AV People: Mike Blackman of Integrated Systems Europe

mike_blackman-0316It’s quite possible that Mike Blackman is one of the most interesting men on the planet. His name is synonymous with the Integrated Systems Europe expo in Amsterdam, but many people in the AV industry around the world don’t know all the history that led Mike to where he is today.

Originally born in Guyana in South America, Mike was born British, and his family moved to the United Kingdom when he was only six years old. Like any young child, Mike’s dreams of “what he wanted to be when he grew up” ranged from a police officer to a teacher.

“I was always good with math and economics,” Mike said. “So, as I grew older, I started thinking about what kind of career could I do with that. I got into accounting and got a place at university where they recommended that I do an internship. Whilst doing that, I spent six months with a company in the accounts department doing corporate finance, projects, statistics, projections — all interesting work. However, I then spent a few months in the general accounts department and quickly got bored. So I thought to myself, do I want to spend the next four years studying to do this?”

The answer was no. Mike decided to not go to university and found a job at the Financial Times since they were looking for someone in the advertising department. It was there that Mike realized that marketing and sales were his forte. Mike then began to study international, industrial, and consumer advertising and marketing.

mike_blackman2-0316Along the way, Mike also realized he was good at selling and got a rush from getting the “big contract.”

This led Mike to a position at Personal Computer World Magazine.

“This was in the early days of computing,” explained Mike. “The games industry was very rudimentary and small and I saw the transition in technology. A lot corporate guys were moving in and taking over these smaller gaming companies and shaping them up.

“There was a show founded by Felix Dennis called the Personal Computer World Show,” he continued. “Felix took the magazine and  realized he needed to take the next step started the exhibition with Montgomery’s in London. They then head-hunted me to come over and be involved in the PCW show. What started as a show with 30,000 attendees turned into the largest computer show in the UK with 130,000 attendees. It was through that that I realized exhibitions were what I really enjoyed.”

From that experience, Mike became more and more involved with other shows and exhibitions around the world, including everything from shows with the International Data Group to the MacWorld Expo in Europe to WindowsWorld, where he met Bill Gates.

After much of this experience, Mike left and decided to start his own consulting company.

“I started off just doing technology [events] ,” said Mike. “My hobby was motorbikes and whilst in San Francisco at MacWorld Expo I had stopped off in the local Harley Davidson dealer there and was speaking with the sales director there and he said, ‘Hey Mike, you do expos, right? You should do something for Harley in Europe.'”

That got Mike thinking. When he returned to Germany, he got on the phone with Harley, which got the ball rolling. Eventually there were events all over Europe. He then picked up BMW as a customer for the launch of the new Mini Cooper. This gave Mike the confidence and diverse client base he needed to really grow his business.

However, Mike was used to being the person who made things happen, so when he became a consultant, he began to miss the organization part. It wasn’t too long after that that Mike was approached by InfoComm to launch and manage an expo in Europe.

He met with Randy Lemke and the team at InfoComm in 2003, and by April of 2003, Mike was officially on board and the Integrated Systems Europe Expo in Europe was born.

What started as just a small show in Geneva in January 2004 has grown to a show with over 1,100 exhibitors and 65,000 attendees.

“Every year we get more and more exhibitors,” said Mike. “This industry is growing and we are riding with it. We have to consider — are we mirrors or are we leaders [of the industry]? We are a reflection of where the industry is going and we keep tabs with what’s going on. We want to make sure we are covering the issues and the solutions.”

The fact is, Mike loves what he does and is so passionate about it. In fact, he even boasted that he’d continue doing this job even if he won the Powerball.

mike_bike-0316 Outside of his work in the industry, Mike enjoys riding motorbikes (although he, admittedly, doesn’t ride as much as he used to), driving his Porsche 356 on sunny days, skiing, snowboarding and even skateboarding with the youngest of his sons.

He and his wife have five children (two from a previous relationship) ranging in age from 12 to 29. Last year, he had the opportunity to return to Guyana for the first time in 50 years.

“It was emotional to see my place of birth,” said Mike. “Meeting relatives, seeing the things that haven’t changed among the things that have changed. Seeing the house I grew up in. It was all very emotional.

“Facebook has been the best thing that’s ever happened as far as being able to reconnect with my family. I have hundreds of cousins around the world, some whom I have never met, and I’ve been able to ‘meet’ them through Facebook and connect with them. I have family in the United States, Canada, Australia, England, Guyana, etc. No matter where we go, I have a place to stay.”

Mike’s passion for travel has taught him a lot and he believes that the more people travel, the more they can learn about other nations and cultures and the process of breaking down prejudices can really take place.

Mike is also extremely passionate about education. He has seen firsthand what education has done for him in both his personal and his professional life. Education, Mike believes, can happen in many ways — through classes, workshops, formal testing and also just by having a conversation with and asking the right questions of someone else in your industry. He believes learning firsthand from someone else can be so rewarding.

It’s clear that Mike’s success, along with ISE’s success, are all a result of the passion, dedication and commitment to education that he possesses.