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Home >  BULLETINICCA names Senthil Gopinath as new chief executive
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ICCA names Senthil Gopinath as new chief executive
Selection of former Emirates executive and Sri Lanka bureau boss follows controversial and costly ousting of Martin Sirk from congress organisers’ association

8 Apr 2019

FORMER Sri Lanka Convention Bureau chief and Emirates executive Senthil Gopinath has been appointed to lead congress organiser association ICCA into a new era.

The board of the International Congress and Convention Association voted to select Gopinath following a recruitment process that began in October 2018, following the sudden departure of Martin Sirk as CEO the previous July.

“Senthil brings the qualities that we most need in a leader at this juncture,” said James Rees, ICCA president and executive director of ExCeL London. “Throughout his career, he has demonstrated not only that he can establish a vision, but also chart the tactical path to reach that vision, always working from a solid foundation of operational and financial expertise.”

Gopinath’s career in the meetings travel industry spans more than 20 years, with 18 years spent working within ICCA member organisations, most recently building the Middle East Chapter, the association said in a statement.

The ICCA board said Gopinath’s career has included:

  • Dramatically elevating MICE operations for Emirates airline as its head of business development and operations, making the division one of the largest and most profitable in the region;
  • Restructuring and re-strategising the business model of VFS Global – a part of Kuoni Travel Group. As vice president – South Asia of VFS Global, annual profits grew exponentially over 60 per cent in two years;
  • Creating an innovative private-public partnership model for the Sri Lanka Convention Bureau as its general manager and CEO, increasing business tourism by 78 per cent and driving a 64 per cent increase in revenue;
  • Being named one of three finalists for the 2019 Business Event Strategist of the Year award from the Professional Convention Management Association, with the winner to be announced in May.

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Sirk’s departure after 16 years at the helm, combined with rising costs for a new CRM system, would contribute to a projected trading loss of 354,000 euro (about US$397,000) for 2018, a report presented at ICCA’s annual meeting in Dubai last November stated. The losses would be covered by a million euro in reserves, according to the budget report.

During Sirk’s time as CEO, the association grew from 600 to more than 1,100 member companies and organisations worldwide. The association’s chief value officer, Dennis Speet, stepped in as interim CEO after what observers have described as Sirk’s ousting.

Under Netherlands law, Sirk’s contract required that he be paid 12 months’ notice in addition to a year’s severance pay, UK-based M&IT reported. The Amsterdam-headquartered ICCA’s 2017-18 president, Nina Freysen-Pretorius, said CEOs for the Amsterdam-headquartered association would in future be hired on term-contract basis.

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Current ICCA president James Rees said: “Senthil brings the qualities that we most need in a leader at this juncture. Throughout his career, he has demonstrated not only that he can establish a vision, but also chart the tactical path to reach that vision, always working from a solid foundation of operational and financial expertise.”

Gopinath’s selection marked the end of a process that began in October 2018 and drew more than 100 applicants for the position.

A statement by ICCA’s board of directors continued: “Finalists were screened through extensive interviews as well as an objective, psychometric evaluation of work styles and strengths using a leading industry instrument. The board was assisted in the search process by Brussels-based European Affairs Recruitment Specialists (EARS), which was retained for the task in October.

“Gopinath’s immediate responsibilities will include developing and executing annual business plans, ensuring operational sustainability and careful financial controls, and building ICCA’s global membership and presence with a special focus on developing member services adapted to each of ICCA’s key regions.”

Main image: ICCA president James Rees (left) and Senthil Gopinath

Additional reporting by Martin Donovan


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