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In Memoriam: Harry Baum

In Memoriam: Harry Baum, who passed away on 15 September 2014.
(Share your stories of and anecdotes about Harry on ICCAWorld's LinkedIn group discussion page.)

On founding fathers and old time oracles

I’ve just heard that one of the global meetings industry's most legendary figures, Harry Baum, MBE, has passed away. He spent the last five years in a nursing home, increasingly frail and withdrawn inside himself, regularly visited by a few old industry friends but in the thoughts of many more.
Our international association meetings business is only really just over half a century old, and it was pioneers like Harry who shaped it, along with eminent scientists, experimental physicians, and post-war peace activists all playing their part. Commercial international flights opened up the world to global meetings, and volunteer leaders stepped up to become the Presidents, content designers, and committee members in the world of associations. Their meetings became the crucibles within which the world's new knowledge and intellectual insights were forged, often through heated but civilised discussion and argument.

I first heard Harry speak at an ICCA Congress in Cairo in 1989, and was amazed by his combination of Shakespearean eloquence and forensic financial acumen, as he forced ICCA's then Board of Directors to face some unpalatable business realities. But he was also deeply passionate about the power for good that our industry represented. Having been saved as a child from the ravages of the Holocaust, it was as if respectful dialogue, understanding the cultural standpoint of others, and the importance of protecting the right to disagree were deeply ingrained in his DNA.
When we honour Harry at our forthcoming General Assembly, the truth is that very few in the audience will know him or even recognise his name. This is the case in all associations: we move on, new generations shape their own legacies, new challenges and opportunities keep focusing our attention constantly on the future rather than the past.

But it is vitally important that we do take the time to remember our pioneers and early leaders, especially those who lived through the dark days of deadly conflict. Whether they operate in healthcare, science, technology or trade, every association has its own Harry Baum, far-sighted leaders in the association's past who helped create their unique sense of mission and culture of international community. This also applies to the ICCA member companies which grew up alongside the international associations, whose founders and leaders helped the associations to develop and prosper. These pioneers, almost all of whom have now passed on, should be honoured and not forgotten.

RIP Harry, you'll always have a place in ICCA's memory, and in the hearts of those who had the pleasure and the good fortune to know you.

Martin Sirk

Img. Harry with ICCA President 1998-2002, Tuula Lindberg

Two memories of Harry Baum from the 27th ICCA general assembly in 1988 in Manila, the Philippines:

1) Harry embarked on a meandering and seemingly purposeless discourse on global warming, it's effects in the Southern Ocean and its fauna - particularly penguins. From this point it was an easy step to the point - that men should not have to wear dinner (penguin) suits to the gala dinner. The proposition was well received by the male delegates but, invoking the support of the women present, was defeated. (See actual text below supplied by Pat Soen from ICCA)* 
2) Leaving the main meeting hall we passed between Dirk Elzinga and a Dutch colleague on either side of the doorway, speaking very guttural Dutch. Harry, looking up as he was vertically challenged by the towering Dutch, observed acerbically ' Gentlemen go to the toilet to clear their throats'. Quintessential Harry!

Tim Bassett 

Recorded quote from Harry Baum during the 27th ICCA general assembly in 1988 in Manila, the Philippines:

“I do not have a question; I would like to move a resolution, if I may. Before I present the resolution to the Assembly I would like to give you a little bit of the background thinking on it. I am sure all of us were very much encouraged by the message we received from Mr. Nordam, so eloquently translated by Svetlana. There have been a great many things that have happened during the past few months which are very encouraging. I was very encouraged, for example, by the wonderful expression of international cooperation in the Antarctic recently between the United States and the Soviet Union in liberating the whale with an icebreaker built by Finland. That in turn led me to contemplate, concerned as I am with environmental questions, the position of penguins in the world.  I’m really concerned about penguins, and I would like with your permission to propose to this Assembly the following resolution: This Assembly recommends that ICCA members of the male sex (and I want you to know that I drafted this very carefully: at one time I thought I was going to say “male members”) …. members of the male sex should no longer be required to wear dinner jackets to the gala banquet.” (Applause).


The passing of Harry Baum is a very sad event which signifies the end of an era. A larger than life personality he was a highly intelligent, erudite and articulate man with whom one could have a discussion on most subjects. Not on all because I never managed to have a conversation with Harry about sport!! 

I have often thought he should have been a writer, academic or philosopher rather than being in the travel business. Their loss was our gain.  
He created a DMC called Spectra in 1954 and this company still thrives today. 

Harry had an incredible knowledge of current affairs, politics, history, geography, music, literature and the arts and listening to him really was an education. Sometimes he would refer to a meeting date as being of particular significance because certain things of great importance happened on this same date in previous years in history often centuries ago. I thought he might just be bluffing or trying to impress me but when I checked out what he said he was always right.

He had forthright views on many subjects. An example of this was when we were discussing who are/were the great conductors he stated categorically that the three greatest conductors in history were “ Furtwangler, Furtwangler and Furtwangler”

He was a kind, warm and generous man who enjoyed the good things in life. In every city he knew the best restaurants, what to order and probably the maitre’d as well !

When I mentioned that I had my ties cleaned in London he said that he could never find a company in the UK that could do this job to his entire satisfaction which is why he sent his ties to Paris.

When I think of Harry I recall a number of stories and anecdotes which always bring a smile to my face. So many great memories that I shall always cherish.

I would like to share just a few of them with you now.

I heard that in his office at one time he had the following words framed on his wall – “In God we trust all others pay cash”

Many years ago at a meeting with an international association the Executive Director, a rather formidable lady, insisted that in the conference programme there should be a letter from her welcoming delegates to London together with her photograph. As we were leaving the meeting Harry said to me in a voice loud enough for her to hear “we just need to ensure that whoever takes her photograph uses a Hasselblad because any other lens would crack ! “

One of the largest incentive programmes ever to come to the UK was Carrier from the States. A number of DMCs pitched for this business which a friend of mine succeeded in winning. Harry’s company didn’t secure the business but when the decision was made the first person to call my friend and congratulate him was Harry.

How many people still remember Harry’s contribution to the discussion on the ICCA By Laws at the General Assemblies ? They were legendary !

Knowing Harry Baum certainly enriched my life and I am sure enriched the lives of all who knew him.

He was a unique character who will be sorely missed.

- Harry Fine


It is sad to hear that Harry Baum passed away - remember a dinner I had with him at EIBTM in Geneva where he told me his whole life story from his birth and youth in Austria - a tremendously impressive story and a real real spirit for the meeting industry. Those who have been at the GA in Malta might remember the closing General Assembly (yes at that time we had a closing GA) and Harry Baum started with one of his famous shakespearian talks where he asked questions and in his speech he gave already the answers - at this closing GA there was a vote planned to allow clients to become members and obviously due to Harrys long speech a lot of delegates had to leave and the vote for clients becoming members of ICCA failed by two votes only. 

Harry was a Sir, a real global humanist and a highly respected individual who was engaged also outside the meeting industry. I think not many are aware that he was a mentor of the famous conductor Maris Janssons. We will miss Harry the Shakespeare of the Meeting Industry.

- Christian Mutschlechner
Director Vienna Convention Bureau


"Industry bids farewell to founding father Harry Baum" - Article on

Share your stories of and anecdotes about Harry on ICCAWorld's LinkedIn group discussion page.

The funeral will be held on Monday 29th September for family only. Friends of Harry Baum will meet to raise a glass in his memory at The Hope, 1 Bellevue Road, SW17 7EG WXX at 14.00 hours on Monday Sept 29th and for tea at Nightingale House, 105 Nightingale Lane, SW12 8NB at 16.00 hours.