By Joyce DiMascio
Geoff Donaghy is at the helm of a mighty big ship and his steady hands and calm demeanour have proven to be stand-out qualities – never more useful than in the major crisis that has engulfed the events industry.
In a wide-ranging interview with micenet, he told us he can “see some light and green shoots but we don’t know how long the tunnel is.”
The International Convention Centre (ICC) Sydney is just three years old and its impact on the world stage has been enormous – it sees its role as being endemic to the life of Australia’s biggest city. With 400 events in the pipeline, it is core to Sydney’s economic future and recovery.
During the pandemic, ICC Sydney has remained open and in 2020 it ran 250 events. In the early Covid days, it was made available pro-bono to government agencies, charities and associations for hosting broadcast meetings. Supporting the industry and giving back to the community are part of its DNA.
Donaghy takes his, and the centre’s, industry leadership role very seriously. Governments seek out his counsel as he’s able to provide both a local and international perspective on what’s happening. He’s been appointed to the Tourism Recovery Taskforce and is the current deputy chair of the Business Events Council of Australia (BECA) and internationally is closely involved with the influential, Joint Meetings Industry Council (JMIC) and other peak bodies.
But despite the leadership role he plays in the wider business events industry in Australia and internationally, Geoff remains grounded and committed to doing the job he’s paid to do at ICC Sydney.
And at the core of the way he does this is a big commitment to communication, internally with his team, and externally with clients, owners and importantly the supply chain of producers and service providers.
He’s on “stage” a lot as the anchor man for ICC Sydney’s external relations. His quiet delivery is always considered and respectful – and even in these most difficult times he also has a tremendous capacity for listening…the joint is in good hands for the rebuild of the sector despite the tough decisions that are ahead.
The centre employs a lot of people and regrettably with the return of international events a long way off there are some more cuts on the way.
“We’re in the process of transforming the team by sad necessity,” Donaghy says.
“Even those who are going to be directly affected have a clear understanding of the reasons for the decisions.”
“The terrible reality of the situation is we had 1200 casuals on the books, we still have some but nothing like that number. We’re now looking at restructuring the full-time team.”
He says that realistically we won’t see international events back until early next year. But he says: “This crisis will finish – all crises eventually come to an end.”
His cautious optimism is fuelled by many years of experience – even though there hasn’t been a catastrophe anything like this one, Geoff Donaghy has weathered many storms including the global financial crisis (GFC), SARS and September 11.
We’ll come out of this, he says, but the industry needs some national protocols for managing Covid hotspots in order to take some of the uncertainty out of the current environment.
He commends the work BECA in advocacy but he says inconsistencies in state border closures now requires the federal government to step-up to “get clarity and consistency around responses” to Covid clusters.
On the need for ongoing financial support he said that the prime minister, Scott Morrison and federal treasurer, Josh Frydenberg had made it clear that JobKeeker would be wound up.
But he was hopeful that consideration would be given to industry-specific support for the broader visitor economy which included tourism, business events and hospitality.
Donaghy says that ICC Sydney is more than a venue and he’s been committed to showing leadership in how things are done especially in their commitment to sustainability and community.
The responsibility of heading a major venue is something Geoff Donaghy takes seriously. He says it’s the job of the venue to act responsibly and to be “beacons of calm and confidence.”
“I don’t get paid to worry, I get paid to “do” and to take action.”
He says that around the world the business events industry is looking to Australia. With the virus under control, Australia is in a reasonably good position to rebuild.
But it’s important that we have the right framework that includes both immediate response actions – as well as medium-to-long-term planning.
Geoff Donaghy has had a mantra throughout the crisis – he may have borrowed from Churchill he says and he repeats it again: “When you are going through hell, don’t stop, just keep going”.
They say in times of crisis, companies keep their businesses in the safe hands – we certainly have that at ICC Sydney.