EN editor Saul Leese speaks to the new CEO at Reed Exhibitions about his new role and his vision for the business.
In his first, exclusive interview since arriving in the UK, Reed Exhibitions new CEO, Hugh Jones explains that he has a strong background in technology and that he intends to use some of the key ideas pioneered by Accuity/RELX to modernise events, and improve customer experiences across Reed Exhibitions.
The father of three from Buffalo, New York, said: “Think about the future. Imagine if you have an app on your phone and you’re walking down the corridor of an exhibition, and the app on your phone says this exhibit is somewhere you should stop, and that they are available to speak to you right now, and the exhibitor has also seen who you are and they have already preselected that they would like to speak to you. For me, it’s about making sure that people can figure out the best use of their time at an exhibition.
“The same applies to an exhibitor, because we want to help them to understand which exhibitions are the most relevant to them and help them to find their best customers. If you can bring data and AI into exhibitions and use that technology all over the world, that matchmaking technology can bring value and efficiency to our visitors, and make it more fun.”
Jones joined RELX in 2011 when it acquired Accuity, where he was serving as CEO. Most recently, he has been the global MD for Accuity, Cirium, Estates Gazette (EG) and ICIS – all part of Risk & Business Analytics, a division of RELX.
How is Reed going to technically change?
Jones explains that being part of RELX has distinct advantages, he adds: “We are not simply Reed Exhibitions, we are an important, large division of RELX Plc, one of the most sophisticated companies in the world at massive, supercomputer and data computation. Our understanding of AI, and our work around HPCC, which is one of our supercomputing powerhouses, our data intake and we have LexisNexis, we have some advantages because those tech hubs are already there.
“I don’t have to build it, it’s built. I can call my buddies and ask them to help me here. I don’t have to build it from scratch. I have the architecture, I have the infrastructure, I have the security and I have the capital to do it, I just have to repurpose it. Once you’ve built it, that’s your service base.”
How are you going to approach events within the company?
“The world follows a distribution curve and there aren’t many businesses that buck that trend. When you have market leaders, you ask yourself what are they doing well? What can we leverage from them? How can I make them better? Can I geo-locate? Can I learn from what they’re doing and apply that learning to the events that aren’t doing well? What commitment did we make to these events, as we don’t just walk away. Are they trending in a way that we think they will have a natural home here? Then you have some events where the time has passed, and you do need to manage your portfolio or your customers will.
“There are some advantages to having so many shows; if there’s a sector that becomes weak, there’s normally a sector that’s not weak. We have so many shows that you do have a sense of cadence, and you do have some flattening because you place so many bets. But over time, there are shows that need to be refreshed and there are shows that need to be expanded.”
Does Jones believe in only having market leading shows?
“I have a finite number of resources and we do need to choose to be profitable and growing. But do I need to keep an event if it’s not number one in its category? I think that if you deploy that strategy, you don’t place enough bets, and I think because we don’t know the effects of clean energy, cybersecurity, Brexit etc. if you don’t place bets, I don’t think you’re going to be there when something does actually bloom. If you do place bets, you have to be ready to fail, and when you fail celebrate it because you’ll be a better executive tomorrow. I feel that being a part of being a good CEO is that you have to explore.”
What’s your vision for your global offices?
“The first is an ethical vision, I want all of our offices to do business ethically, we don’t bribe, we don’t let people into the exhibitions that shouldn’t be in them, we don’t chain fire doors because we don’t want to pay for security. There are ways the world should behave; I’m interested in you telling me not what the next show should be but what is the customer problem we are trying to solve, and what are they telling us about their needs being met? I just want to hear what’s not being fulfilled, and then we’ll figure out if we have the resources to fulfil and then we place our bets. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in our office in Brazil or Shanghai to have that conversation.”
Jones concludes: “I’m looking forward to bringing more increasingly sophisticated data-led analytics and technology to more customers around the world. Exhibitions is an exciting, entrepreneurial industry, and the fundamentals of the business are excellent. Combining the best of face-to-face connections with technology and rich data analytics will provide new value to our more than seven million exhibitors and visitors.
“This ensures that their investment of time and resource in our exhibitions becomes even more valuable, efficient and relevant to their individual needs, ensuring that they grow their business.”
Former Reed CEO, Chet Burchett, is returning to Texas after a five-year stint at the top, and is a 15-year-veteran of Reed Exhibitions. He will serve as non-executive chairman throughout 2020, focusing on special projects and providing transitional support to Jones.
He said: “It has been an honour to lead the team at Reed Exhibitions and a privilege to serve the company. Hugh is a proven CEO and well-recognised for an outstanding track record of driving growth. Coming from a business where the importance of data analytics and product-driven innovation is paramount, he will be a fantastic leader for the company.”
Jones also spoke of his concerns about the recent outbreak of the coronavirus explaining that he is receiving daily updates, he will not jeopardise the health of any of his employees or visitors and would rather postpone those events if necessary. He will directly report to RELX CEO Erik Engstrom.