Interview with a Trade Show Exec – AMC Inc.’s Jeff Portman

February 12, 2015

This month on Interview with a Trade Show Exec, part of an ongoing TSNN series conducted by Traci Browne, we’ll be getting to know a bit more about another one of our industry’s rock stars. While it may not have the Gothic setting of an Anne Rice novel, I think these main characters are just as complicated and deep as were Lestat de Lioncourt and Louis de Pointe du Lac, but without all that brooding undead thing going on.

Jeffrey L. Portman, Sr.
Vice Chairman, president & COO AMC Inc.
AmericasMart shows and markets and LIGHTFAIR
29 years in the trade show industry

Traci Browne: Where did you grow up? What was your adolescent experience like?

Jeff Portman: I was born and raised in Atlanta.  My father, architect-developer John C. Portman, Jr., was just hitting his stride in the ‘60s building much of what the city looks like today. Adolescence took hold about the same time.  By the early teens, I was playing competitive sports, singing, writing music and traveling.  I had my share of fun, and stayed as far away from trouble as I could most of the time.  However, I discovered early on my love for trade shows - and that love soon turned to passion.

TB: What was the first show you went to? What do you remember most about it?

JP: For most 8-year-old kids, working on a loading dock is not the first thing that comes to mind for summer fun.  But it was for me.  I showed up at the Atlanta Merchandise Mart dock just in time for the load-in for our big summer home and gift show.  Before the market was even half-way through, I had figured out all kinds of new ways to do things and asked the team if we could change things up.  They agreed.  That opened my eyes to all the possibilities of helping run a huge business.  And it opened the door to my future.

TB: What show are you working on currently? What makes you excited about it?

JP: Make that SHOWS.  We produce 15 AmericasMart shows and markets annually, plus LIGHTFAIR. Next on deck is LFI 2014 opening June 1 in Las Vegas.  Followed by our June Apparel Show.  Then our huge July Atlanta International Gift & Home Furnishings Market in July. You get the drift here.  For me, and for everyone on the AMC team, it’s the show that never ends. What keeps me excited?  The thrill of what’s new and next.  Our shows are the launching pads for all the trends that keep consumers consuming.  And LIGHTFAIR is the global stage for everything new in lighting design and technology.  It doesn’t get any better than this.

TB: What was your first job? Did you learn any valuable lessons or tools that you have brought with you into your current career?

JP: That loading dock job taught me the value and rewards of hard work.  And I also learned where to go for a good breakfast at 3 a.m.

TB: When did you become interested in working in the industry? How did you get started in the trade show industry?

JP: I was born into the industry.  Which greatly reduced the likelihood of me becoming a nuclear physicist.  It’s who I am, what I do and what keeps my passion for business energized and focused on the future.

TB: Do you have any hobbies? (woodworking, birding, knitting, Herpetoculture)

JP: In no particular order:  Aviation, reading, writing and dreaming.

TB: Do you have any pets? We want to know all about them if you do.

JP: Yes.  We have a beautiful Golden Retriever, but I can’t tell you her name because it’s part of one of my passwords.

TB: What’s on your iPod?

JP: Everything’s on there.  But specifically:  Explosions In The Sky; The Antlers; Jackson Browne; Dan Fogelberg; the Eagles and The Fray.

TB: If time travel was possible, where would you go and why? (You cannot choose the future because it hasn’t happened yet and there is the possibility you may have to stay put wherever you travel to… So answer wisely.)

JP: I’d go hang out with Hemingway.

TB: Name three people you would love to have lunch with? (Living, dead, famous, infamous, unknown …)

JP: Actually, let’s talk about a morning cup of Joe, which I’d love to share with Joe Montana, Ernest Hemingway and Charles Lindbergh. 

TB: What are your future goals? (Career, education, travel, etc.)


  • To help our businesses continue to grow.
  • To take advantage of the Technological Renaissance and focus on the future of endless possibilities both inside and outside the industry.
  • At 55, retirement is neither navigable nor interesting in the least!

Those are some pretty big goals Jeff, but if anyone can achieve them, you can. I’ve been to LIGHTFAIR and was suitably impressed! As for retirement … does anyone with a love for this business ever retire? I mean really and truly retire? Perhaps we could start up our own industry nursing home …

Thank you Jeff for being such a great sport!

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