10/07/2020 | People

The American way of doing ACHEMA

Alan Morris, ACHEMA representative for the US and Canada for 22 years shares his memories

Your history with ACHEMA reaches back over more than three decades. How long exactly?

  • __My first contact with ACHEMA was actually as an exhibitor in 1988. At the time I was publisher of Chemical Engineering Magazine at McGraw-Hill. We had many European and especially German advertisers, many of whom exhibited at the ACHEMA. So the ACHEMA was very useful to see them all in one place. In 1998, I became ACHEMA’s representative for the United States and Canada, a total of 22 years.

Can you remember the first time entering the exhibition halls?

  • __I remember that I was amazed at the size of things and the number of vendors and of course, the number of visitors, too. I felt absolutely dwarfed by the tall ceiling of hall 8 and the multi-story, spaceship-style displays. It was quite an eye opener. Still today the ACHEMA is a bit of flash, and yet it's all about the serious business of chemical engineering and chemistry. So it really is a unique experience in the world of shows, a spectacle of equipment displays.

What is different from ACHEMA today from when you think back two or three decades? What has changed?

  • __ACHEMA has definitely become more modern with the information flow. I remember the heavy printed hardcover catalogues: several volumes, each weighing more than a kilo. What a relief when they were replaced by electronic media in 1997! Now we have all the information at our fingertips in the mobile app and electronic dissemination of news before, during and after the show. ACHEMA has kept up with the times, I think. Of course, the equipment has changed, too. Things have gotten so much more digital and they are really progressing along the lines of automation and environmental concerns.

You just said the equipment has become more digital. So has the whole world of communication. Why do we still need a place where we can touch the equipment – can't we just do it over the internet?

  • __I suppose we're trying to be more digital today in this world of COVID-19, but I think there's great value in physical presence. At ACHEMA the congress sessions and the exhibition complement each other to create a great learning experience. What better way to learn than to actually see and experience the equipment and the technology? One big advantage of ACHEMA compared to some other events is that so much of the equipment is operating live and you get to see the whirring action, the filling, mixing, blending and packaging. That’s not possible over the internet.

What has stayed the same? What would somebody, who has been there 30 years ago and comes back next year, find unchanged?

  • __The constant is that every time you go, it's going to be an experience of learning. But every time, you're going to experience something different than you saw the last time. But you can always count on ACHEMA being a place where a lot of the future innovation starts.

Trade shows in the US are supposedly quite different. How would you explain the ACHEMA to someone from North America?

  • __It's something I do quite a lot. It is hard to convey the enormity of it, the sheer size and scope of the ACHEMA without somebody actually experiencing it. The shows in the United States have downsized pretty much because our industrial bases somewhat diminished in the last 20 years. Along with that, a lot of people who used to attend shows have been downsized. So, the ACHEMA is a place where you have a lot more buyers, all in one place and from all over the world, whereas in the U.S. the shows are a lot smaller.

How do you feel about the congress? It is seen as an important part of ACHEMA.

  • __I'm a big believer in this idea of the two being married; it makes for a great learning experience. It is one thing to hear about something in a session or a panel discussion but it's another thing to see that same technology at work in the exhibition. The Congress is also a means to attract people to the event. It draws a core of technology people from the companies that then get exposure to the equipment and to the vendors in the in the exhibition. That’s another difference between shows in the U.S. and Europe: In the U.S. we have only just begun to develop more of an educational bend to these events. In the years past we depended too much on the trade show to attract a technical audience when it could have been done much better with a robust set of sessions.

How do you explain ACHEMA to a prospective customer who has never heard of it?

  • __I try to convey the excitement of the ACHEMA and the enormity of it. Then I explain how many birds they can kill with just one stone. Maybe you're looking for a new representative in a part of the world that's new to you. Maybe you've sold in the U.S. for many years and now you're looking to export. You're going to not only see customers, but also your competition. That's a big change for Americans who don't want to exhibit near their competition. They usually get over it quickly and learn that if you're not there, you're sort of conspicuous in your absence.

Is there an event or something that happened during ACHEMA that is especially memorable to you?

  • __I fondly remember the gala night on Monday that was held until 2009. It was formal, filled with well-known entertainers and it was just a chance to let your hair down after spending ten hours on the show floor. Some of the customers have pretty good receptions, too. Those are always fun. So I guess what I'm saying is you can't work all the time, right? We have long days we have tired feet, so relax with your friends and your customers while you have the chance.

What challenges have you encountered over the last two decades in your role as ACHEMA representative for the US and Canada?

  • __With the COVID-19 pandemic 2020 is a difficult time and I hope it will be resolved by summer 2021. ACHEMA and DECHEMA always do the best job of preparing for infectious diseases – I remember SARS 2003 and the swine flu 2012. Apart from these awful things, I witnessed a change in the American way of doing business. We have been content to sell domestically for a long time because we had robust domestic markets and enough buyers. This changed about 20 or 30 years ago, when Americans became exporters by necessity. Competition got fierce when our markets downsized and the world came to us. The challenge is getting people to think outside of our borders, think about an international show for the first time. To convince them that the ACHEMA is a little more of an investment up front but the payoff is so much better.

Please complete the following sentences:
If I wasn't the representative for ACHEMA, I would like to be...

  • __Elon Musk. SpaceX, Tesla – just kidding. But I like his entrepreneurial spirit. I've been so lucky to be the representative for the ACHEMA and to have my own business after working in the corporate world for several decades.

A first-time visitor to ACHEMA should take care to...

  • __wear really comfortable shoes! The first time I went to the ACHEMA back in the 80s as an exhibitor, I had fancy Italian thin soled shoes and I think I had to buy a new pair after two days. Most of the floors are carpeted, but you are on concrete a lot nonetheless. The other thing I tell people: don't come alone! It's a long day being in the halls from 9:00 in the morning till 6:00 at night, seeing people, talking to people, on your feet all the time. Bring some help and share that responsibility.

I am looking forward to ACHEMA 2021 because...

  • __the 2021 show is my last ACHEMA. I am sad, but excited, too, because I look forward to seeing my friends, my customers and my fellow representatives the last time in a while.


Alan Morris has a B.A. degree in Journalism from the University of South Carolina and has served in several industry association positions. During his time as publisher of Chemical Engineering magazine he launched the ACHEMA Show Daily newspaper which continues today. With his company Morris Marketing he represents the ACHEMA in the US and Canada since 1998.

Questions ask by Marlene Etschmann.


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