By Joyce DiMascio

They’ve worked together for close to a decade and not one of those years has been as challenging as the past 12 months – but both chief executive officer (CEO) Peter King and Chief Operating Officer (COO) Leighton Wood know that the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC) can play a key role in the economic recovery of Victoria.

The two make a formidable team. And both are excellent communicators who have used this strength to get their organisation through good times and also very bad ones.

It’s the centre’s 25th anniversary. This milestone is important as the centre’s story is synonymous with the emergence of Melbourne as one on the world’s most vibrant cities.

In the 80s, Melbourne was considered dull and spent. Sydneysiders called it “bleak city”. It took a bombastic, colourful premier, Jeff Kennett, to imagine a different future for the city – a future in which business events, major events, tourism and the arts would be major drivers.

Out of this vision came the investment in the MCEC and the expansion known as “Jeff’s Shed”.

Peter King says unleashing the power of the people employed at the centre has been a really significant feature of the change that he has led over the past decade.

“Delivering the expanded space – yes I’m proud of that, but the “people” aspect of our business is much more important. Year-on-year we’ve had record-breaking results – and as I’m competitive by nature I want to be successful and keep improving in everything we do.”

There is a special dynamic between these two – what helps make the chemistry between the CEO and the COO so good?

They both love their sport – a “bit of footy, a bit of cricket”, and they both bring to the centre their competitive nature and team-focussed culture.

Peter King says you learn a lot about managing teams through sport.

He’s got some cricket pedigree and is very much focussed on getting runs on the board. He’s also a plain talker who “tells it as it is” who subscribes to creating a “no dickheads around here policy.”

The Zoom screen lightens with laughter – as Leighton Wood affirms, they have a lot in common and are of similar ages, have shared interests and a similar sense of humour.

I suspect there is a lot more to it as they are both very clever blokes and focussed on the big issues.

They genuinely thrive on success, results and empowering their staff.

King says when he took on the role, the centre had a reputation for “saying no to everything” that clients proposed. They were inflexible and unwilling to change.

Since then, a lot has changed he says, and there has been a monumental cultural shift which is reflected in the regular client and stakeholder surveys.

Both are most proud of their respective roles in transforming the “people and culture” of the place.

This is even more significant than the major expansions that they have both overseen and managed.

Stay tuned for part two of this interview tomorrow.