Athanasios (“Thanos”) Panagoulias succeeded Nikolaos (“Nikos”) Choudalakis as Managing Director at FORUM S.A., the Greek subsidiary of NürnbergMesse Group, on 1st December 2020. In the interview he talks about work during the pandemic, the partnership with NürnbergMesse, the future of the exhibition industry and his special relationship with the city of Nuremberg.
Mr Panagoulias, you are an experienced manager and an insider in Greek and international exhibition industry. How did you feel becoming Managing Director in these special Corona-times?
Becoming the CEO of a trade show organizing company during the pandemic was a huge challenge. However, my 15-year background in the exhibition industry alongside the proven experience that I have gained facing the challenges of the Greek market crisis during the last ten years, have provided me with all the necessary skills to cope with the obstacles created by the new reality in our sector, while managing any difficulties with composure, clarity, and positive attitude.
How strong did the pandemic affect your business in recent months?
The trade show industry both in Greece as well as globally, has been severely affected by the pandemic. However, the goal was to keep a strong presence in the Greek market through our trade publications, which remained a solid business unit. Additionally, we decided to invest in new business models – such as the creation of a custom-made online platform for the organization of FOOD EXPO Digital – and support the development of existing projects to create a new revenue channel for the company.
He has definitely helped me develop my skills as a manager. And he is also like a second father to me.
FORUM S.A. has been your “home” for fifteen years now and you follow to Nikos Choudalakis, who has been the founder and Managing Director for a long time. How important are his expertise and his experience for you at the start?
Nikos Choudalakis has been a mentor to me. All these years working close to him, I learned all the “secrets” of the trade show industry and the market, in general. He definitely helped me develop my skills as a manager, but he is also like a second father to me.
The two-year partnership between NürnbergMesse and FORUM S.A. has been successful so far. What has been your experience of these two years?
To date, the partnership between FORUM S.A. and NürnbergMesse has been very successful. We have a common goal, the growth of the company, and a strong communication channel. However, as in every relationship, time, trust, goodwill, and mutual understanding make things better with each passing day.
What are your perspectives for the forthcoming years?
Extremely positive, especially once the pandemic is over. After experiencing significant growth at home, we are currently looking further afield to expand our success. One of our main goals for the forthcoming years is the international growth and expansion of our trade shows and we are already exploring strategies and investing in people that will help us move towards that direction.
FORUM S.A. is the No. 1 in the Greek expo market. What is your strategy to maintain this position?
Innovation is key. We are innovating by creating new business models and concepts that can contribute to the development of a new era for the trade show industry in Greece. We want to be the leaders and highlight the importance of trade show participation for business expansion and networking. Also, our goal is to introduce new exhibitions (digital and physical) and keep ahead of the competition.
The exhibition industry suffered from the pandemic worldwide. How will its future look like in the short and in the long term in your opinion?
In the short term, we must maintain high liquidity, guard our existing business, and “protect” our people, because they are the ones that will lead the way in the long run. I think that, in the long term, the future is bright and once our industry overcomes the difficulties created by the pandemic, trade shows will regain importance. Trade shows perform a valuable function for businesses and will rebound once social distancing will become less restrictive.
My German colleagues are like a second home to me.
How is your relationship to Germany and Nuremberg in particular besides business affairs, on a more personal level?
The NürnbergMesse Group and my German colleagues are like a second home to me. I have strong personal relationships in the city (relatives, home, friends) and visiting Nuremberg for business is like coming home. There are only positive feelings between myself and my colleagues in Germany.