Irmohizam Ibrahim: Leveraging networks

Member collaboration for mutual benefits are at the top of the to-do list for Irmohizam Ibrahim, the new chairman of conferences and exhibition, Member Advisory Council at the US-based World Trade Centers Association. He deems expertise and experience exchanges to be key to business events recovery

What is the World Trade Centers Association (WTCA) all about?
The WTCA stimulates trade and investment opportunities for commercial property developers, economic development agencies and international businesses looking to connect globally and prosper locally.

The association serves as an international ecosystem of global connections, iconic properties and integrated trade services under the umbrella of a prestigious brand. To date, the exclusive World Trade Center and WTC branded properties and trade service organisations are located in more than 90 countries and supported by 15,000 WTC professionals that deliver integrated, reciprocal resources to solve business needs.

What are your top priorities in your two-year tenure as chairman of conferences and exhibition Member Advisory Council at WTCA?
During my term, I hope to build on collaborations with industry partners, such as the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry and the International Congress and Convention Association, as well as non-governmental organisations and government-linked organisations.

I intend to create opportunities to explore future-proof concepts in the business events industry so we can minimise negative outcomes and maximise opportunities. As chairman, I am responsible for leading the Member Advisory Council and steer focus on strategic matters that affect our members and industry as well as set high governance standards for all.

You are also group managing director of the World Trade Centre Kuala Lumpur. How will you use your network to further position Malaysia as an international business events destination?
There are a lot of diverse experiences for us to share and learn from. For example, we can learn from each other on the latest digital technologies related to organising hybrid events as well as the best standard operating practices related to meetings, conventions and exhibitions. This covers a wide range of subjects, from ventilation, adequate public parking and crowd control to working with the public transport providers, agencies and traffic police.

We hope to learn from other affiliates their best practices, so that we can fine-tune our own standard operating procedures (SPOs) at WTCKL in order to provide the best service to our clients while keeping them safe.

Of course, some SOPs are set by the Malaysian government and we must abide by them, such as utilising only 50 per cent of the maximum venue capacity now.

However, as I am also a board member of the Malaysian Convention and Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB), I am able to use my influence there to suggest changes that will revive the business events industry in Malaysia. Some of the things I can do include advocating travel bubbles while prioritising health and safety for all business event delegates.

I am also networking with WTCA members abroad to encourage them to bring their events to WTCKL. I would like WTCKL to be the leading venue for the business events industry in Malaysia. Our membership in the WTCA allows us to tap into a vast network of expertise and experience from all over the world.

Has the pandemic changed the way WTCA members communicate?
Yes, it used to be mainly in-person meetings but we now communicate virtually. There is a time difference that we have to contend with, but this is easily done. For example, I do regular virtual meetings at night with my fellow WTCA board members.

What is the main challenge for WTCKL’s post-pandemic recovery, and can WTCA help overcome this obstacle?
The business events industry has been heavily impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. The partial and full lockdowns as well as the delay in reopening the business events industry to international participants have cost Malaysia in excess of RM27.5 billion (US$6.5 billion) in gross domestic product losses.

WTCKL has to be agile in adapting to the current business climate. We can no longer work in silo, remain in our comfort zone and do business the old way. We need to explore new business opportunities and new methods, such as using technology for hybrid events.

I see myself learning from fellow WTCA affiliates and leverage our connections to create win-win collaborations that will increase our profit margins and make up for the losses sustained in 2020 and 2021. For instance, I have been in touch with the Humpty Dumpty Institute, an organisation that works closely with the US government, for collaboration in bringing educational business events to WTCKL.

WTCKL will also work with WTCA members to promote World Trade Centres and businesses in Asia-Pacific through WTCA’s new Access Asia Program, set to launch this year.

We will also participate in the Malaysian Pavilion at IMEX Frankfurt and collaborate with MyCEB to host business matching programmes to promote the country’s business events industry.

Amid all that, you are also doing a Master’s degree in Public Administration and a Master’s degree in Defence Management. How do you manage?
Where there’s a will, there’s a way! I have a very well organised team that helps me plan my weekly schedule. I am also an extremely disciplined person. I sit down and evaluate the list of priorities for both work and studies at the start of each week so that I am always on top of my game.

And you already possess a Masters of Law and a PhD of Philosophy Education.
I like to arm myself with knowledge. Knowledge keeps evolving. There are new findings all the time. I also hope set an example for the younger generation of leaders and future leaders (by encouraging them) to have a thirst for knowledge and to build on existing skillsets.

I came from a humble background and my parents have always stressed on the importance of having a good education. From an early age, I learnt there are no shortcuts in life.