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IAEE Spotlight on 2023 Distinguished Service Award Winner Aaron Bludworth

Aaron Bludworth
A proven leader, Aaron Bludworth has dedicated himself to advancing the industry’s advocacy efforts as well as serving in volunteer roles across a multitude of organizations. Learn what has inspired this Distinguished Service Award winner to lift the industry and give back to the community in so many ways.

By Mary Tucker | Sr. Communications & Content Manager | IAEE

animated image of 2023 IAEE Distonguished Service Award Winner Aaron Bludworth

Aaron Bludworth’s illustrious career in the exhibitions and events industry spans over three decades. Beginning his career at Modern Exposition Services in Salt Lake City, he showcased an innate aptitude for leadership, strategic thinking and innovation. Building on those traits, he progressed professionally, culminating in taking the helm at Fern Expo in 2008. Under his visionary and values-based leadership approach, the company flourished, establishing itself as North America’s third-largest official services contractor.

In addition to his contributions to Fern, Aaron has always been a staunch advocate for the industry’s significance. He has actively engaged with policymakers at the local, state, and national levels, ensuring that the interests of the exhibition community are always at the forefront. Additionally, he has always been a trusted and respected voice for the industry, often being interviewed about important issues impacting the industry, appearing on numerous industry panels across multiple industry organizations, partaking in podcasts regularly, and being a consistent voice for the industry on social media.

Leaning into the organization’s culture, he believed in the value of giving back. He made it a point to support Fern team members in volunteering in the industry and their local communities. On a personal level, he spent many years serving numerous industry organizations including CEIR and ESCA, eventually serving as chairperson of both organizations. He has also served multiple DMOs, including the Cincinnati CVB as a Board Member and Louisville Tourism as part of their Customer Advisory Council. Aaron also gives his time and energy to numerous community and religious organizations.

Aaron’s years of accomplishments and dedicated service earned him the IAEE Distinguished Service Award last year, for which he was recognized this past December during Expo! Expo! IAEE’s Annual Meeting & Exhibition in Dallas, Texas (watch Aaron’s acceptance speech here).

Here, Aaron shares with IAEE his passion for speaking on the needs of our industry to our nation’s leaders, the importance of giving back to communities as an industry and personally, and what he has learned about leadership over the past 30+ years.

fun facts about Aaron Bludworth

You have been lauded as an ardent spokesperson for exhibitions and events, especially when advocating on behalf of the industry to policymakers. What aspect of this industry have you found surprises people who are unfamiliar with it the most?

Aaron: Those unfamiliar with the industry are always surprised by the size, the number of industries it connects (essentially all), the role it plays in education, and the overall economic impact. Policymakers’ eyes always get bigger when they hear about exhibitions, especially how they impact businesses and individuals whom they represent.

You have been praised for your leadership abilities, not just in your job roles but also as an industry leader. What qualities do you think a good leader should possess, and what advice do you have for professionals who would like to ascend the ranks of leadership?

Aaron: Focus on your role and sphere of responsibility, and do not overfocus on ascending the ranks of leadership. In my experience, leaders need to have some non-negotiables related to principles and organizational objectives and should then be very flexible on everything else. Leaders tend to get hung up spending time on ego-based style and micro-managing, two practices that undermine successful leadership in my observation. I’m not suggesting it is OK to be disconnected and aloof, but leaders identify, trust, and support other leaders and walk through the spotlight from time to time but aren’t looking for a follow spot to bring attention to themselves.

Throughout your career, you have always found time to volunteer to worthy causes both within and outside of the industry. Why do you feel it is so important to give back to the community and what do you enjoy most about it?

Aaron: Our industry is better when we work together on the causes that matter to the whole. Those with the best opportunity to gather people together and with platforms that can get attention have the responsibility to do so. Fortunately, our industry has a tremendous base of leaders and volunteers working at all levels. We are all better, and our industry is healthier and stronger as a result. I’ve always supported and encouraged a healthy number of my team members to be involved in industry organizations locally and nationally, it’s good for them, our organization, and the industry.

When it comes to community, we all have a personal obligation to help those who need a hand. There are countless ways we can impact individuals and communities at an individual level. I find that impacting people’s lives when they need it most, in very small or more significant ways, creates a virtuous cycle within oneself where the desire grows to do more and prioritization to offer help increases. Every organization and most individuals in our industry can impact lives through their personal generosity of time or resources. It doesn’t take much, and you’ll almost always get more than you give.

Congratulations on your retirement! What have you loved most about your career in exhibitions and events, and what does the future hold for this phase of your journey?

Aaron: That is a lot to load into a question! Without a doubt, I have loved the people most: team members at all of the companies I’ve been fortunate to be part of, clients, industry friends, etc. I’m sure there are great people in every industry, but I believe that the exhibitions industry has some of the hardest-working, most innovative, and truly genuine people in all of business. I feel very fortunate to have been part of such an amazing force of people. As for the future, that’s a question that I have yet to find an answer to. Regardless of what is next, my 30+ years in the exhibition industry will be the pinnacle of my professional life.

The Call for Nominations for this year’s IAEE Awards is now open! Check out all of the award categories here and be sure to submit your nominations by 30 August!

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