Mike Blackman #ISE20Years interview - part 1: The formation of ISE and Mike's recruitment

Mike Blackman #ISE20Years interview - part 1: The formation of ISE and Mike's recruitment
Integrated Systems Events Managing Director Mike Blackman in the mid-2000s
To mark ISE's 20th anniversary in 2024, we sat down with Integrated Systems Events Managing Director Mike Blackman to get the inside story on every aspect of the show. We started at the very beginning...

Mike Blackman in the mid-2000sGoing back to the very beginning, who were the prime movers at InfoComm, CEDIA and NSCA, the show’s original owners? Who had the idea for an exhibition of integrated systems technology? 

The real first mover was Randy Lemke of InfoComm (later AVIXA) – he had the idea. They'd done an InfoComm show in Germany for a couple of years, together with the Photokina show, but it didn't really fit anymore. When they started, they had exhibitors like Kodak and people used multiple slide projectors and things like that for presentations; but the industry had changed. Also the audience for Photokina was more on the photographic side rather than the AV side.  

So Randy decided that it made sense for InfoComm to go out on their own and do a standalone exhibition, but he also identified CEDIA and NSCA as a potential competitors covering parts of the market where ISE would actually develop. So he had discussions with Billilynne Keller from CEDIA and Chuck Wilson from NSCA and they jumped in and said, “Yeah, OK, we want to do this”. And they came up with the idea to actually do the show.  

They then approached me through a headhunter. After discussions and me looking at this and thinking, “This could be good, this could be fun, this is going somewhere,” I said, “Yeah, I want to do this.” 

Where were you working when you were first approached about ISE? What was your background? 

The first thing I wanted to be was an accountant. But actually after getting a place at university and doing a traineeship beforehand I decided it wasn't the career for me. So I moved to the Financial Times and I continued: I studied marketing, I did a diploma in international industrial and consumer advertising and marketing, then spent a bit of time working in publications – the Financial Times and Personal Computer World magazine. 

And I was headhunted by Montgomery Exhibitions to build the Personal Computer World show. So I got into exhibitions. I then got headhunted to go to Germany to launch a series of computer and technology events. Then I set up my own business as an event and marketing consultant and spent about 10 years doing that: advising companies on how to do events, creating events for companies, and helping them present themselves in the marketplace, primarily across Europe. 

"I had the feeling that it was something that was going to grow; a marketplace was going to develop"

And then I was approached by one of my old bosses, who was a headhunter. He said to me, “Mike, this job is made for you." I had a look at it and suddenly thought, wow, this could be exciting – and that was the idea that started ISE. 

What was it that made you think it could be exciting? 

I knew some of the market already. I knew some of the manufacturers who were involved. But you know, I'm a bit of a tech fan. So just looking at it said to me, this is exciting stuff – its stuff I’m personally interested in. 

I had the feeling that it was something that was going to grow; a marketplace was going to develop. I saw more and more things that were becoming more intrinsic in our lifestyles and thought, “This is going to be more and more important as time goes on.” 

Did you jump at the opportunity or did you need to be persuaded? 

I went through a process of finding out about the marketplace. Once I saw it I said, “OK this I think can work,” and I closed down my consulting business and started this. But the real thing that really said to me that it was going to be exciting is when I visited my first InfoComm a couple of months later, and then the first CEDIA Expo, and really saw how this was developing, what companies were involved and where we could actually build. 
When did you start at ISE? Were you the only employee? What were your first actions – other than going to see the other shows? 

I was approached at Christmas 2002. And between then and March 2003 we went through the process of CVs etc and I had my first interviews in March. 

When we launched the company, I was on my own for a few months, getting the support from the team at InfoComm. They did our accounting, but we did everything else locally. I then got a guy called Godwin Demicoli, who after this became InfoComm rep for German Central Europe, and we also had a trainee on board. So there was three of us who did it. We started putting everything together to put a show on in January 2004. 

How might your personal life have turned out differently, if you'd never worked for ISE? 

When I look to what I do and the people I know as a result – the people I've worked with, personal friends, connections I've made – a lot of those would probably not be here. Maybe there would be others from a different route. 

I would definitely still be in Germany, unless another offer came that was exciting enough to pull me away. Maybe I'd still have my consulting company.  

BMW had tried to headhunt me to be responsible for strategic marketing for Mini, because they were one of my customers at the time. The job was interesting, but I don't know if I would fit into such a corporate environment like that. 

Oh, and when this job was offered to me, Harley-Davidson was one of my customers. I was in the process of organising their 100th anniversary. When the offer came to do this, I had to resign the contract with Harley.  

>>  Part 2: Development of the ISE organisation


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