Director of a boutique consultancy with 25 years’ experience in sales and marketing. Specifically, revenue generation and strategy for cultural attractions, media, global hotels (specifically Accor), convention bureaux (Sydney and Melbourne), destination marketing organisations (Tourism Australia) and previously Executive of the Australian National Maritime Museum. Highly skilled in implementing sustainable commercial strategies to drive revenue, profit and visitor engagement across leisure and business to business sectors, undertaking feasibility reviews, stakeholder management and engagement across government, corporate and not-for-profit sectors. A reputation for strong leadership, communication and influencing abilities coupled with financial acumen and commercial orientation. A track record of building high performing teams and motivating people. Non-Executive Director including experience with Dress for Success Sydney, Biz Events Asia, Sydney Improvised Music Association and Member elected Board Member of Business Events Sydney 2015-2017. A Cultural and Creative Industries Panel Expert with Arts Tasmania and Screen Tasmania.
What boards do you sit on?
- Sydney Improvised Music Association Board since 2016
- Biz Events Asia – Editorial Advisory Board Member since 2013
- Arts Tasmania and Screen Tasmania – Cultural and Creative Industries Expert since Feb 2018
When and why did you decide to become a director?
I’d been thinking about a board role for many years, and when I first established my consultancy in 2011, it was a logical career progression; I’m a strategic thinker, have a commercial view point for long-term sustainability and work across many sectors. These factors meant I could add some high-level value.
What are your short and medium-term board aspirations?
Short-term I’d like to be appointed to a not for profit or government board. Ideally this would have grounding in the tourism, business events or cultural/arts sector.
Longer term, I’d like to lend my experience to a major cultural institution or performing arts board. I’d like to hold at least two paid board positions.
Outline your career background.
A Sales & Marketing Director with 25 years’ experience in tourism including cultural attractions, media, global hotels (Accor), convention bureaux (Sydney, Melbourne, Los Angeles), destination marketing organisations (Tourism Australia) and the cultural sector including Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney Living Museums at Art Gallery of NSW. Deanna Varga is the Director of her own boutique consulting firm, Mayvin Global. She has worked across the NFP, Government and corporate sectors.
Deanna’s background includes implementing sustainable commercial strategies to drive revenue, profit and visitor engagement across leisure and business to business sectors, undertaking feasibility reviews, stakeholder management and engagement.
Deanna has held a number of board positions since 2013, including: Fundraising non-executive Director with Dress for Success Sydney, Biz Events Asia and Sydney Improvised Music Association. She was a member elected Board Member of Business Events Sydney 2015-2017 (company limited by guarantee) and panel expert with Arts Tasmania and Screens Tasmania (2018-2020).
Touch on the challenges and hurdles that have presented themselves, either being on or getting onto a board, and how you overcame them?
The key challenges have been:
- Initially not being a CEO
- Initially not having prior board experience
- Not having a traditional /straightforward background e.g. Finance, ICT, Fundraising
- Lobbying to get yourself on a board – that was one of the most personally challenging – especially when people say they are voting for another candidate
- Not working for a known organisation (e.g. Mayvin Global)
- Not being asked in for an interview – i.e. through the first step
- Not moving past the interview
How did I overcome them?
- I joined Women on Boards and did a few of the courses, particularly developing your board CV which I found immensely helpful.
- I networked and mentioned to a lot of people that I wanted to get on a board. That’s how I was appointed to the Biz Events Asia Advisory Board and also the NSW Committee for APSMA. These two committees helped me obtain some valuable experience.
- An opportunity arose with Business Events Sydney Limited to be a member elected board member. This was a key opportunity to obtain credible quasi-government board and governance experience. I contacted a previous board member to ask how she lobbied and then followed her advice. I lobbied the members for around six weeks (the open period). There were about eight people competing for the position. I secured the two-year appointment in October 2015.
Are there any directors/leaders you look up to? Why?
Peter Dexter AM - Chair of the Australian National Maritime Museum Council – I like the way he operated and managed the board. He brings good governance and ‘walks the talk’. By this I mean he leverages his partnerships where he can to open doors for the museum staff to then take forward. He also held the Council members accountable. I recently attended the AICD Directors update where it was reiterated that organisation culture is the board’s responsibility. On reflection, this was something Peter took a vested interest in.
Violet Roumeliotis, CEO of Settlement Services International and now Telstra Business Woman of the year. I love that a for-purpose organisation has won this award and that she has led the organisation to it. While I’ve not see her on a board, I’ve seen her speak and seen the SSI Chair Speak about her. She comes across as warm, intelligent, driven and able to achieve results – which she has. What a powerhouse.
Have you had mentors and sponsors and how have they helped you in your career?
Absolutely. I’ve had a few that have stuck with me over my time, some since I was in my early 20’s. Mentors are critical. It’s important to have many – with skill sets suitable for the point in time when it matters most.
One sponsor in particular has helped me secure work consulting and is always opening doors. I know that my business success is thanks to her and her confidence in me. This sponsor gave me the courage to lobby for the Business Events Sydney board position. That was extremely nerve-wracking to ‘put yourself out there’ and she helped calm the inner voice – particular as I was up against a number of high profile, long-time CEOs.
What’s the diversity (gender & other) like on your boards?
On the SIMA board it’s quite balanced in terms of male /female. But limited cultural diversity and no youth. Dress for Success Sydney also had limited diversity from a male/female perspective (it had no men when I was on there) nor youth.
I wrote a piece about my views on how NFP boards seek out the experience of the corporate sector, but I do not believe the corporate sector is always the most skilled to address the requirements of NFPs.
How did WOB help you in your journey to the boardroom?
First and foremost was confidence. Secondly access to see the board positions opening up and being made available. While I cannot apply for all or even half, there’s a good portion I know I could try for. There are also great courses which I’ve attended and also great networking events. I particularly like the more intimate ones like the Clayton Utz Boardroom lunch series. I find these very insightful and the networking very valuable.
Any tips for women starting out in their career?
The one piece of advice I had from the start and I still follow today – tell people! It is about connections. It doesn’t mean that if you don’t have connections now, you have no hope. Tell people you don’t know, tell everyone. Make your network broader. Yes you must apply, but if you know someone on that board, inevitably you’ll have a better opportunity of at least getting an interview and then a foot in the door.
A second piece very important piece of advice that I was told and follow today is you must feel passionate about the subject. Don’t just apply for the position to try get on anything. This is an investment of your time, your reputation and whether voluntary or paid, you need to enjoy and have an affinity with the topic.
Interview Published: September 2018