Christine Ianuzzi – Managing Partner of Leading Edge Expositions
In January 2015, Christine Ianuzzi joined three of her siblings as a managing partner of H.A. Bruno, LLC, an event planning firm that has operated all over the world since its inception back in 1923. H.A. Bruno (HAB) currently produces eight events in four countries, covering six industries, with offices in Paramus, NJ, Mexico City, and London. Founded as a public relations firm, HAB grew through the 1970s into a leader in the global tradeshow industry. With the introduction of the microcomputer for business in the early 1980s, HAB, then under the management of the Ianuzzi family, had the foresight to launch PC EXPO in New York, as the first “business to business” event for volume buyers of PCs and technology providers. PC EXPO quickly became the launching pad for some of the most important technological advancements of the time and generated billions of dollars in sales for hardware and software companies. Their newest pioneering events are the Cannabis World Congress & Business Expositions, produced by Leading Edge Expositions, a sub-division of HAB. Christine recently took some time to sit down with us and share her fantastic journey that led her to entrepreneurial success.
What brought you into the cannabis industry?
I joined my family trade show business this past January. The year before I joined, my brothers had an idea to create a new trade event, one that would serve the emerging legalized cannabis industry. They recruited me to implement that idea. So, in January 2015, I was thrust into the “wild west” style marketplace of the cannabis industry, creating a trade show from the ground up. Leading Edge Expositions, a subdivision of H.A. Bruno, is the perfect and most experienced company to navigate and produce the pioneering Cannabis World Congress & Business Expositions (CWCBExpo). Our experience and reputation as trade show managers and business professionals offered a logical partnership with the International Cannabis Association. Combined with its publication, Cannabis Enterprise, CWCBExpo offers a very comprehensive approach to creating business-to-business forums for the legal cannabis business.
What were you doing before?
My journey to HAB was a long one. I began my career in 1987 as a systems engineer at ABC Television. I loved that job. I was assigned to work at the Advanced Television Test Center in Virginia to test HDTV standards, and worked my way up through numerous technical and operational executive positions until 2000, when I moved to ABC Radio as Senior Vice President of Broadcasting Technology. At ABC Radio, I was a key executive during the transition of ABC Radio Networks to Citadel Broadcasting. I was restructuring and realigning the company in a rapidly changing industry.
I love working with my family and making history with them at the same time.
After radio, I went to HBO as Vice President of Studio & Production Operations, where I managed the transition from tape to digital media – no small task in a premier content production company! And it was during the aftermath of the earthquake in Japan that caused a media tape shortage throughout the media industry. I ultimately became the VP of Media Supply Chain Operations and dealt with workflow analysis, metadata, and content management.
In describing my career, I guess you could say I am a “transition leader and specialist.” In addition to the transitions in my working career, I was part of the Polytechinic University merger with New York University, as president of the Alumni Association from 2009-2011. I now serve as a Trustee on the NYU Poly Board.
In all my executive positions, I can say I never stopped being an engineer. I got my Electrical Engineering degree from Poly in 1987, my Master’s Degree in Information Systems Technology from Poly in 1994, and an MBA from Baruch College in 1996. I attribute my engineering training coupled with a willingness to embrace changing trends to my exciting career. My newest venture, creating and managing cannabis trade shows as the leader of Leading Edge Expositions, is perhaps my most exciting career move yet. I love working with my family and making history with them at the same time.
After our father passed away in 2013, the family grew much closer together and my brothers offered me a position in the firm to manage the new launch of the CWCBExpo. I was thrilled and humbled, and I accepted – but with caution, since for me, it was going to be a new business and working environment.
When did you realize the coming of the ‘green rush’?
My brothers, Ralph and Stephen, had the idea that we should build an exposition around the legalized cannabis industry. They had researched the concept for a long time and invested in a lot of R&D prior to making the decision to launch these events. They realized that there was no major event on either the East or West Coast that offered a true business-to-business forum for the legalized cannabis business. As a pair of expos, launching these in the manner our family business had always launched trade shows was a no-brainer.
Right now, what is your biggest focus with the CWCBExpo?
I am focused entirely on building and developing CWCBExpo to be the best possible expositions and forums for the legalized cannabis industry. I am networking and building relationships with other pioneers (entrepreneurs, organizations, consultants, and medical groups) that will help provide this industry with a professional forum to go to as well as the educational resources it needs as the industry grows, melds with the mainstream, and matures.
As a pair of expos, launching these in the manner our family business had always launched trade shows was a no-brainer.
Describe your work ethic in one word.
Who is a person that you consider as a role model? Maybe someone who has been a mentor to you? Why and how did this person impact your life?
I have several role models in my life. Among them are members of my family – my parents, brothers, and my sister. I rely on them for guidance and advice, especially while I am building our new expositions around the legalized cannabis industry. With every question I have about this business, their guidance and advice are like tutoring sessions that I benefit from every day. It is tough to beat their business acumen and decades of experience.
What book have you read that you’ve been inspired by? Any particular read we should put on our list?
I am always inspired by books about leadership. One of the most memorable books that I read is Joe Torre’s “Ground Rules for Winners”. I have a signed copy of this book that I waited in line for when I worked at ABC Television. I am a huge baseball fan – both major league and minor league. Baseball is a game that requires great skill from the players and great strategy and leadership among the owners and coaches. Business is the same way. A successful business needs a team with skills, strategy and leadership.
Another great book and a must read is “Little Bets” by Peter Sims. This is about innovative ideas, risk, successes, failures and the ability to overcome what may not have worked 100%, to keep trying and build on everything – the good, the bad, the successes, the failures.
Tell me about an esteemed achievement of yours.
I joined the family business and we all get along!
What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
My father gave me three pieces of the best advice I ever heard:
- Sometimes in life, people need a little help, so you have to help them. There is nothing wrong with that.
- Answer every message and return every phone call.
- Don’t ever own a boat.
What is the most important thing for us to know now about the legal cannabis industry?
It won’t be much longer until the legalized cannabis industry will be a big part of mainstream business and investment. The legalized medical use in numerous states and DC has driven awareness of the necessity for legal access and legitimate distribution of cannabis. We are at a very important point for federal consideration to legalize this industry on a multitude of levels. The federal laws must recognize this important next step to legalize it in all 50 states so this business can become (sooner than later), a positive and non-intimidating business.
After our father passed away in 2013, the family grew much closer together and my brothers offered me a position in the firm to manage the new launch of the CWCBExpo.
If we are sitting across from each other a year from now, how will our conversation about the ‘green rush’ be going?
We would probably be discussing how many new companies, services and employment opportunities around the legalized cannabis business have emerged. In addition, more than likely we will be discussing how many more states have passed cannabis laws legalizing it for medical use and or recreational use. Lastly, I would hope that we would be discussing how the mainstream financial community is investing in the legalized cannabis business.
The legalized medical use in numerous states and DC has driven awareness of the necessity for legal access and legitimate distribution of cannabis.
If you could tell a skeptic one thing about this industry to make them change their mind, what would it be?
I would direct them to the many benefits that medical use cannabis has, and how it has helped many who suffer from conditions like head trauma, epilepsy and unexplained seizures. Medical cannabis actually allows them to lead a better and normal life. I would also assert that legalization for recreational use actually gives way to the opportunity for better control and safer use.
Tell us something that you wish you had known before becoming a cannabis entrepreneur.
I’m not a cannabis entrepreneur, but I am a trade show entrepreneur that is providing a forum for the legal cannabis business person. The legalized cannabis industry is so young that I truly think there is nothing I can think of that I wish I had known prior to creating expositions for the legalized cannabis industry. Every day is something new so if I start to regret not knowing something sooner, I would have a lot to rue.
We are at a very important point for federal consideration to legalize this industry on a multitude of levels.
Anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Our exposition in NYC was a success and our LA expo will be a success too. I want to applaud and thank all of our exhibitors and attendees – they are very professional, impressive and very brave to pioneer this new frontier. I am glad we are working and growing together.
To find out more about the CWCBE, click here. What do you think about Christine’s journey as an entrepreneur? How do you think her history outside the cannabis space helps the industry as a whole? Join the conversation and comment below!