All change at TFWA?

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.

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It’s good to see TFWA open up on the subject of proposed changes to its statutes governing the role and eligibility criteria of the association’s President.

In a refreshingly candid interview with me this week, Philip Gerzon (above), Managing Director of Gerzon Duty Free, speaking in his capacity as a Member of TFWA’s Management Committee and leader of an association Task Force, talked about the rationale behind the changes.

As we’ve reported, the key thrust of the proposed amendments – which will be voted on by TFWA members in Cannes, is that it would be possible in future to source a President from outside the Management Committee (and outside the industry), instead of from within the Management Committee as at present.

Why the need for change? Well you can read Philip’s detailed response on that in our interview but in essence the problem lies in TFWA’s consistent inability to attract industry candidates for the role in recent years. As a result, incumbent Erik Juul-Mortensen has been convinced time and again to remain in the post despite his frequently stated desire to stand down.

By opening up the nomination and selection procedure TFWA is effectively giving itself a choice in case there is none. As Philip Gerzon says, “On a number of occasions we have been faced with little or no choice of candidate. Even if there is a candidate from the Management Committee this time around, this does not mean that the same will apply in one year and we will then be in the same situation again.”

I am pleased to see the issue debated publicly and not just within the confines of TFWA’s Management Committee. This is, potentially, a fundamental change to the ‘By the Trade, for the Trade’ ethos of TFWA and as such should be honestly examined in the public domain – including by the industry media.

TFWA became supersensitive when I reported on the proposed changes earlier in the year – well before they were made public this month – but they needn’t have. Just as the Management Committee debated the issue rigorously and honestly, then so the wider industry public deserves to hear the rationale behind and merits of the proposed changes. After all, the very real possibility now exists that the Management Committee could elect a non-industry candidate over one of its own members. And that, in my book, is worth debate.

The association has long been blessed with a capable President. By common acclaim Juul-Mortensen (pictured below) is an adept Chairman, well versed in the difficult role of controlling a 30-plus member Management Committee. The politics of such an unwieldy body are often complex and Juul-Mortensen’s calm, measured and forthright where necessary Chairmanship has won him many fans down the years. He is a popular and highly capable figure.

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Why have no alternative candidates emerged in the past? Philip Gerzon hits the nail on the head when he says: “The fact is that with today’s requirements from companies and brands, few people have the possibility to, or indeed are prepared to, make the commitment that Erik Juul-Mortensen has made over the last 11 years and combine it with a hugely responsible job.”

But maybe the job itself has become over-complicated. As we noted back in April: “A way forward – and hopefully this is being considered by the Task Force – is to simplify the whole way that TFWA functions. Does an association charged principally with running two exhibitions a year (with related conferences) really need a 35-strong Management Committee (including, for example, nine representatives from the fragrances & cosmetics sector)? Does it really need to run up all the time, let alone cost, of four meetings a year (plus probably double that number in Board meetings)?

“Maybe TFWA needs to do what the rest of the corporate world is doing and get back to basics. A simplified approach and structure might encourage someone at last to stand for the voluntary President’s post, surely the desired end for everybody?”

Since then, of course, a candidate did emerge – in May Estée Lauder Travel Retailing Worldwide President Olivier Bottrie declared his candidacy though it is now unclear whether he will in fact stand given the likely rule changes.

Juul-Mortensen, who has recently left his full-time role in the travel retail drinks industry, is also not saying whether he will be a candidate, preferring to wait for the outcome of the Emergency General Meeting in Cannes.

In theory, under the proposed new rules, one could stand against the other; and future years could see some equally interesting line-ups.

Is that a good thing? One has to sympathize with TFWA. Under the current rules Bottrie is the first alternative candidate to emerge in many years. Will other industry players – and Management Committee members – follow suit in future years? The Management Committee clearly, and understandably, doubts it.

But equally, all organizations need change – it is the lifeblood of any successful company or body – and new voices from within the industry provide that. It is indeed a complex situation.

When established, TFWA was giving voice to a democratic trade concern over how poorly the industry was being served by a private exhibition organiser. In the intervening years it has become an exhibition organiser par excellence, always with an industry member at its helm. That could be about to change.

The merits of that change need to be considered intelligently and openly. Philip Gerzon’s interview is an excellent start.

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