Francis Teo: Together we will recover, and adapt to be a more resilient industry as a whole 24 Oct, 2020


The Malaysian Association of Convention and Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers (MACEOS) recently held its 30th Annual General Meeting on October 7th at the Malaysia International Trade and Exhibition Centre. We sat down with the newly elected president Mr. Francis Teo, Head of Convention Centres for S P Setia to find out the plans for the future of MACEOS and more about the man himself.

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What prompted you to run for the MACEOS presidency? Was there a definitive turning point that led to this decision?

I’ve been with MACEOS for 14 years, since 2006, and have served in the committee for 12 of those years. I think I may be the longest serving committee member, and just as people say that exhibitions run in their blood, I would say that for me the association runs in my blood. Actually members had expressed that it was my turn at the helm but I declined the first time they asked me, thinking that maybe a member who is an event organizer may be better suited for the job. This time when they expressed that they wanted me to take up the position, the committee assured me that they will support me. This was the definitive point for me. With their assured support I finally said “Okay we will do it together, because I cannot do it alone.” So it was only with the support of the committee, whom I consider my industry counterparts, that I decided to take on this post to work on it together with them.

To me, I am doing it for the industry rather than for myself. In the last 6 years under the leadership of Dato’ Vincent Lim, we elevated the position of the association, our numbers grew, and for the first time we had people coming from nowhere asking to join the association. This was a turning point for me when I realized that MACEOS had become an association that people want to be a part of and I feel that it is important for us to carry this momentum forward.

The previous presidents were mostly event organizers and there seems to be a notion that this has to be the case. Why do you think that is?

Actually, there isn’t anything in the constitution that says that the president has to be an event organizer, but it has always been that way because the notion is that the event organizers are at the starter of the industry and the rest of us are the supply chain. The event organizers are the risk takers of the industry and they get the ball rolling when they organize an event, without which there would be nothing for the rest of us to supply and support.

Being from the venue sector, are you the first president who is not an event organizer to assume this mantle?

Back in the 90s when MACEOS was first formed, its core members rotated to serve as president and back then we had a president from the venue sector as well. However, I would say I am the first elected president from the venue sector. Interestingly, this trend is also seen in the associations from our neighbouring countries. Both the Singapore Association of Convention and Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers (SACEOS) and the Thai Exhibition Association (TEA) currently have presidents from the venue sector.

What are your immediate plans for MACEOS? What are the top 3 priorities?

Firstly, I don’t plan to change the direction of the association in any way. We have to look at the long term plan in terms of where we would like MACEOS to be in the next 5 years. We have a vision and an established plan called IDEA - Innovation, Development of the industry, Education to upskill the industry and Advocacy of the industry. We will continue to work in line with these ideals and educate the public and the policy makers on the importance of our industry in rebuilding the economy.

Secondly, many of the businesses of our members are also suffering from the effects of the pandemic. So, we will work to support and assist the recovery of our stakeholders’ businesses and continue to advocate for the needs of the industry.

Lastly, is the effort to encourage and assist our industry in digitalisation. Many members of the industry may not have considered virtual or hybrid events prior to the COVID-19 pandemic because in our industry, the belief is that it is always best to have physical events. However, now when the situation calls for it, we can see that hybrid and virtual events can play a crucial role in complementing our industry. So, we have to inculcate in our members that event technology will not take away our business, but rather serve to support and complement it.

How can members of the industry support MACEOS in these efforts?

Talk to us, let us know how we can help you. Member engagement is very important to us. On our part, we have e-newsletters, and our own publications to keep our members informed when there are new guidelines and such from the government. We also encourage members to reach out and contact us as our contact information is readily available and we can be found on social media, like Facebook. We are always just a phone call away. In addition, another continuous effort by MACEOS are round table discussions organized to meet with different sectors of the industry. It is important for members to come and share their challenges and needs with us in order for the association to better represent them.

We understand that inclusion is an important value to MACEOS but inclusion can be very tricky and perhaps members of the other sectors, like suppliers and contractors, may get the impression that their needs are not as well represented.  How would you address those concerns?

It’s very difficult to please everybody. If we look at the composition of our 170+ members at present, the majority of them are contractors, venues, freight forwarders and the like, and it almost seems like event organizers are a dying breed. In many of our efforts we try to help the event organizers because they are the ones who take the risk to initiate the work and bring in the business that trickles down to the rest of the supply chain benefiting all sectors of the industry.

This year’s AGM was held during the pandemic.  Why did the committee choose to conduct it physically at MITEC instead of a virtual or hybrid meeting?

We considered a virtual or hybrid AGM initially, but when the SOPs came out with guidelines for safe events we decided to lead by example to show the industry that it was possible to carry on with events even with these protocols in place. We also incorporated event technology and conducted the voting online in order to reduce contact from having to fill ballots and physically count votes. The second reason for a physical AGM was to comply with the requirements set out by the Registrar of Societies (ROS) who strongly recommended a physical AGM in order to meet the necessary quorum. In addition, we also made a video recording of the proceedings as recommended by the ROS.

Did the ROS say that a virtual AGM was not allowed?

The challenge was that we got different answers at different times when we consulted the ROS. Initially no physical events were allowed, AGMs or otherwise. Then we were informed that for this year only virtual AGMs would be allowed, but in the end the ROS said that particularly for election years they preferred that people are physically present to vote and to meet the quorum in order for the results of the meeting to be recognized. So we had to limit the online voting to only the members who attended the AGM or sent a proxy physically and could not extend it to all off-site members.

At the end of your term as president, what is the legacy you hope to leave behind?

Never before has a new committee or president been elected during such turbulent times when our industry is in the state of turmoil facing so many challenges. The most important thing is to lead the industry back to its previous status as a recovery of the industry is vital. Now that something so unexpected and unprecedented has happened, it is important for us to ask ourselves what contingencies we can put in place and how we can diversify our business in case of similar occurrences in the future (touch wood). So I think we will be advancing in event technology and event digitalization in order to be more adaptive in the future. I hope to be able to assist the industry through this recovery and the exploration of better and more adaptive business models. Together we will recover, and adapt to be a more resilient industry as a whole. In addition, we will continue to strive towards creating event experiences and elevating physical events while having virtual events as a complement, because virtual events would never be able to replace physical ones.

Fulfilling your duties as president could take up a significant proportion of your time. How might these demands affect your work and family life?

This year has brought with it many changes for the world and for myself personally. In the middle of the year I was promoted to oversee all the convention centers business under the S P Setia, so my work load had essentially doubled when I went from overseeing one convention center to two, and there will likely be more to come. Some might wonder why I would take on the extra responsibilities of being president when my workload has recently increased significantly, but I feel that I have always been contributing to MACEOS all this while and I feel I can continue with my same level of commitment. However, before I ran for president, I had to seek approval from our top management, and it was only with their blessings on the condition that I will continue to perform at work that I decided to run for president. As for my family, there is less need these days to travel for meetings and such, as most things are done online. So I am still able to have time with them and perform all my duties as an employee and a family man.

We’re sure our readers would like to understand the man behind the helm. What can you tell us about yourself?

My background was originally in hospitality so I’ve always been a service person. I’m always one to volunteer or make sacrifices and give a helping hand to others. One of the committee members commented that I always put the needs of others before myself, and I think that assisting others first is something that is in my nature. With MACEOS all the work is voluntary so each committee member makes sacrifices for the sake of others.

[Interviewer laughs] After we publish your statement, people will be clamoring for your help.

Well, I would help wherever I can. I can’t do the job for you, but I would be happy to assist and let you know what I might do in the given situation.

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