By Anja Laubscher
Kevin O’Keefe is the director of ICFF and senior vice president at Emerald Expositions, Inc., the largest producer of trade shows in North America. O’Keefe entered the design field with a background in business development and has conceived and launched over 20 trade shows in 10 countries.
We spoke with O’Keefe about the pivotal milestones in his career journey and how design has shaped his career trajectory.
Anja Laubscher: When did you realize you were interested in design?
Kevin O’Keefe: After I purchased a small custom exhibition design and production company in Providence, Rhode Island. Growing that business over a 10-year period, I had the opportunity to design award-winning trade show exhibits including those for Ralph Lauren, Van Cleef & Arpels, Colibri, Western Union, and Beretta.
AL: How you did get to where you are now?
KO: After developing and then selling a major trade show production company in California to UBM, a global trade show company, I was asked to come to New York to revitalize ICFF. The Fair had been in decline for some time and I felt that the event had enormous potential.
My vision was to create the global design platform for North America. ICFF would present only what was next and best in the world. This involved a complete repositioning, new staff, much travel, and developing many new concepts. Now the exhibition is 180,000 square feet with a majority of exhibitors coming from outside of the United States. And over 35,000 architects, interior designers, and developers visit the Fair from more than 40 countries.
At an early age I was most impressed by Caesar’s ability to view each obstacle he encountered as an opportunity.
AL: What role model influenced you most and how?
KO: Gaius Julius Caesar. At an early age I was most impressed by Caesar’s ability to view each obstacle he encountered as an opportunity. Adversity excited and motivated him more than anything else. I have taken this view in life.