Be Thankful for Bad Bosses (and Other Advice from IAEE’s Woman of Achievement Winner)

Sue Pelletier, Senior Editor
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Nancy Walsh was “humbled and honored” to learn at the International Association of Exhibitions and Events’ Women’s Leadership Forum held earlier this month that she was the recipient of the 2020 IAEE Woman of Achievement Award.

Walsh joined Informa Markets as President of the Fashion Portfolio in January 2020 after serving as Senior Vice President of Brand Experience for Freeman and a 32-year stint with Reed Exhibitions that culminated in being President – North America, where she led shows in the retail space.

Related: Nancy Walsh Appointed President – Fashion, Informa Markets; Mark Temple-Smith Now COO

Nancy Walsh receiving IAEE's 2020 Woman of Achievement Award
Nancy Walsh receiving IAEE’s 2020 Woman of Achievement Award

“Over the course of my career, I have had the great pleasure and opportunity to work alongside brilliant leaders, both women and men, as well as lead many incredible teams, driven by innovation and inspired by the creativity that teamwork can spark,” she said. “By approaching each day and each project with wholehearted dedication, open-mindedness and collaboration, anything is possible.”

At Informa Markets Fashion, which includes leading brands such as MAGIC, COTERIE, PROJECT and PROJECT WOMENS, she has spearheaded initiatives such as a new incubator program designed to give a boost to deserving up-and-coming, yet underrepresented, Black fashion designers as part of the MAGIC DIGITAL program.

Related: Emerging Black Designers Get Boost from New Informa Markets Fashion Initiative

Trade Show Executive sat down with Walsh recently to learn more about her career path and what it takes for women to succeed in this industry.

On being a role model for future female trade show executives…
This topic hits home for Walsh, who has a 28-year-old daughter in the industry. While this is indisputably a tumultuous time, Walsh said she is thrilled her daughter is in the trade show business.

Informa Markets Fashion President Nancy Walsh

But even before she was paving the way for her progeny, Walsh said the most rewarding aspect of her career has always been working with people. “When I got a call about a billion years ago asking me to consider working in this field, my first reaction was, ‘no.’ But then I learned that this industry is all about people. While I love the business aspect of everything we do and helping our customers be successful, one of the things that’s always been most important to me is helping people, particularly women, develop in their careers, giving them opportunities in life that they might not have even thought that they could achieve.”

 On the key drivers to her success…including bad bosses…
“I am very ambitious and competitive — something I picked up DNA-wise from my parents. My sister and I were the first in our family to go to college, and my parents couldn’t be prouder of that.”

She also cites the many mentors she leaned on along the way — including some unexpected reverse role models. In addition to having mentors who provided both advice and good role models for success, “I learned that there is a lot to be learned even from the worst bosses,” she said. For example, some may have been really good at strategy, but not so much at execution. “I learned from them that the key is to be able to be both strategic and an executor. You can be in a bad situation and still make it work for you. You have to be optimistic and learn what you can from it.”

While timing and luck also have played a role in her career, she’s also always had her foot on the accelerator. “I always had my eye on the next job, and I would ask my boss what I had to do to get there.” For example, at one point during her stint at Reed, even though her title officially was Executive Vice President, she pointed out that she actually was already doing the job of President, so why not give her the title? She got the job.

“Sometimes you have to do the job first and then people will come back and say, ‘well, of course you should have it — you’re already doing it.’”

On how IAEE has supported her in her career…
“I’m an extrovert, so I want to be a part of everything!” she said. Through her association with IAEE, including serving as a board member, she has met so many people she otherwise may not have met, both domestically and internationally, she said. IAEE’s flagship show, Expo! Expo!, also blew her away, she added. “I was constantly meeting people I knew through social media who I hadn’t met in person before, and the education and networking really catapulted me forward. IAEE really helped to shape me. It’s a tremendous organization that serves the full industry.

“I want to thank IAEE for helping me to become the professional I am today, and for helping the next generation of leaders,” she said.

On what she would have done differently had she known then what she knows now…
Not a thing. “My career has been one of my greatest blessings. I’m always learning, which is important to me — I get restless when I become stagnant.”

On what strategies will help young women just now joining the field…

• Have a voice. “If you have something to say, say it loudly and with confidence, and base it on facts,” she said.

• Don’t let being the only female in the room intimidate you. “If I’m the boss, I’m the boss. It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, Black or white, it’s all about what you bring to the table and how you project your ideas.”

• Do what you love. “If you love it, you will be good at it, and you’ll enjoy going to work every day. We spend a billion hours a day with our professional family — that’s the business we’re in — so you have to really love it.”

• Keep learning. “Especially now that we are going through this amazing transformation in digital due to COVID-19, keep learning all you can. And never stop networking. I have had an amazing network of clients and colleagues to rely on. You never know what will be in the cards, so be open-minded.”

• Always be positive. “I’m a glass-half-full person. There are advantages to every situation if you look hard enough, and you may actually find you learn the most from those bad situations.”

• Find mentors. And remember that you are helping them as much as they are helping you. “You may not even realize how much you are helping them, but you are.”

• Support each other. Whether its mentoring others, providing expertise to colleagues, or just sharing your network, supporting each other is vital to moving forward in your career.

“Women have an amazing opportunity in our business,” she said. It’s up to you to take advantage of it.

Reach Nancy Walsh at (203) 981-5653, Nancy.walsh@informa.com.