Spotlight on Leaders and Trends

The world of exhibitions is filled with stories of amazing people.

Some enjoy universal recognition while others prefer to remain in the background  doing their part to make our industry stronger. UFI is proud to introduce a  new initiative called, "Spotlight on Leaders and Trends."

UFI's Barry Siskind, will take an in-depth look at the life and  career of one of these key industry figures. This will focus on the key  issues we face through the vision of those who are working hard to make our  exhibition industry responsive and dynamic.

Amer N. Tabbah, Managing Director of SOFEX,
The Special Operations Forces Exhibition and Conference

Interviewed By: Barry Siskind, UFILive Community Manager (22/12/2012)

What does it take to organize one of the world’s biggest military show?

That was the focus of my conversation with Amer N. Tabbah, Managing Director of SOFEX – The Special Operations Forces Exhibition and Conference. In talking to Amer at UFI’s Congress in Abu Dhabi, I understood why he, and many of us, chose a career path in exhibition organization. His candor was refreshing, his passion for business contagious and his love of country inspiring. I hope you will sense all this as you read his answers to my interview questions.

Barry: Where were you educated?
Amer: I was lucky to complete my education on three continents: I started in Lebanon where I attended high school, then I earned my bachelor degree in science and engineering from Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland and finally completed my graduate studies in engineering and management at the University of Tucson, Arizona, USA.

Barry: Tell me a bit about your family?
Amer: I come from a multicultural family with a long tradition in the services industries not only locally but also regionally and internationally. The tradition continues with my children who have both travelled abroad for their college education and their quest for multicultural and interdisciplinary experiences. I am not sure whether either of my children will follow me into the family business.

Barry: What were your early career aspirations?
Amer: Like every young boy, I wanted to be an astronaut and conquer the universe. My interests in management and direct interaction with people naturally guided me to the various positions I have held.

Barry: With your early wide and diversified business experience, what were some of the challenges you faced in the various industries you were involved with and how did you deal with them?
Amer: I am privileged to have worked in various sectors and in numerous settings in my career. I have been involved in civil engineering, maintenance, hospitality and catering, hospital management, drinking water industry, cement trading, investment banking and now in exhibition management. I had the chance to move around from the Gulf and North Africa to Europe, the United States and the Middle East. These diversified experiences have taught me to always expect the unexpected be it in the field or in the boardroom. The challenges were plentiful; and sometimes contrasting depending on the sector of activity and the location but diligence, flexibility, adaptability and having my feet firmly on the ground were the major traits that kept me ahead of the curve.

Barry: You joined the SOFEX team in 2004. What attracted you to the business of running an exhibition? Why the military sector?
Amer: I came to SOFEX – and the exhibition industry – at the suggestion of the SOFEX board of directors so the move to the exhibition industry and defense came in one package. It came at a point in my career when I needed a new challenge and exhibition management sounded very exciting. Up until then , I was only familiar with it from a consumer/users point of view. This challenge allowed my to apply all the diverse and multidisciplinary international experiences I have had growing many industries in Jordan. I guess there was a sense of patriotism as well in my accepting this new assignment.

Barry: You describe SOFEX as having three products: the exhibition, the conference and the warrior competition. Will you please give me a few more details about each and how the three complement each other?
Amer: The exhibition industry ultimately acts as a supply and demand broker with both sides being the client with different demands and expectations. As such, in order to complete or close the circle for the clients we organize these three complementary events. We allow the showcasing of the latest equipment, innovations and services (the exhibitions), discuss the future of the industry and give advice on the real life application of equipment and services (the conference), and spice it up with skills demonstrations (the warrior competition).
We sought to make SOFEX (which, by the way, is a G2G niche event that is only open to trade visitors) a unique biennial rendezvous for open discussion and exchange of views and experiences under the motto, “Networking for global security”. Building on the privileged position that Jordan enjoys internationally, we have succeeded in that objective as SOFEX attracts industry leaders from more than sixty nations to Amman.

Barry: Many organizers find the idea of a competition an appealing addition to their conferences and exhibitions. How did the idea emerge? What were some of the challenges you faced implementing this feature. Can the same principles you used to create the warrior competition be used in other industries? How so?
Amer: The ideas stated above can indeed be applied to other sectors in other industries to give the clients a complete experience and insights on yesterday’s, today’s and tomorrow’s equipment, services and their applications.

Barry: Do you divide the marketing and management of these three products into separate teams or is it run by one overall management committee?
Amer: We partner with global leaders in our events. While the organization of the exhibition is solely done by the SOFEX team, we team up with KASOTC – The King Abdullah Special Operations Training Center (the venue for the competition), for the organization of the warrior competition and have teamed up with the Institute of Near East and Gulf Military Analysis for the past three editions for the organization of the conference.

Barry: How important is social media to SOFEX?
Amer: Due to the nature and sensitivity of the events and the fact that they are not open to the general public, we have been shy in using social media so far. We are currently evaluating the best way to enter the public domain.

Barry: Have you faced any challenges in recruiting staff for SOFEX?
Amer: The fact that SOFEX is a national event in Jordan and boasts a wide international recognition has made it relatively easy for us to recruit qualified staff. We have a very high staff retention rate, in fact the SOFEX staff frequently gets offers from other event organizers.

Barry: If you could predict SOFEX’s future. What would it look like five years from now?
Amer: SOFEX is a “boutique event,” that will continue to lead in its niche because it serves the global community. I believe the industry trends are moving more and more towards such niche events. This is reflected in the steady growth experienced at SOFEX: 300% growth in space and 200% growth in number of exhibitors since 2004.

Barry: What surprised you the most about organizing an exhibition?
Amer: Being new to the industry, everything surprised me. The main difference I found with from industries is the exhibition industry’s close sensitivity and quick reaction to the global and regional trends and cycles.

Barry: What are the benefits you get from your involvement with UFI and the Arab Union for International Exhibitions and Conferences?
Amer: Meeting with like-minded people. Jordan is young in the exhibition industry so being part of an association teaches me a lot that I can use myself and take back to help other Jordanian organizers.

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