Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

July 22 2012

Barry Smith, CEO, Metro Toronto Convention Centre


Barry Smith didn’t plan on a career in the convention center business. He was working as a systems consultant when he had the opportunity to join the world’s fair (Expo 86) in Vancouver BC. This summer long international festival in 1986 put the city on the map, brought hundreds of international pavilions from around the world and attracted millions of attendees.  It was a huge success and by the end of the summer even the critics came to realize the power of live events and how they can be a strong catalyst for economic development initiatives. “I was hooked!  At the end of the fair the decision was made to consolidate the government owned venues under one facility management company called PavCo and I joined in 1987 as the CFO. These were exciting times as we had a collection of beautiful buildings and projects under a new team and it gave me my love of the industry. I have had the pleasure of working in a number of venues ever since and 13 years ago moved to Toronto when the Metro Toronto Convention Centre was looking for a new CEO.”

Ask Barry what excites him about the convention industry and you’ll understand why he’s a successful center CEO; without pause he’ll tell about the significant benefits meetings and conventions bring to their communities. The follow up may surprise you, as his eyes widen and he describes how meetings and conventions are the primary vehicle of knowledge exchange and innovation. “Working in an industry that has such strong intrinsic value is very rewarding. There is nothing like the feeling you get when a large complex event is over, it has gone well, the team is celebrating and you know you have helped an organization produce a successful event.”

His greatest personal achievement; not surprising. “Becoming the CEO of the most successful convention centre in Canada. I have the pleasure of working with an amazing group of professionals who inspire me to improve my own game.”

A respected mentor himself, Barry credits his PavCo CEO for helping shape his career and style. “I am old enough that I have had the pleasure to work with, and for, a number of truly inspiring professionals. But there is one individual who has always stood out as absolutely exceptional and who has inspired me to reach higher than I might otherwise have. That is Warren Buckley, the CEO of PavCo in Vancouver. Warren is very well known in the industry particularly among facility executives. He has led internationally known buildings in Vancouver and Singapore as well as being involved in a number of industry associations. I reported to Warren for a number of years and his example help me recognize changes I wanted to make in how I conducted myself. Warren helped me find that path. I have never seen such a deft hand at reading people and helping them realize their potential.  The loyalty he inspired and the power of the collective organization that came from this still gives me goosebumps.” 

It’s not all work and no play for Barry. He’s a dedicated family guy who is always seeking new experiences. “With 2 of the 3 kids launched, Kathy and I have more time to travel and remember what it was like with no children around. Mind you they like to gang up on us and convince us they should come on any trips abroad. Strictly because they know we will pay for it not because they want to hang out with us! While Sherrif tried to outbid me at the PCMA Foundation Achievement dinner for my next trip I hung in there and over the next year we are off to both Japan and Turkey… sans kids!”

What you may not know about Barry is he is a mining brat; the youngest of 5 siblings born in the Yukon. “My father was a mining executive whose career started literally in the farthest northern reaches of Canada. While this gave me the opportunity to work in some very remote communities I learned that I am more of a city person!” 

Like many of members, Barry didn’t immediately join PCMA when he moved to the facility management industry. “In starting off in the industry as a facility executive with an internal focus I did not at first realize the power and importance of PCMA. But I did see that our sales folks had more success networking within the PCMA family. As I became more familiar with the organization and realized how many professionals were passionate about PCMA it made me stop and take notice. I can still remember when I found out that approximately half of the total membership attends the annual meeting. This is an amazing number and one that still blows me away to this day! So I started attending meetings and networking with my colleagues. Not only did this expand my personal network but it opened my eyes to broader industry developments that were or could affect my business. One thing led to another and when given the honor of serving the organization in a leadership capacity I jumped at the chance.  What I continue to enjoy to this day is that PCMA has a culture of innovating and trying new things. They are willing to experiment and bring new ideas forward. Sure keeps you on your toes! “

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