November 23, 2022 | By Joyce DiMascio

micenet caught up with ICC Sydney CEO Geoff Donaghy to discuss the year, how the centre navigated the massive return to in-person events and his leadership lessons.

As ICC Sydney heads into the final weeks of 2022, Donaghy is feeling very positive about the way the year has shaped up.

National business is back at pre-COVID levels and the pipeline of international business is getting stronger on a daily basis. He says there’s a deep seated needed for people to get back together in person. It’s both an economic and social need.

What Sydney is experiencing is pretty much the situation globally, says Donaghy. Virtual meetings served the world very well over the past few years, but in the future they will be an “enhancement” as opposed to the main mode of engagement.

“There’s a deep-seated need for people to get back together,” says Donaghy.

“The recognition that there’s both a financial need and a human need for people to get back together and meet face to face – that’s been very, very positive.”

While it will take several years for the international meetings now in the pipeline to materialise, the national business events market has returned to full force already.

Donaghy emphasises that in all its forms, the national market for events “is very, very strong”.

Donaghy is proud of the ICC Sydney team. The organisation was able to hold onto highly experienced staff during the pandemic due to strong state government support.

It was a deliberate strategy, designed to ensure ICC Sydney was ready when the big lift-off occurred. Although ICC Sydney was not able to hold onto everyone, it has a strong team and an even stronger teamwork culture.

May and June were the centre’s busiest months in 2022. Despite being down 30 per cent on pre-COVID full-time staff, the centre’s collaborative and flexible teams helped the centre deliver a huge portfolio of events.

Getting people back is still a focus. The centre has some clear strategies for staff growth and retention, says Donaghy.

“We’ve found people that have left us for other positions. We’ve had quite a number return. We’ve continued very strongly with internal training.

“We needed to be very careful that we found that balance between meeting a very competitive marketplace, but also ensuring that what we put in place was sustainable.”

Within this HR culture and approach, there have been around 50 internal promotions, Donaghy says, and that is a strong incentive for keeping good people.

The workforce dilemma cannot be solved by just paying people more money – there are a range of tactics and strategies that have to be used so that staffing solutions are financially sustainable in the longer term, he stresses.

Donaghy is known for his steady hand and empowering style at the helm.

The power of this highly experienced, rational, calm leadership style comes through when we discuss his approach to leadership and what he has learnt over the past three years. 

“I’ve learned how to pronounce epidemiologist,” he says jokingly.

“I’ve learned the value of teamwork, the incredible value of leadership and the value of communication.”

Part two of micenet’s chat with Geoff Donaghy will feature in tomorrow’s micenet newsletter.