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January 25, 2007
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NEC Group adopts bolder angle




The recent reinstated NEC Group Annual Media Lunch threw up more than the usual operational and financial spin, hinting at a future strategy that includes a far more competitive stance with respect to London and event organisers.

Held last week at the International Convention Centre (ICC) in the heart of Birmingham, the press was treated to an immaculately presented public relations event by the new management team under chief executive Paul Thandi. However, there was a definite undertone that the NEC Group is about to put its money where its mouth is and tackle years of being pushed into the shadow of London (and being ignored by elements of the exhibition organising community) by creating competition to spice up the market and add new revenues to the Group's finances.

For starters…

First up in front of the judges was Mr T`s instrument of finance, chairman Martin Angle. A seasoned FTSE-100 finance director with a pedigree spanning the private equity group Terra Firma, Le Meridien Group and The Waste Recycling Group, Angle hit every soundbite in the bullseye:

• Local lad made good (the regional press will love that after giving Andrew Morris such a rough ride);
• Route to institutional investment, presumably to fund the ‘corporate playground’ (Thandi will love that);
• A commitment to growing the industry and promoting the live medium itself (now even we love him).

Yes, it was all there! Good start.


But the really punchy stuff had to wait until Thandi rose for the second time to put a few things straight. He reaffirmed his claim that the ICC is the UK`s foremost venue for international conferences. And that while its focus is very much on the lucrative markets served up by the medical, the IT, and the new ‘green’ lobbies, international competition remains extremely fierce. The NIA is enjoying a resurgence in popular music culture and concerts in part, resulting from extended 3G downloads among the youth market, and this coincides neatly with the well received brand refresh, which has helped to reposition the Group as a provider of experiential facilities rather than temporary real estate.

Further confirmation followed: that Sally Davis will continue to serve up good nosh, whatever the weather; the usual statistical confirmation that inward investment resulting from the Group`s facilities is £1.3 billion per annum; and that the Group creates over 22,000 full-time jobs in the region.

 

The main course 

Then came the meaty stuff, with Thandi’s assertion of the need to take the facilities to the "third generation". He explained that the NEC is gathering data across its facilities in order to understand better the service needs of "the customer". So the event organisers deliver an audience, the venue gleans the knowledge/data, and then delivers better services as a result of this knowledge back to both the visitor or the organiser, be that infrastructure in the halls, exhibitor services, catering or marketing support.

If you then add the recent worst-kept secrets about the arrival of in-house contracting and other services, such as AV, the Group is sufficiently poised to take its future into its own hands, by taking the thorny issue of growing the exhibition industry head on and launching its own services and businesses.

By adopting the role of catalyst in an industry it clearly deems as slow to embrace such changing business and consumer dynamics, the new management team are clearly throwing down the gauntlet and inviting the industry to join in the challenge of growing the sector. While the regional media gently stroked their chins, the editors of Event and Exhibition News were clearly animated.

 

Dessert? Well almost… 

Then came mention of The Masterplan – but the carrot was merely dangled. No specific details were forthcoming, but there was reassurance that when it is launched it will be the NEC Group`s "era of self expression" and that in the meantime "having dealt with the health of the company, now was the time to address the wealth of the company" and move the Group onto a more competitive business footing.

Paul Thandi completed his muscle-flexing address (during the same week that Apple’s Steve Jobs announced record quarterly profits of £500 million off the back of the iRange) by pointing out that when Apple’s Steve Jobs announced to the mobile phone industry that he was entering the handset market with the iPod, his competitors (Nokia, Ericsson and Motorola) welcomed the competition because they saw it as a catalyst for sector growth. He then stated that, as industry leaders, the NEC Group wants to stimulate sector growth, and like Apple, if that means throwing the NEC hat into the industry ring as a competitive catalyst, then so be it.

At the same time as ExCeL completes its own charm offensive among the organising community to secure funding for its own next generation facilities, it would appear that Thandi just shed his milk teeth.

As third generation venues approach, has the battle for middle earth has begun?


To see the recent Paul Thandi interview and more, please click on the NEC Group logo at the top of this page.




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