An Exclusive Interview With Mr. Virendra Gupta, Deputy Director General & Head Of Trade Fairs, Confederation of Indian Industry, Excerpts;

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Q. Can you tell us the history of CII?
A.
CII is the 124 years old organization which came into existence in 1895. Next year we are celebrating 125 years. We had humble beginnings. About 5 British companies came together and formed an association and since then we have been through various name changes, while the latest name was incorporated in 1992. Since then we have really gone very strong, now we have 8000 plus members & 66 offices in India. We have got 10 overseas offices as well. Our role has also evolved with time. Earlier we were more of a lobbying body but now we are primarily a developmental institution. Today CII focuses on the four broad segments, namely, policy advocacy, where we do take up a lot of policy related issues with the government.

The second area is, we enhance the competitiveness of our member companies, we have 9 centres of excellence across the country, to name a few we have Green Business centre in Hyderabad, Institute of Quality in Bangalore, Logistic Institute based in Chennai so likewise there are 9 centres of excellence which provide value added service to our member companies.

Third, we focus a lot on business development for our members. We do have very active international department &10 overseas offices so we are the conduit for bringing in delegations to India from overseas. We also take Indian delegations abroad. We do organize several fairs where we get lot of international participation and we also organize lot of international exhibitions where we take India inc overseas so that’s very important activity for us for business development.

Fourth is Social Development. We do a lot of work on HIV, women empowerment, calamities like the current disaster in Odisha, where we work closely with the state governments. So, these are the four areas where CII has been focussing primarily as a developmental institution.

Q. What is the role of CII in Industry promotion?
A.
We do take up lot policy related issues. When GST was being implemented, we worked very closely with the industry. We also do a lot of work for SME promotion & for start-ups. Around 40% of our membership is from the SME category. We do feel that SMEs and start-ups have a very important role to play in our economy.

Q. What are the major breakthroughs which CII has achieved since inception?
A.
We started our first show in 1975 which was actually the first exhibition ever held in India, titled, International Engineering and Technology Fair. Since then we have evolved at a very fast pace. Today we organize nearly 50 exhibitions in a year either in India or overseas which is nearly about one exhibition in a week. To name some large brands, EXCON, the construction show, the largest in South Asia which occupies nearly 2.5 lacs sqmt. of space.

We get participation from 1000 plus exhibitors and the show will host 12 international pavilions. Excon will be held from 10 to 14 December 2019 at BIEC, Bangalore. Besides that we also partner with Auto Expo. There are two Auto Expos, Moto Show happens in Noida and the component show that happens in Pragati Maidan. These two shows are happening in the month of February 2020 and this is a very old brand that CII established in 1986, and since then the show has really grown in size and stature. Beside these, we also have International Mining and Machinery Exhibition which happens in Kolkata. The next edition will be held in December 2020. We also organize Railway Equipment exhibition which is happening in the month of October 2019 in New Delhi and beside this we have also been organizing small shows, like one on Gaming with decent visitors. We have run two editions so far and it’s been really liked and appreciated by the visitors. We also started a new show on Artificial Intelligence this year which was also very much appreciated. We had very large companies like Microsoft, Siemens who participated there. Germany also put up a pavilion. There was a start-up zone, women entrepreneur zone as well. Beside these, we also organized a lot of overseas shows for example, Enterprise India in Myanmar in the month of December where the president of India had inaugurated the fair. We also have been organizing exhibition on Construction Equipment & Construction Technology, CONMAC in Nepal in the month of December. So the idea is to promote Indian business units across varying sectors of the economy which gives an impetus to our national growth.

Q. What are the major events organized by CII?
A.
Auto Expo, IMME, The EXCON, IREE. Beside these, we work very close with the Government, we organize a large show on renewable energy in October, we also organize World Food India with Ministry of Food Processing. We organize Global Exhibition on Services, the fifth edition will be held in Bangalore in the month of September.

Q. What are the Upcoming Plans?
A.
Traditionally we have been doing Brick and Motor shows and feel that we need to perhaps bring in the new economy sector as well so we are to see AI (Artificial Intelligence) to play a very crucial role and to that end on our shows we are trying to see if AI could be integrated. In EXCON we are trying to put up a pavilion on whole internet of things, on AI, on smart manufacturing so, we are trying to see if we could bring in some the elements into our existing brands.

Q. What are the major industry issues which you are trying to resolve?
A.
Major industry issue has been the GST, we were working very closely with central and state government. Of course, we are working very closely for infrastructure growth and development & we have a very active infrastructure desk. There are issues in terms of policy matters that we regularly take up with the Central & State Government.

Q. Please tell us about your personal journey in this industry.
A.
I joined CII in 1992 and I am a Post Graduate in Economics so initially I was part of the Research Division of CII. We were doing research project on Indian Industry with Prof. Michael Porter of Harvard Business School that focused on the competitiveness of the Indian Industry and we came out with a lot of suggestions, for 14 industry sectors and 8 environment audits in terms of what the industry would really expect in those sectors and this was presented to the then Prime Minister in 1997. Key finding was that the country needs to focus on the micro level reforms. I also had an opportunity to work in Hyderabad, that time AP was doing good work and I worked very closely with Chandrababu Naidu from 1997-98 & then I moved to Chennai. I was heading Tamil Nadu for 3 years from 2000-2003. From there I moved to Bombay, looking after the Maharashtra State office from 2003-2006 and then I headed the Southern region for 3 years from 2006-2009. I moved to Delhi in 2009 and I have been looking after areas like Trade Fairs and events. We have a very ambitious target, looking at 2022 identified targets working closely with the government on how India could be a developed country over the next few years. We have a well worked up plan till 2022.

Q. How have you seen exhibition industry evolve over the years?
A
. Exhibition industry has grown quite well. When we started in 1975 there were just handful number of players and now we have a proliferation of very large number of private players. I would really say private and Government as well. Government bodies also coordinates a lot of international shows today so the landscape has totally changed, people do find value, and thus organisers do get good participation. It has been established that a Trade Fair is an important vehicle to generate business and to promote one’s brand.

Q. As a leading exhibition organizer, what techniques do you adopt for exhibitor and visitor engagement?
A.
We do a mix of online as well as print media advertisements for marketing. We write to our member base which is over 8000. We do a very painstaking process of identifying the companies who would be visitors of our shows so we do talk to them, go and meet at their premises. We do target the vendors for some of these companies to ensure their visit to shows. We use social media to ensure mass reach to our activities.

Q. What are the major challenges for the exhibition organizer in India?
A.
One major challenge is the availability of quality exhibition complexes. Pragati Maidan renovation is happening, complex which is coming up in Dwarka but then we need them in other cities too so that we are able to organize good quality exhibitions. I am sure that over the next to 5-10 years we would have this gap filled substantially. Secondly, we need skilled professionals in our industry. I think there is need to develop few institutions that really impart short term and long term training programs, & focus on the growth of HR that is going to become a very important aspect for the Trade Fair Industry.

Q. What can India learn from Global Exhibition Industry?
A.
I have been to some good quality shows, Hannover for example or the Frankfurt Motor Show. It’s all spick and span, the exhibition area is very large, well maintained, the quality of infrastructure in these countries is par excellence. Another aspect is that the displays also have to improve drastically, what the company display in these shows is very good in terms of what they want to showcase and the business potential also whereas I am not sure if we are able to get those kind of exhibits in terms of participation that we see here in India.

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