When the president of RX Greater China, Michael Cheng, got the call in January of 2020 about the virus spreading in Wuhan, he remained calm and got to work fast. His past experience of working on the ground during the Tianjin explosions in 2015 prepared him well.  

A week before the lockdown in Wuhan in 2020, Cheng set up a crisis management committee and set to work, convincing his team members from Wuhan to avoid returning there for the Chinese New Year holiday.  That foresight, along with RX’ strong technology infrastructure, contributed to keeping the 550 strong team safe, connected and operational throughout the lockdown.   

Calm-headed problem-solving and empathy are emblematic of Cheng’s leadership style. “The exhibitions business is not just about infrastructure,” he says. “80 percent of the investment is about people. It’s a people-centered business.”

Michael Cheng, centre, touring the show floor of the 28th China (Shenzhen) International Gifts and Home Product Fair in June 2020, the first big show to take place after lockdown.

The 84th China International Medical Equipment Fair (CMEF), hosted by a joint venture between RX and Sinopharm, was held in May 2021 at the National Exhibition and Convention Center (Shanghai). The show attracted nearly 5,000 exhibitors. 

The impact of the loss of those in-person connections was felt especially hard, as exhibitions were postponed or canceled altogether when social distancing regulations were put into place. “The exhibitions industry has been hit the most. We were the first to press the ‘stop’ button and we resumed our activities after other industries,” Cheng says.  The number of shows run by RX in China went from over 70 events in 2019 to 50 in 2020, a significant drop, but not as bad as it could have been.

Whether dealing with colleagues or clients, Cheng and his team’s approach remained the same. “The first thing we expressed to our clients was not to worry, because worrying doesn’t help. And the second was to take care of yourself and your family. I think the most important thing is to let the customer know that it’s not all about business. It’s important to create a supportive atmosphere,” he says.

While in-person shows resumed in June 2020 and events took place with strict social distancing and anti-virus protection measures, the digital initiatives developed during the crisis ranged from online seminars to online meet-ups and online meetings. “I believe an integrated offline-to-online platform that delivers value beyond the physical show-floor within the three show days is vital to meet the demand from our customers and the market,” says Cheng.  “We are planning to enlarge the scope of these digital solutions and develop a virtual environment where exhibitors are able to connect and experience over a prolonged period of interaction, networking and branding conversations. “ 

Cheng is optimistic about the road ahead. The piece of Chinese calligraphy gracing his office wall speaks to his management style: “Determined to reach the top of mountains and look over the hills from the top.”