James Rees to lead ICCA through time of ‘change and innovation’

ExCel London’s James Rees was voted president of the International Congress & Convention Association (ICCA) at its annual congress in Dubai.

It was a fitting locale for his appointment since he is employed by ADNEC of the UAE, owners of ExCeL London. He is the first British president since Fred Wakefield in 1986.

Rees comes to the job with no permanent CEO in place since the sacking of Martin Sirk last May. He and the other two candidates – Spain’s Juan Jose Garcia and Eric Bakermans of the Netherlands – ‘pitched’ to the audience of 1000-plus industry professionals in the final run-up to the vote-counting.

Rees quoted English clergyman William Pollard, a fan of change. He said: “Without change there is no innovation, creativity, or incentive for improvement. Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change that is inevitable.” It was a pertinent subject, given ICCA’s current circumstances.

The new chairman added: “ICCA is planning for change, with the right leadership.” But he also pointed to his German grandmother as evidence of his international credentials: “Ja, ich kann Deutsch sprechen.”

He also alluded to his ICCA credentials by reminding delegates that he had met his wife, Claire, at ICCA’s Shanghai conference which proved his “understanding of the ICCA family.”

Rees’s promise of change and innovation included a stronger voice for ICCA’s younger generations and growth in revenue and members. “A one size fits all for members is not the right approach.

As part of his campaign bid, Rees was keen to build a global network of industry professionals and learn about the business and cultural differences that exist across the world.

I want to deliver enhanced benefits and a shadow board of younger members to bring fresh ideas to make the congress a beacon of excellence. The industry changes the world for the better and governments need to recognise and support that.”

Rees has over 25 years’ experience in venue management and event organisation. Under his leadership as executive director of Excel London, he has transformed the venue from being a national to an international venue.