‘I never intended to stay so long,’ says Derek Young, as he prepares to step down after nineteen years on MTC’s Board of Management, the last eight as Chair. The time has just flown by.
‘When [Executive Director] Ann Tonks announced she was leaving after whatever it was – fifteen or sixteen years – it struck me that if she’s been here for that long, I was here before that.’ Yet, he stayed on as Chairman for a couple of years more to see the new management team of Brett Sheehy and Virginia Lovett settle in. ‘Now, that time is up.’
‘It has been a tumultuous period’ he says. When he joined the Board in January 1994, the Company was carrying an accumulated deficit of more than four million dollars and looked in trouble. As the Managing Director of management consulting firm Accenture, he was brought in to help right the ship.
‘The University was getting a bit restive,’ he recalls. ‘Their finance committee had begun wondering whether or not they should continue to support the Company. I think Ralph Ward Ambler [who was MTC Chairman between 1995 and 2000] and I were brought on to try to instil some serious financial discipline into the place. And we did, I suppose.’
After a restructure of the Company in the mid-nineties, yearly surpluses began to cut into the debt, allowing the Board to concentrate on other priorities.
‘The constant through the years was the new theatre,’ Derek says. ‘The Russell Street Theatre closed, I think, just before I joined the Board, so from that point forward we began looking. I chaired a subcommittee that looked at new venues and, my God, we wasted a lot of time on that … There were a number of false starts. So it took a long time to get the project up and a long time after that to design and build the theatre. Which is why the Gala Night [for the opening of the Southbank Theatre] was probably the highlight of all my years at MTC. Just to be on the stage of our own theatre after all those years and all the effort was just fantastic.’
Derek has always been a theatre-goer. ‘When I started work at sixteen in the City of London, I started to buy theatre tickets. I was very interested in the theatre then, though I don’t know where that came from. My parents never took me to the theatre.’ When he was head of Accenture in the early nineties, he occasionally entertained clients with theatre nights at MTC. Later, his company became a Production Sponsor, which led to his being invited onto the MTC Board. He retired from Accenture in 2003, allowing him to respond fully when he became MTC Board Chairman in 2005.
‘Normally, Board duty is a part-time role,’ he explains. ‘But I’m glad that in all my time as Chair I’ve been retired, or let’s say ‘semi-retired’. With the new theatre being built and arrangements for the new headquarters, there was a greater burden on me as Chair. [There were] constant meetings I had to attend. When we were building the new headquarters, the University constantly wanted to know what was happening. We were raising funds – doing a lot of stuff to make it happen.’
At the end of the year, Derek Young makes way for the new MTC Chairman Terry Moran, but that won’t end his connection with the Company. He will still be a Leading Patron and plans to attend to Opening Nights for some years to come. His time at MTC has given him a stronger sense of the importance of the Company in the wider community.
‘I had no idea until [Artistic Director] Simon Phillips announced he was going just how much our Subscribers have a sense of ownership in the Company. They were vitally interested in how we were going to make the change, who was going to be the replacement and what we were going to do. It brought home to me the sense that MTC is really a Melbourne and Victorian institution. I don’t think we realise how large we loom in Melbourne’s cultural landscape. Sometimes we think we’re just a theatre company, full of talented hardworking people doing this great stuff, but out there is a sense that it is owned by everyone. So as Chair, I developed a real sense of stewardship for this institution that is MTC.’
You can learn more about the appointment of our new Chairman, Terry Moran AC, in this media release.