<b><i>Analysis</i></b>–Buchan ready to build up Excel

Excel’s new chief has no experience in exhibitions, but experts don’t think that will be a problem, writes Philip Chadwick

The news that Jamie Buchan is the new chief executive at Excel brings to an end the six-month search for a successor to Iain Shearer, who now switches to the deputy chairman post at the venue in London’s Docklands. Buchan’s background is largely in marketing and he has spent most of his career at Esso. From 1981 to 1995 he held senior positions in the company’s property, operations and retail divisions. In the latter he was involved with the group’s convenience shops. Since then he has held board positions in marketing, sales and strategy at the offshore gas company Ocean Group and at Centrica. Under the Centrica umbrella, Buchan worked as marketing director for British Gas and the Automobile Association. In 1999 he became director of marketing and strategy at Whitbread where he was responsible for 3,000 pubs and restaurants. He left the group last summer and has since worked as a consultant. He joined Excel last month. Compelling project “It’s a tremendously exciting and compelling project,” he says. “There is a great team at Excel that has done fantastically well.” That team could be vital for Buchan. He has no previous experience in exhibitions and over time he will need to understand the industry’s needs, particularly what it wants from Excel. The venue’s former commercial director Keith Greetham believes the people around Buchan have an important role to play. “Shearer knows the business well and the team is highly experienced, having gone through the pain of the opening. His success will depend on how quickly he can absorb our industry,” he says. Learning about the industry should not be too much of a problem for Buchan if he goes about it in the right way, according to Earls Court & Olympia chief executive Andrew Morris. “When I came into the industry 15 years ago I had no experience,” he says. “But to get over that it’s all down to common sense, enthusiasm, listening and learning. It’s not rocket science and if he listens and learns then he can succeed. I wish him every success in his new role.” Buchan’s marketing background will be an important factor as he tries to win business from the UK and abroad. “Our strategy is to clearly articulate that we are a leading venue in this industry,” he says. “That we are located in London is a big thing. We must show that Excel is a magnet not only for the UK, but overseas too. Our role beyond the UK is important.” This is a key point as the development of hotels, apartments, bars and restaurants continues in the surrounding area. The venue will soon need to turn itself from “Excel the exhibition centre” to “Destination Excel”, which is the complete package. Reed Exhibition Companies UK managing director Andrew Roberts believes these facilities are important for not only overseas business but also domestic trade. “It is important for those larger shows, such as World Travel Market, where people come for the duration and need accommodation, entertainment and the chance to relax,” he says. Crucial space “Excel is crucial as the industry has always needed more exhibiting space in London,” says Association of Exhibition Organisers director-general Trevor Foley. “No-one wants to see Excel fail.” Buchan believes that is unlikely. “The industry is in a process of change and we are experiencing difficult conditions, but there is a tremendous team here with spirit and determination,” he says. Excel can now put the financial difficulties of last year behind it and start afresh with a new chief executive. Buchan’s previous experience could prove invaluable in promoting the idea that Excel’s customer service and facilities are second-to-none. If he is given time then there is every reason to believe that Buchan and the venue will succeed.

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