Aventri introduced Jim Sharpe as its new president and CEO last week, while former company head Oni Chukwu moved to the executive chairman role at the meetings-technology provider. Sharpe previously held executive roles in the technology and manufacturing industry, most recently as managing director and general manager of Gerson Lehrman Group's financial services business unit. We sat down with Sharpe to discuss what drew him to Aventri, as well as how his previous experience and vision will help to shape the company's future path. Following is an excerpt from our conversation, edited for clarity and length.
• By way of introducing yourself to event professionals, can you tell us a bit about Gerson Lehrman Group -- which bills itself as "the world's knowledge marketplace," offering an educational platform that brings together experts with people seeking information in their respective fields -- and where that business intersects with event technology?
The mission here at Aventri is to "connect better," and that's actually something I've been very passionate about throughout my career. I've spent a lot of time in the business of helping people make meaningful connections. I spent a combined 12 years at GLG, which really pioneered the way that industry professionals connect to share expertise, learn and even do business together. And, as part of that business, I oversaw more than 2,000 small group events per year, several thousand virtual events per year and more than 300,000 individual, one-on-one connections that we made, as a company, between someone with a question and someone who had an answer.
I also experienced the power of data and AI in our platform model. GLG was, and is, the largest player in this space and has a large amount of data it could leverage; they started putting machine-learning on top of that data to make the platform more powerful and continue to grow.
• That's an interesting correlation, in the way data is fostering connections. Might there be certain aspects of how GLG approached that technology that you can apply to the roadmap at Aventri?
I think it does tie into the future vision of the company. If you think about the places where we plan to be most innovative, I think one of them is going to be on-site experience and how AI is applied to create recommendation engines. If you look at the end-user experience, how the attendee is moving through an event, how do we go about leveraging AI and data to make the event far more personal and far more relevant in real time for them? You can imagine someone walking through a large event and the mobile technology they're using making recommendations as they go, based on changes to their schedule or where they're standing on the show floor; that interaction becomes a part of their overall event experience. I really do see that as an opportunity for Aventri, being able to make the event far more personal and far more interesting to the average attendee.
• How do you intend to differentiate Aventri in the event-tech marketplace?
I'm stepping into a very talented team with a great track record, widely considered to be a top-two market player in the space. What we offer is a fully integrated solution, which is something I really appreciate, coming into this business; there's a seamless handoff between the various modules of our platform, and that's what makes us unique. And that powers the data and AI piece of this; because we're so seamlessly integrated as a platform, our ability to leverage that data layer is heightened — and then we can add the AI or machine-learning on top of that.
But the other thing that has me excited about Aventri is just good old-fashioned service. I've spent a ton of time and energy in my past career investing in best-in-class service models that keep the customers happy. I was drawn to that here and I'd like to continue that focus.
• Aventri has grown, in part, through a number of acquisitions over the years. As you expand the feature set of the platform, do you expect to do so via acquisitions or will there be more of a focus on developing that in-house, to lessen integration challenges?
There's definitely a trend we're all aware of towards consolidation in this space. And one of the challenges with any acquisition is how you actually integrate them into your existing business. I think Aventri has done a very solid job of that. As far as where we'll focus in the future, we certainly will continue to have an eye on innovation, but it doesn't mean it's going to come from acquisitions. I would like to dig in and spend more time expanding the capabilities of the existing platform. I think there's a lot of potential in what we've already created, and in making sure that it is best-in-class and that it delivers an outstanding experience for both our customers and the event attendees. But at the same time, we do feel that we're uniquely positioned to successfully integrate additional features via either partnerships or acquisitions. We'll remain open to those possibilities.