Gavin Hinks, journalist

Ever been to Accountex in London? Or perhaps you spend your leisure time watching electric cars racing, or immersing yourself in the fantasy world of comic book superheroes. Then there’s a good chance you’ll visit ExCeL in London’s Docklands area.

Helming the finance and procurement teams at what is one of the most high-profile exhibition and conference venues in the UK and Europe is FD Barry Saitch FCCA.

‘These are record-breaking times. The demand for face-to-face events is booming’

The events hosted at ExCeL are an endless source of fascination for Saitch. Whether it’s a trade show or one of the growing stable of consumer events, Saitch often uses his lunch hour to walk the floor to see what’s on offer. ‘It’s good to have that knowledge base on your doorstep,’ he says.

Busy times

ExCeL had four million visitors last year, despite being closed for the first six weeks of the year due to the pandemic, and staged 400 events. It also hosted its first ‘immersive’ show, Jurassic World: The Exhibition.

ExCeL is as ambitious as it is successful. This year saw work begin on a major £200m expansion, adding 25% to ExCeL’s total 100,000 square metres of events space and an increase in revenue. The project involves the transformation of a one-kilometre stretch of Royal Victoria Docks. ExCeL is also developing part of the car park into more exhibition space.

Though the Covid lockdowns were a challenge (the government used the site as a Nightingale Hospital), Saitch enthuses about business being back and better than ever. The current year promises to be a record, with revenues running 10% up on 2019 – the previous highest, when income reached £94m. Many shows are breaking records for attendance and booking extra space for following years.

‘Adaptability is at the heart of the CFO world’

‘These are record-breaking times,’ says Saitch. ‘Some of that is down to things we’ve done, but a lot of it could be down to the demand for face-to-face events again.’

Long tenancy exhibitions help, such as Disney100, a centenary celebration for the media giant, as do consumer shows generally. But ExCeL is forecasting that B2B events will grow with the expansion designed to serve that market. Saitch points out ExCeL has also received a timely boost from the on-site station for the Elizabeth line, the cross-London, high-speed passenger train service.

Procurement focus

There are some financial headaches from the expansion project – inflation and interest rates have made treasury a ‘big point’ over the past two years. But Saitch says the project is ‘not very transaction heavy’ at the moment. It’s the procurement responsibilities that will see his workload intensify.

‘When we start the internal fit-out, work will ramp up. Translating our clients’ needs into a state-of-the-art events space will be an intense part of the project. We will be doing most of the procurement ourselves. We know the deadlines, so it’s about keeping on top of that.’

This giant procurement job illustrates the challenge of a finance professional taking on leadership in multiple disciplines. Saitch notes: ‘Adaptability is at the heart of the CFO world.’

Tech intervention

And so it is. Saitch’s involvement with the technology team means he has been leading projects on business process optimisation. When it comes to tech, he describes himself as an ‘advocate’ for change.

‘Having a finance team I can trust allows me to go off and do other things’



FD, ExCeL London


FD, Restore Datashred


FD, BridgeStreet Global Hospitality


Qualified with ACCA

‘It’s probably one of the key skills I was hired for,’ he says. ‘As we grow, we want to drive efficiencies and help people add more value because we’re taking away the mundane tasks. There’ll be lots of opportunities for financial planning and business partner roles.’

But there is a key to staying on top of so many business disciplines. ‘I’ve always been passionate about developing strong finance teams that allow me to step away from the day-to-day accounts work.’

Thorough training is the secret. At ExCeL, with a total staff of 215, Saitch has nine in finance – two qualified with ACCA, two pre-qualified and an apprentice hoping to start the ACCA qualification. Other staff are working through key qualifications. ‘Having a qualified team I can trust allows me to go focus on strategy and process improvement,’ Saitch says.

Community and fairness

But ask Saitch to identify his key contributions to ExCeL and he quickly turns to his role in ensuring contractors apply the London Living Wage, which ExCeL committed to last year. It’s about fairness, says Saitch, but it’s also about the company’s role supporting the people who live and work nearby.

‘We have a really big impact on the local community here,’ he declares. ‘We’re a big venue so we add significant economic and social value. If ExCeL is successful, so are the local hotels, restaurants and shops.

This helps Saitch remain optimistic. ‘London is one of the go-to destinations in the world. We’re lucky to be where we are and we’re good at what we do. People want to come to London so, yes, I’m very confident about the future.’