Spotlight on Leaders and Trends

Interviews

President, The Russian Union of Exhibitions and Fairs (RUE)

Sergey Alexeev

Interview by Barry Siskind on 2 June 2014

My first visit to Russia was in 2005 when I attended UFI’s Congress in Moscow. I was intrigued at the breadth of the exhibition industry and left wanting to learn more. My interview with Sergey Alexeev goes a long way in that direction.

Sergey Alexeev graduated from Plekhanov Mineral Resources Institute of Leningrad and the LeningradHigherPartySchool and completed business courses in Hamburg (Germany) and Osaka (Japan). After graduating from the Institute, Sergey worked in different organizations in Leningrad. From 1986 until 2012 he was Director General, PJSC “Lenexpo”. During this time the exhibition complex was totally renewed and the exhibition programme was created.

In 1991 Sergey was elected president of the Russian Union of Exhibitions and Fairs. Since 2009, he has been the Chair of the European Regional Chapter of UFI, the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry.

Sergey was awarded the Order of Honour, the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit (Poland), the Medal “In memory of 300th anniversary of Saint-Petersburg”, the Honorary Diploma of the Legislative Assembly of Saint-Petersburg, the Honorary Commendation of the Ministry of Economic Development of the Russian Federation, the Honorary Commendation of the Governor of Saint-Petersburg and the Mark of Distinction “For Merit to Saint-Petersburg”. He is married, he has a son.

Sergey’s openness at answering my questions helped fill many of the knowledge gaps in my mind.

Sergey’s background

Barry: Tell me a bit about your background.

Sergey: I was born in Leningrad shortly after World War II (we call it the Great Patriotic War). My father took part in two wars: the Finnish War and WWII. He was seriously wounded and during the Finnish War he caught tuberculosis. My mother lived in Leningrad during the siege and her health deteriorated. Because of this, so I had to study at a boarding school, then at a vocational school, where workers are trained. After I graduated from school I started working in a factory producing TV sets and in the evenings I studied at university.

I learned to play the clarinet at the boarding school, attended music school and played in the school orchestra. When I was 14 years old, I heard jazz for the first time and instantly loved this music. I learned to play the saxophone and later started playing jazz in various clubs, dance halls and restaurants.

The school paid a lot of attention to sports. I started swimming while studying there and achieved some success in this sport. In Leningrad many people are engaged in water sports since childhood. Growing up, I became involved in sailing and for almost40 years I’ve been sailing different seas of the world.
I am married and have a son.

Barry: What subject did you major in at university?

Sergey: I graduated from Plekhanov State Mining Institute of Leningrad where I majored in “Hydrogeology and Engineering Geology”. But my life took a different turn and I was invited to work in a youth organization (Komsomol), and then I earned a second degree in economics.

Barry: What was your original career goal?

Sergey: My original career goal was to play the clarinet in a classical music orchestra, and later I wanted to become a geologist.

Barry: Your biography states that after graduation you worked in “different organizations in Leningrad.” Who did you work for and what did you do?

Sergey: I got a lot of managing experience working in city youth organizations (Komsomol is similar to a boy-scout organization). We organized sporting events, concerts, exhibitions, meetings with foreign youth and excursions.

Barry: What led you to the events industry?

Sergey: I joined the exhibition and congress industry by chance. In 1986 I decided to change my job. I was working with the city administration and they asked me to head the local exhibition centre, which was quite deserted. The city was the owner of pavilions, but exhibitions were organized by the Moscow Expocentre. This was how I became a ZAO Expocentre employee. In 1989 I founded Lenexpo JSC. The city transferred the pavilions to it and Expocentre gave us permission to organize our own international exhibitions. It took a lot of effort to build a modern exhibition centre. We were one of the few who could get a cash loan (rates reached 25% in dollars at that time), build the centre and repay the loan. While I was the head of Lenexpo the company’s turnover increased 40 times. In 2010, St. Petersburg’s Governor signed an agreement with Gazprom JSC to build a new exhibition centre. As a result the ExpoForum Company was created and I recommended its merger with Lenexpo. Since 2012 I’ve been working as a vice-president of this new company.

Barry: From 1986 to 2012 you were the Director General of PJSC Lenexpo. Please describe the changes in the exhibition programme during your tenure.

Sergey: Until 1989 we didn’t organize international exhibitions but only provided services on-site. Building up Lenexpo we conducted market research, created the structure of the company based on the German exhibition model, began 30 new projects, and signed agreements with foreign and Russian companies to host guest exhibitions. Among our largest exhibitions were: Agrorus, Neva (shipbuilding), Russian Industrialist, Energetika & Electrotechnika, Welding, Ecology and Interstroy. We became actively associated with Messe Frankfurt, Messe Düsseldorf, Reed, ITE and EJ Krause. We totally rebuilt the fairgrounds, added fivenew pavilions, a congress centre, and renewed the entire infrastructure. This allowed us to host not only exhibitions, but also congresses such as St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.

Barry: You have been the recipient of many awards and honours. What does it mean to you to be the recipient of such recognition?Sergey: I am pleased to be recognized for starting new projects, social activities, and developing international relations as I’ve spent a lot of time working in different organizations.
Barry: Which honour has the most meaning for you? Why?
Sergey: The most important ones for me are the Medal “In Commemoration of the 300th Anniversary of Saint Petersburg” and the Mark of Distinction for merit to Saint Petersburg, because for almost 200 years my ancestors served the city.

Barry: You are actively involved in many organizations such as the Russian Union of Exhibitions and Fairs, UFI, the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, and the Chamber of Commerce for Saint – Petersburg. How do you find the time to be so involved
Sergey: I have almost no free time, but the busier I get, the more interesting it is to live.

Business in Russia

Barry: How easy is it for a foreign organizer to do business in Russia?
Sergey: Russia today is more open than ever before and it is of great interest to foreign organizers and exhibitors as an emerging and promising exhibition and sales market.
Each company should find its own model for doing business in Russia; however it is important to note that there’s nothing special, nothing different from other countries, when starting a business in Russia. One should comply with the law and evaluate local partners as it should always be done..

Barry: How does the issue of culture affect the business environment in Russia?
Sergey: Culture and business are very interrelated in Russia. Heads of most companies have a university education, and sometimes even have more than one degree. Historically, education in Russia is on a very high level. Most company heads speak foreign languages and have finished various business courses in the USA, Europe and other countries.

Barry: How do Russian trade fair venues compare to those in other parts of the world? Are these facilities capable of hosting larger exhibitions?
Sergey: The Russian economy has great potential which is proved by industry statistical data. Lately the number of foreign companies entering our market has been growing. The process of industry diversification is underway, and the purchasing power and incomes of the general population are rising. As a board member of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, I can provide you with information on various industry sectors.
For example, there are 27 exhibition and congress centers among the RUEF members from Russia. Unfortunately, more than 50% of them are still concentrated in Moscow (according to hall space area). In some Russian regions events are held in spaces not intended for this purpose. However it is necessary to note that recently many new, modern, international exhibition centers were opened in Russian regions, for example in Ekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, Ufa, and Vladivostok. The construction of the “ExpoForum” exhibition and congress centre in Saint – Petersburg is almost finished. This will be the foundation upon which Saint – Petersburg will become one of the world capitals for the exhibition and congress industry. Transport, hotel and other infrastructure is developing in Russian cities simultaneously with exhibition facilities.

Barry: What would surprise exhibition professionals about doing business in Russia?
Sergey: Russia is huge and versatile, and every region has its own specific features not only in the exhibition and economic spheres, but also in the lifestyles in general. So far the majority of foreign organizers and exhibitors (more than 80%) have been conducting business only in Moscow. The significant economic and scientific potential of the Russian regions may surprise foreign companies. Each region has its own special features. Companies from all over the world can choose a region which will meet their business development needs and goals. To help foreign companies understand Russia and its regions better, RUEF publishes “We welcome your cooperation” brochure which can be found on the RUEF website.
A Career in Exhibitions

Barry: Are students in Russia interested in exhibitions as a career?
Sergey: According to our data (based on the examples of Saint-Petersburg, Saransk, Yekaterinburg, Izhevsk and Chita cities) students are very interested in exhibition and congress activities and consider it quite a promising direction as a career.

Barry: What motivates them?
Sergey: They are motivated by new interesting jobs, opportunities to express themselves, to be able to work in marketing, advertising, public relations, sales, and to participate in international projects. They are excited about our industry’s huge potential for communication. They understand that the first one to receive an education majoring in exhibition studies (whenthere is such an opportunity) will have very good prospects and a great head start over others in terms of career growth.

Barry: Do universities provide enough training in MICE related topics?
Sergey: No, they don’t. First of all, MICE-related subjects are taught only in a few higher education institutions in Russia, mostly by enthusiasts. Second, these subjects are not taught by exhibition professionals (although there are rare exceptions), but by theorists. And third, even these theorists are not theorists in the exhibition sphere, but in the sphere of marketing, advertisement, design, etc.

Barry: What could universities do to create more demand for MICE graduates?
Sergey: I think that universities should become closer to the business sector. They should find out what specialists are needed and develop a strategy to train the required business professionals. Universities shouldn’t stew in their own juice; they should participate in business events related to education issues. But we know from our own experience how unwillingthey are to get involved. There should be thorough, well rounded programmes developed by the Ministry of Education and Science and run according to a regularly updated strategic plan. Universities should also organize internships for students with exhibition companies.

Barry: What could the industry do to promote the benefits of a career in exhibitions to younger people in Russia?
Sergey: There are several ways our industry can show its potential to young professionals.
– Visit universities and find teachers who are interested in adding exhibitions to their programs. Then create educational programs with them, with support and approval of the academic hierarchy;
– Invite students to work at exhibitions, showingthem onsitehow interesting this business really is;
– Communicate with students and student organizations directly;
– Organize students’ internships at exhibition companies;
– Suggest university students majoring in tourism, advertising, PR, marketing, hotel management, international relations and economics devote their term papers and theses to subjects related to the exhibition business.
On success

Barry: What business book had the most impact on your career?
Sergey: My favorite book is “Blue Ocean Strategy” by Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne.

Barry: What book are you reading now?
Sergey: I’m reading “The Future of Capitalism” by Lester Thurow and “Leading the Way to the Third Industrial Revolution” by Jeremy Rifkin.

Barry: Did you have a mentor who was able to guide your career? If so, what was the most valuable thing you learned from this individual?
Sergey: I’ve had many friends and mentors both in Russia and abroad in Hamburg and Osaka where I completed many business courses. I am very grateful to my friends. I was lucky to meet my colleagues at Expocentre who taught me how to work in the exhibition business. We created RUEF in 1991. Meetings with colleagues have enriched my experience and knowledge. Since 1993, I’ve been participating in UFI meetings. These are invaluable opportunities for professional growth, and it is especially important for me to be a member of the Executive Committee and the Chair of the European Chapter of UFI. Willingness to be on par with colleagues makes us constantly improve our skills. I’ve met many wonderful people at UFI, with whom I am friends. UFI provides a unique opportunity for informal communication and an opportunity to see the modern world from a different perspective.
The future

Barry: What is your forecast for the future of the exhibition industry in Russia?
Sergey: Today we are witnessing a slowdown in the Russian economy which is the cause of some concern. But despite general economic trends, the growth rate of the exhibition industry in Russia is about 8% per year which is much higher than the growth rate of Russia’s GDP. Our forecast for the near future is also positive. We see an increasing interest expressed by the Russian federal and regional authorities towards the development of the exhibition industry in our country and towards the construction of new exhibition and convention centers in the regions. There is an improvement of the regulatory framework of the industry, and versatile facilitating of the work of the MICE industry representatives in Russia. The Russian exhibition market is becoming more transparent and civilized; and industry representatives are constantly improving their skills. In addition, a survey of exhibition organizers who are members of RUEF revealed that more than 70% of them expect revenue growth in 2014. All of this allows us to have a positive outlook for the future.

Press Contact

For additional information please contact:

Ms Angela Herberholz
UFI Communications and Marketing Manager
17, rue Louise Michel
92300 Levallois-Perret, France
Phone: (33) 1 46 39 75 00
Email: angela@ufi.org