July 7, 2021 | By Joyce DiMascio

Leighton Wood wrapped up his tenure as the Chief Operating Officer of Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC) last Friday and was farewelled with warmth and affection by his staff, colleagues and peers in Melbourne.

But COVID lockdowns got in the way of the farewell festival that he deserved. Many – myself included – would have liked to shake his hand, give him a hug and say, “Thanks for everything Leighton, you have made such a difference. Thank you for all that you have done for our industry.”

He’s made an outstanding contribution to MCEC and the life of Melbourne by leading the teams that have operated the centre, serving its clients and the community, and always looking at ways to do things better and more sustainably.

According to CEO, Peter King, Wood always pushed for operational excellence – it was his mantra. King says Wood was driven by safety, security and sustainability.

On Monday, MCEC launched its five-year sustainability strategy, with clear targets, focus and enduring commitment. That there is a dedicated Sustainability Manager is certainly one of Wood’s legacies – he brought a whole organisation with him to make it a major MCEC priority.

Apart from the culture of excellence he created within his huge team, Wood is also described by King as “a great human, a lovely bloke” whose guidance and presence he will personally miss. The two made a fine double-act and their strong working relationship helped fuel MCEC’s outstanding success.

I got to know Wood very well during my nine years as the CEO of the Exhibition and Event Association of Australasia (MCEC). For part of this time, Leighton was a member of the Board as well as the association’s Vice President. His contribution was recognised when he received the President’s Award at the EEAA Awards for Excellence in 2019.

His commitment to the greater good of the industry was exemplary, especially in championing the need for educating and tooling up the industry in relation to sustainability including waste management and WHS.

Within the EEAA, he was the inaugural Chairperson of the EEAA Sustainability Working Group that tackled industry-wide issues related to the environment.

He was also always ready to provide mentoring and coaching sessions for the younger members of the industry through the EEAA Young Stars Program.

Our industry has many people who put up their hand to be part of Boards of industry peak bodies – but often only a handful do the heavy lifting. Wood was the heavy lifting type.

He’s had a stellar career in all areas of events and sport, including as CEO of Melbourne Major Events Company, CEO of 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games, CEO of Sports Knowledge Australia and CEO of Princess Alexandra Hospital Foundation.

Wood will continue in his role as Chair of Venue Management Association (Asia Pacific Limited) and will pursue some other causes in which he has a personal interest.

The MCEC Chief Operating Officer baton has now been passed to the accomplished Helen Fairclough who takes up the role officially this week.