Info Salons Group CEO Jo-Anne Kelleway has been asked about the name of her company thousands of times, with the main question being, ‘Is it something to do with hair?’
The answer is no. After working in France – where the word ‘salon’ means trade show – Kelleway returned to Australia in the late 1980s with a business idea. She says, “I thought that the industry over here would be interested in data. We set up the business at a time when things were really taking off in Australia with the opening of Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre (SCEC). We were lucky to ride the wave of growth with the rest of the industry.”
So what makes her tick after so many years the game?
“There’s never a dull moment. There’s always something new and interesting. I also love the personalities in our industry – there are a lot of very interesting entrepreneurs all over the world who create events,” she says.
Kelleway, who has over 30 years’ experience in the exhibitions and events industry, was recently recognised with the President’s Award at the EEAA Awards. While she concedes that awards are very nice to have, this is not the pinnacle of her career.
She says, “My proudest achievement was opening our first international office in Shanghai. We continued with the same business model and opened in Hong Kong, Dubai and Istanbul. We are looking at another office in South East Asia right now.” Kelleway, who is the mother of two adult children, says that one of the keys to her success is the support of her partner.
“I have an incredible husband who happened to sell his business when our eldest daughter was only 5 years old. He became the main carer to our children which meant that I could concentrate on building the business.”
And build it she did. Today Info Salons employs 200 people full time and has offices in Sydney, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Dubai and Instanbul; with representative offices in Macao and Seoul and plans to open headquarters in Thailand, Jakarta and Singapore this year.
It seems she took the advice of her friend and industry colleague Alan Ekholm from AE Displays to heart when he said to her, “If you’re afraid of hard work, long hours and constant pressure then you’re in the wrong game. We work hard and play hard in this industry.”
So where does she see things going? Kelleway said that the face-to-face industry will continue to grow even more now that technology has taken over so much of our lives.
“As human beings we crave the contact and excitement that exhibitions and events provide. It’s a great industry to be a part of filled with passionate, like-minded people. I can’t imagine what else I would prefer to do,” she said.