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Remembering an industry legend

Andreas Messerli founded Andreas Messerli AG in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1954, and it became one of the largest tradeshow and exhibition companies in Europe and the world. He was born on April 11, 1932, and sadly, he passed away on July 26, 2014.

An artist, Messerli was also a great innovator of the industry who pioneered and perfected the concept of the three dimensional brand experience. His company grew to offer cutting edge booth and exhibit design, special event staging, store and showroom displays, display systems and furniture rental services. Messerli AG’s reach extends well beyond Europe to touch exhibitions and businesses around the globe, often enlisting the partnership of local companies for its design execution.

I had the privilege of talking with one of Messerli’s closest friends, Ernest Zingg. Zingg is a master sommelier and restaurateur and also a neighbor of mine in Fullerton, Calif. He and Messerli attended high school together and maintained a life-long, international friendship. When Zingg’s first child was born, it was Messerli whom he asked to stand as godfather.

“I remember he started out dressing windows,” Zingg said. “He was very good at it. The man could do anything at the last minute. Swissair (now Swiss International Air Lines) held a competition for the design of a travel poster promoting its vacation spots. Andreas entered at the very last minute, 24 hours or so before the deadline. He won first prize for that. He was a genius as an artist.”

In the mid-70s, Zingg and his wife, Trudy, opened a fine dining restaurant in Canada. They called it Ascona, named for the popular tourist destination on the shore of Lake Maggiore in Switzerland.

Zingg recalled, “Ascona is located in the very southern part of Switzerland, and it is the only place in the country where palm trees grow. Many people are surprised to learn that. Andreas came to visit us in Canada just before we opened and said, ‘You can’t call your restaurant Ascona unless you have palm trees’.”

Zingg continued, “Palm trees don’t grow in Canada. So Andreas said he would make us one. He went into town and bought some 4×8 boards and cut out a palm tree with a jigsaw. He painted it and then went to a local business to have a frame built for it. When the business owner told him he could not get to it until the next week, Andreas refused to leave until he promised to finish the job the same day. He was a business owner, and that is what he would have done for his own customer.”

Within a couple of days, a palm tree over 20 feet tall stood in front of Ascona with the name of the restaurant emblazoned underneath, visible upon approach to the restaurant from both directions on the roadway.

“It generated a tremendous amount of interest in an area where there was snow six months out of the year. People would always stop in to ask us the story behind the palm tree.”

This story well illustrates Messerli’s gift for experiential marketing and display, and his ability to spontaneously create a tangible manifestation of his client’s vision.

Messerli and Zingg had regular opportunities to connect whenever Messerli was staging shows in nearby Anaheim. Zingg fondly remembers Messerli as a member of a Swiss curling club, for which he traveled to other countries for competition and fun.

“That is something he was very proud of,” Zingg recalls. “He was a wonderful friend who always had a fine reputation. He was full of good humor, and I remember him most as a person who always had good things to say and was a fun person to be with.”

Andreas Messerli is survived by his wife, Ferena Messerli; their three children, Monika, Andreas and Laurenz; and four grandchildren. His company remains as his legacy and an ongoing inspiration to the industry.

Green Tip:
The seventh annual National Clean Energy Summit will be held at Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino on Sept. 4, 2014. This year’s theme is “Partnership & Progress.” For exhibitor and event information, visit www.cleanenergysummit.org.

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