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The NEC Group has appointed Melanie Smith CBE as the company’s new chief executive officer, succeeding Paul Thandi CBE, DL, who moves to the position of chairman after nearly 17 years as CEO.

Smith brings more than 25 years’ experience in executive and operational leadership, having worked at several UK consumer and retail businesses.

Working with the NEC Group board and the company’s majority shareholder, Blackstone, Smith will work across its entire venue portfolio including Birmingham’s two live music arenas Utilita Arena Birmingham (cap. 15,800) and Resorts World Arena (15,685).

Most recently, Smith served as CEO of online grocer and retail company Ocado Retail, where she oversaw major technology, marketing and supplier transitions. This included the relaunch of the Ocado brand.

She previously held senior positions at Marks & Spencer, Bupa, TalkTalk and McKinsey & Co. She is a non-executive director at SSE plc, the FTSE 30 energy company, and the deputy chair of dance institution Sadler’s Wells.

Last year smith founded the Mokaraka Trust, an initiative funding Māori Women’s business studies with the aim of creating a leading global cohort of Māori women CEOs by 2040.

Smith said, “The NEC Group is a truly unique business with a rich history and significant future opportunities.

“It is internationally renowned as the go-to destination for live events in the UK, hosting some of the world’s most iconic exhibitions and shows. From our proud base in the Midlands, our vision is to become Europe’s most successful and sustainable live events business – with world class venues and supporting services that ensure unforgettable live experiences for millions of people every year.”

Blackstone senior managing director Alexander Walsh said, “[Smith’s] proven track record in leading successful businesses and driving transformative change and merger and acquisition initiatives aligns perfectly with our vision for the company’s future.”