boxes and casters) so I accepted their offer to make the move … and increased my salary significantly up to $1300.00 a month! I can still remember riding my motorcycle up the loading dock ramp and into the Rivergate (now Harrah’s Casino) and thinking that I had never seen anything like this mammoth structure they called a convention center. It seemed to me at the time to be half as large as the town of Jennings. Beginning as a warehouse worker, then working my up the chain to draftsman, foreman, general foreman and sales I finally ended-up as GM of the operation two years later, after we were acquired by the Greyhound Corporation and ultimately became GES. After eleven (11) years with GES, I was part of the “eastern half” of GES that was acquired by Freeman Decorating Company in 1981.
TSNN: How different was the industry when you started, compared with today?
Arnaudet: I would have to say that the differences are so great that it’s hardly the same business as it was in the 70s. Technology had not appeared in the service contracting industry yet. No. 1, computers had not made their way into the exhibitions and meeting industry at that time, at least not with service contractors. Virtually everything we did back then was done manually. Not to mention the fact that electric scooters and 3 pound Motorola walkie-talkies were scarce back then, so much of our days were spent walking miles just to talk to a co-worker or exhibitor on the show floor. Oh, the fond memories of working at the service desk all night helping to handwrite exhibitors’ invoices are still vivid in my mind. And 24-48 hour shifts were the norm every time a large event came to town. Three days without sleep during the move-in of the 2nd Annual SHOT Show in the Superdome was one of the toughest times I can recall. Then again, having to retrieve empty crates that were floating down Canal Street during the break of the National Cable Television Show in the middle of a hurricane is also a fond memory. The first “rental exhibits” were just making the scene and signs were hand-painted or made on a sign press. The “Face to Face Marketing” had not even been created yet.
TSNN: What are some of the lessons you have learned being a part of this industry?
Arnaudet: Looking back over 47 years the best lessons I’ve learned are actually quite simple … (1) in the service contracting end of this industry advancement and success are a function of how hard you are willing to work and how you treat others, (2) so much of your success depends upon the strength of relationships you make along the way and (3) you must stay current with the innovations and advances in technology that are shaping the industry.
TSNN: What is your favorite part of being in the industry?
Arnaudet: The people in this industry are a fantastic group of individuals. That truly extends from the bottom to the top within all sectors of the industry. Everything I’ve learned has come from knowing the brilliant people that I’ve had the pleasure of working with over the years. They were/are always willing to share their knowledge and experiences. Funny thing is that I have never dreaded going to work in the mornings, because I have always looked at this as more of a hobby than a job. It has never been thought of as work.
TSNN: Anything you miss that you wish was still around?
Arnaudet: There’s a feeling I always got when we “cut the ribbon” to open an event after months of planning and days/weeks of hard work that is hard to beat. I suspect that many in our industry still get that “lift” on a regular basis.
TSNN: Anything you are thrilled went away?
Arnaudet: Although I’m not really thrilled about it, the days/weeks/months away from my family and friends are not “missed”. My last year “in the trenches” I spent all or part of 280 days on the road. It was part of the commitment that I felt was necessary to share my experience with the younger and newer people in the industry. Although I don’t necessarily miss the sacrifices, I’ll never regret a day of it!
TSNN: What do you hope your personal impact on the industry is?
Arnaudet: Not sure I ever really had an impact on the industry, but I was instrumental in a number of innovations over the years … the first automated exhibitor invoicing system, the first automated sales tracking system, first automated event organizer order and invoicing system, the only industry wide worker identification badge system (ESCA WIS) and now the Exhibition & Meetings Industry Safety & Security Initiative (EMSSI). All of these innovations have and will continue to significantly impact our industry.
TSNN: Any wise words about what this industry means to you overall?
Arnaudet: After all these years I’m still just a country boy trying to make it in the city, but have to admit that “There’s No Business Like Show Business”!