Entrepreneurial Spirit

The world of trade publishing turned out to be the perfect training ground and launching pad for trade-show entrepreneur Howard Hauben. Hauben, 49, is the president and chief operating officer of H2 Events, a trade-show consulting firm he launched in 2000, based in Merrick, N.Y. H2 Events manages the Centurion Tucson Show, an invitation-only event geared to luxury retail jewelers it launched in 2002, and the Prestige Jewelers Inventory Clearance Shows in Orlando, Fla., which H2 debuted in 2004. The company also has partnered with the California Jewelers Association to launch the West Coast Jewelry Show in Los Angeles in August.

Hauben’s expertise in developing and managing trade shows was honed during a 23-year career with Miller Freeman Inc. (now VNU), publisher of National Jeweler magazine. Starting as an editorial trainee at National Jeweler in 1977, Hauben soon switched over to sales and quickly moved through the ranks, becoming a sales manager, then publisher of the magazine. In 1990, Hauben was promoted to head of the Miller Freeman Jewelry Group, where he oversaw all jewelry media and show operations. He eventually became a senior vice president of MFI and a member of the company’s board of directors.

Some of his key jewelry achievements during his MFI tenure include creating and founding the Couture Jewellery Collection & Conference and heading a team that rebuilt the JA New York shows following their acquisition by Blenheim Holdings in 1996. In addition to managing the jewelry division, Hauben headed the company’s Variety & General Merchandise, Gift, and Internet Strategy & Development divisions. Ultimately, Hauben’s responsibility at MFI extended to more than 40 business operations on three continents.

In an exclusive interview with JCK, Hauben discusses his background and examines how his publishing experience at MFI propelled him into a career in trade-show management.

JCK: What was the most valuable thing you gained from your Miller Freeman experience?

HH: Miller Freeman offered me key trade-show experience. I had looked into trade shows when I was a sales manager for National Jeweler in the late 1980s. Over the next 10 years I worked very hard there in the area of launching new shows. Trade shows were an important growth vehicle for the company throughout the 1990s. By the time I left Miller Freeman in 2000, I had responsibility for more than 20 shows.

JCK: How did your publishing background pave the way for your trade-show success?

HH: Miller Freeman offered me the opportunity to be entrepreneurial within a big company. They offered the learning tools to develop my skills. I had served in a variety of editorial, editorial-management, sales, and sales-management positions, and I also was the publisher of National Jeweler for a year or two. As I moved into managing the Jewelry Group, I took on serious trade-show responsibilities. When I left Miller Freeman, moving completely into the trade-show business seemed a natural progression for my career.

One of the things that made it fun for me to work for Miller Freeman was that I was given a lot of latitude from top management in running our businesses. I had the responsibility to build the group around jewelry, not just National Jeweler. And I was able to successfully leverage our strong magazine brand into many other areas [ancillary publications, shows/events, online ventures, etc.]

JCK: How were you able to transition so successfully from a longtime career in the corporate world with MFI to launching your own trade-show business?

HH: When you launch a business, you start off with “relationship capital.” I had a lot of contacts that I had built up through almost 25 years in the jewelry business—especially in the high end [through VNU’s Couture Jewellery Collection & Conference, which Hauben launched]. I had a lot of entrée in that sector. I met with lots of people who exhibited at Couture and learned that people would support a high-end event that wasn’t just run by an organizer, but where the exhibitors had some control. And that was the idea behind the Centurion Tucson Show, which was launched in 2002 and is now in its fourth successful year. [The show is 50 percent owned by H2 and 50 percent owned by exhibitors.]

JCK: What has been the key to your success with Centurion?

HH: Part of the show’s success can certainly be attributed to “relationship marketing.” In the beginning, when I was trying to recruit high-end retailers to come to the Centurion Show, I visited more than 500 stores nationwide. I still spend a significant amount of time traveling across the country to speak to retailers about our shows. On the vendor side, being in a partnership with the exhibitors has helped to keep us from focusing solely on exhibitor revenue to the detriment of the show. The exhibitors themselves are deciding what’s best for them and how to handle it—pricing, location, everything. Independent management would usually make these decisions, and they might not always be in the best interests of the exhibitors. At H2 Events, we have consistently left money on the table in the best interests of the show.

JCK: What is your business philosophy, and how has it driven your career?

HH: I am very entrepreneurial; I love to create new business opportunities. Miller Freeman allowed me to do this with their checkbook. I always say that I was an “intrapreneur” at Miller Freeman. The thing is, when you’re creating new opportunities for someone else, you don’t want to be totally risk-averse and never take any chances, but you’ve also got to be careful that you’re not doing something that will risk your career.

Regardless of whether you work for yourself or someone else, once you’ve achieved a certain level of success, there’s a tendency to say “I don’t need to care anymore” and to stop trying to improve yourself. It’s human nature. But to stay on top, you have to keep pushing yourself, improving yourself, and trying to take things to the next level. Ironically, I’ve found that the higher you go, the more you have to strive for, because you always have people under you trying to move up.