Meet the CEO: Shooting for the stars in Singapore

EW guest editor Paul Woodward finds out the sky’s the limit for Jean-François Quentin’s Constellar group

There’s nothing like an ambitious goal and access to the resources which might enable you to achieve it to light up a new CEO’s eyes. Jean-François Quentin, a veteran of Easyfairs, UBM and, most recently, RX, has recently taken the helm at Constellar in Singapore. The company is the newly rebranded progeny of the merged SingEx and Sphere Exhibits. Backed by Singapore corporate giants Temasek and SPH Group, Quentin says “the sky’s the limit” when it comes to the sort of deals the company could do.

And those ambitious goals? Constellar is, he says, currently a business turning over roughly $80m. He wants to see it enter the global top 20 within 3–5 years. That means targeting a turnover of more than $200m. To get there, he admits, “we will need to be strongly acquisitive”.

Those opportunities could come anywhere in the world, but Quentin is in no rush. He has mapped out a three-stage strategy. The company is already involved in five markets; Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, China, and India. Consolidating existing opportunities in Singapore will come first. Then, Quentin will be looking for business opportunities across the rest of Asia. A review of that is now underway, he says.

But he knows they will have to be opportunistic when other, larger opportunities come onto the market in other parts of the world. “Temasek [which controls 60% of Constellar] has made a clear statement to our chairman that they really want to go further in this market”. They have the resources, he adds, and the team to drive successful acquisitions. He concedes that one of the global top three companies might be beyond their ambitions at this stage but believes that they would be a strong contender to acquire the next $100m-$200m turnover business which comes to market. “We could even enter in the top 10 depending on who’s going to be in the market,” Quentin believes.

But it won’t be all acquisitions at Constellar. Quentin also has an ambitious vision for the company in terms of partnerships. “We want to be a reference partner in Southeast Asia”, he says, targeting 50:50 joint ventures as a key pillar of the company’s expansion strategy. “We want to build what I would call intelligent partnership,” explains Quentin, “meaning that we don’t just want to be managing an event on someone’s behalf. We bring intelligence. We bring customer insight. We bring networks, and at the end we’re going to build the audience in this region and with the network that we have”.

With the 100,000sqm Singapore Expo facility as a key part of the company’s portfolio, Quentin notes that they are already positioned to work across all four components of the MICE business. “We not only rent out space, but we are also providing digital marketing and other services,” he says. The venue business is likely to remain as it is in Singapore, with international expansion focused on the company’s event organiser activities.

But there have been recent investments in the venue which Quentin thinks will make it particularly well suited to future events. He cites the 5,000sqm exhibition hall in Singapore Expo, also the country’s largest hybrid broadcast studio with a 54m long LED widescreen and up to 1,000 seats with safe management measures - as an example of this. “I think we have very, very strong capabilities to manage hybrid events with the skills as well to professionalise the hybridisation of events,” Quentin says, adding “It’s not about commercialising a venue. It’s about providing solutions that can bring your event to a different level”.

He is targeting a very high level for events in which Constellar hopes further to develop its own IP. “If you look at Singapore, I think it’s a place where you can really reinforce our positioning in organising C-level events,” says Quentin. He recognises that different rules apply for events of this type to be successful and believes “we need to bring in some strong people from the content industry”, adding: “we need to build up high level skills in this sector”.

As an example of what can be achieved with both hybrid technology and targeting very high-level participation, Quentin cites the Singapore FinTech Festival. This “is one of our key brands and an event we have developed for five years now with the Monetary Authority in Singapore,” he says. He is impressed that the Constellar team was able last year to develop an event which ran virtually round the world with some 2,000 speakers and 1,500 ‘exhibitors’ in 160 countries, attracting an audience of 60,000 people. This presents a dilemma today, he says. “Obviously it will come to normal, and people want to meet. But you can’t just say we are going to have a physical event. You need to take into account the fact that you have been able to bring some people from 160 countries, as an audience to a seminar or roundtable. Somehow, I think this will stay,” Quentin believes.

The sorts of investment required to fulfil some of the digital goals the industry is setting itself have the potential to dampen what have traditionally been very strong margins from face-to-face events. Quentin has an interesting view on this issue. “I think our industry has been juicy for many years, and I think we need now to think differently,” he says.

He believes that “we have a long term view on things and then you need to do the right things for your business and for your markets. And, therefore we have to make investment. And if we want to have a different value proposition, you need to make investment”. He believes that the company is particularly well set up to pursue those long-term objectives.

Even in the short term, Quentin has interesting ambitions for Constellar’s digital activity. He points out that last year the company was able to preserve around 35% of its pre-pandemic revenues with mainly digital offerings. He thinks that the physical events will come back relatively quickly to 100% of where they were before. So, he believes that a well-managed physical/digital business should be able to achieve 120% of its pre-pandemic scale.

That’s a pretty optimistic view. But, when the sky’s the limit, you can afford a little optimism. We shall be hearing more of Constellar.