PROFILE: Jamie Buchan is the new chief executive at Excel and comes from a background in marketing. He tells Mike Fletcher why improving the visitor experience lies at the heart of his plans to turn the Docklands venue into one of Europe's leading facilities

Excel's new chief executive Jamie Buchan is in a good mood. It's a Monday morning and on the previous weekend about 40,000 people had flocked to the venue in London's Docklands to attend one of three shows. On Sunday, a record 21,000 people filled the halls and atrium, which is not bad given that Buchan has spent only four months in charge.

Prior to the weekend's success, Buchan had been disappointed to hear that Emap Fashion was pulling unisex fashion show 40 Degrees from the venue (Event, March), but his experience in other industries means he has a good understanding of what needs to be done.

"We will aggressively try to win business by understanding how we can enhance the visitor experience. We have a strong proposition, but it can become more compelling with a stronger infrastructure and by listening to how we make people's time here more pleasurable,

he says.

Buchan, 42, grew up in Peterhead, a small fishing town north of Aberdeen.

He studied economics and history at Aberdeen University before moving to Sunderland in 1981 to become Esso's operations manager for the North East of England. He spent 14 years at the oil giant, during which time he moved to London and developed his knowledge of visitor experiences by transforming more than 2,500 UK petrol stations into Service Stations.

"Supermarkets were stealing our lunch by building on-site petrol stations. We had been an oligopoly and this new initiative, where petrol was a by-product of the supermarket put the fear of God in us. We had to raise our game,

comments Buchan. "I left Esso at the age of 35. If I'm honest, I should have left a couple of years earlier. I'd been there so long that if I'd blinked I would have turned 55 and retired a lifer."

Buchan experienced fear again when he joined international logistics firm Ocean Group and spent much of his time in Nigeria and Angola looking after sales and marketing in the marine services division. "We managed Shell's oil services base on an island off the coast of Nigeria,

he recalls.

"The workforce was on strike because the fishermen's union had just secured a pay rise. When I arrived I was taken hostage and kept in a dark hole. I was scared to death until I realised they were keeping me to save face. Once they set me free we had a barbecue together."

Stints at British Gas Services and the Automobile Association ensued before Buchan was headhunted by Whitbread in March 2000 to be number two in its pub restaurant business. Five months later the company put the 3,000-strong estate up for sale.

"It was gut-wrenching to be involved in the sale of a business that employed 20,000 people,

says Buchan. "But we left a mark that will be a feature of the pub industry for many years to come. We created specific visitor experiences including a focus on food, female friendliness, entertainment and quality wines."

Buchan describes his time at Whitbread before the sell-off as "great fun and very people oriented", qualities that match his first impressions of the exhibition world. "It is rich in determination and there is a lot of passion. The people put so much energy into their jobs so I feel I've met many kindred spirits,

he says.

Buchan aims to establish Excel as a leading UK facility and at the same time make it a credible contender as a European venue. In three years the area will be a destination in its own right, boasting a raft of hotels and attractions - including an aquarium. By this time, Buchan aims to have greatly enhanced the Excel experience.


Why he is to talk at the AEO forum ... The exhibition industry needs to find ways to get a larger slice of the marketing spend and make the experience more rewarding. I would like to contribute to this process.

Why London needs an East End experience ... Anything that brings more activity to this part of London will be good for Excel. The Dome's future role needs to draw crowds and this area will offer so much in the future. It needs to compete with the fun of the West End.

Why the ideal Excel show would involve children and sport ... I have two children who are very important to me and a venue with a waterfront that is under-used. The space and design of the building would be a huge attraction to families looking for a joint land and water sporting experience.

How feedback forums will help Excel ... It seems sensible that after one year of trading we should invite constructive comments from organisers, contractors and exhibitors, which will help us better understand the needs of this industry.

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