NSW 24-hour Economy Commissioner
This interview was conducted in April 2021.
After several years of construction and projects practice in Sydney and Dubai, Michael swapped to a different kind of project and launched Time Out Sydney. He's now been appointed NSW's inaugural 24-hour Economy Commissioner, dedicated to revitalising Sydney's vibrant nightlife.
Michael's career story…
I began working life as a trainee Engineer wearing out boots on railway building sites with Leighton Contractors in the lead up to the Sydney 2000 games. After three years at Allens in construction and then finance practices, I joined Dentons in Dubai as a project lawyer. Over a poker game I met a would-be business partner who was working for Time Out in the Middle East. We secured the licence right for Australia, raised the funding and launched Time Out Sydney in 2007.
As CEO of Time Out Australia for the better part of a decade, I built the brand before selling the licence back to Time Out. Since 2017 (and prompted by the challenges facing Sydney's nighttime economy), I focussed my efforts on aligning and empowering industry to actively engage in the political process to effect change. This led to launching an independent bars association for Sydney in May 2018, followed by the launch of a Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) in November 2018, of which I was the inaugural chair.
The NTIA worked in collaboration with the NSW Government and other stakeholders on a strategy for a 24-hour Economy which was published in September 2020. In February 2021, I was announced as NSW’s first 24-hour Economy Commissioner, a role that commenced formally on 29 March of this year.
The thing that makes me get out of bed and go to work each morning is...
My indefatigable belief in the inspirational power of cities. Cities are centres of knowledge, learning, culture and creativity. Melting pots for ideas exchange. As we look to a post-COVID future, my job is to help shape Sydney in particular as a centre for creativity - a city that attracts and retains talent, and where capital can be applied productively in order to create the jobs of tomorrow.
Allens gave me...
An understanding of the importance of aspiring to excellence. Granted I probably fell short of the gold standard during my tenure, but it was invaluable being surrounded by a group of people who continually pushed themselves to do better and be better. I found myself out of breath trying to keep up and that’s a great place to me. Since then, I have always sought out environments where I am not the smartest person in the room. If I find myself in that situation, I go find another room. Never stop learning!
The best bit of advice given to me is...
As set out in Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘If’.
I think anyone who has had a go at doing something and fallen over in the process would identify with the sentiment. The bit I left out in the career story was that we launched Time Out in Australia on the same day the subprime mortgage market collapsed in the US, triggering the GFC. Suffice it to say the business went off track almost immediately, and there was a period where I was all but pushed out of the company by our investors, was out of work for six months and borrowing money from friends to get by.
It’s trite but true: you learn more from your failures than your successes. In my case, I was able to save the business from early financial Armageddon and turn it into a sustainable, long-term business model. I concluded my tenure with Time Out being awarded Publishing Company of the Year and myself Publish Leader of the Year by leading media rag Mumbrella. Thank you, Rudyard.
The best part of my role is...
Its potential to shape the city in which we live and, in so doing, the lives and opportunities for many. I sit at so many tables where my friends say, 'somebody should do something about that'. I’m now somebody, and my aim is to restore Sydney’s vibrancy whilst maintaining public safety. Plenty of other cities around the world do that. We can too.
When I'm not at work...
I’m juggling my desire to be out and about in the city three or four times a week with the ambition of being a good husband to my wife Vicky, and father to my daughters Caitlyn (7) and Rachel (4). That said, Caitlyn’s proving to be a fast learner - I took her to my Time Out farewell party recently and she refused to leave stating, 'I haven’t had a chance to say hello to everyone yet'.
At Allens, the people I remember most are...
Diccon Loxton (for his singing), Phillip Cornwell (for his Italian language skills) and Leighton O’Brien (for his … tact). I also owe ex-Managing Partner Michael Rose a shout-out. We weren’t acquainted while I was at the firm, but our paths crossed in the course of our work around the 24-hour Economy turnaround for Sydney. We’ve bookended Parliamentary inquiries and we’ve sat atop industry stages together. It’s been a partnership that has helped give Sydney the opportunity to get up off the canvas. And everyone loves a comeback, so look out!