June 21, 2021 | By Joyce DiMascio

It’s one of the most important venue roles in Australia and it’s to be taken up by Helen Fairclough following her internal promotion to Chief Operating Officer.

Fairclough takes over from Leighton Wood who retires from the role on July 2, 2021, after almost 11 years with the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC).

As the baton passes from Wood to Fairclough, what can we expect from the new second in charge at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre?

Last week micenet caught up with Fairclough to discuss her brief and how she’s feeling about taking on one of the biggest venue operations roles in the country.

Fairclough and her team are still dealing with Melbourne’s fourth lockdown, which has taken some of the confidence from the market, she says.

“We were all feeling great joy at being back in business, hitting our stride with face-to-face events – it’s a shame we had to go back into lockdown,” she says.

Fairclough has had a taste of the role while Wood took long service leave last year. However, her true foundation comes from her work heading up the People and Culture side of the business. She is an HR leader through and through and “people” are at the core of her thinking.

The pathway from human resource management to operational head is unusual in Australian venues, though Fairclough says that ultimately, it’s a people business.

“If you understand how to leverage talent then people leadership should be a great pathway.”

Prior to the appointment to the Chief Operating Officer role, she was asked by MCEC Chief Executive, Peter King, to take on the important role of Director of Business Relaunch after the pandemic shut down the centre for much of last year.

“We had to turn our eyes towards the future. We asked ourselves – who do we want to be when we emerge from COVID?”

Fairclough says MCEC needs to be a different business as it rebuilds.

She says the market has changed so much that it was important to look at ways the centre could be more agile. It also needed to look at potential new income streams.

A legacy of this initiative she says is the “Agile Project Management Office” which is designed to ensure that processes allow the staff to respond more nimbly to ideas, opportunities and customer feedback.

She talked about the need for process improvements, diversifying the business, approaching new markets and generating those new revenue streams.

Not surprisingly Fairclough’s approach to her new role is to look at processes and improving them.

“We have another body of work, to look at our operating model and evaluate whether the workflow is optimised. Do we have the skills? How can people get more enjoyment and better outcomes for the customer?”

She has a tremendous passion for exploring “blue sky ideas” and is very proud of the outcomes that have come from the Business Relaunch Program which led to the uncovering of new products and experience within the team.

“The project also uncovered incredible talent,” she said. “I probably shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was.”

The goal of becoming more agile will be at the core of Fairclough’s approach – she says that the organisation will move to 90-day strategic reviews instead of annual ones.

Fairclough takes the baton from Wood in less than two weeks. She speaks glowingly of her colleague, his intellect and his calm and objective counsel.

She says he’s a good human, always coming from the right place in what he did and how he approached his role.

“His biggest legacy was his passion for sustainability,” she said.

She’s hoping his colleagues can farewell him face-to-face and honour him and his enormous contribution.

As Chief Operating Officer, Fairclough will report to CEO, Peter King, and the Board of Trustees, and have responsibility for leading the food and beverage, technology services, operations management, capital works, safety, security, sustainability and planning functions within the business.

Fairclough joined the MCEC in 2014 as Director of People and Culture and has been part of the senior executive team for the last seven years.