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August 09 Edition Cover

Melbourne CEO reflects on seven years at the top

02 Dec 2014

Melbourne CEO reflects on seven years at the top Image

By Shane Scanlan

After seven years in the top job, the city’s top bureaucrat moves on this month having built a solid relationship with the State Government about the future growth of Docklands.

Dr Alexander took up the role at the same time as the first power-sharing between the council and the then VicUrban (now Places Victoria) back in 2007.

“When I first arrived, I had presumed that it was going to be something that it wasn’t.  I don’t think they did hand it (power) back. And I think it was quite confusing about whose roles were what,” she said.  “I had been surprised that we had been so uninvolved – left out of the planning and decision-making that had taken place.”

“In those days there was quite a tension between VicUrban and the city and certainly confusion among the developers about what they should be doing and who they were supposed to be talking to once the so-called hand-back happened.”

“So I spent quite a lot of my time developing the relationship with VicUrban and working at the CEO level to clarify roles, responsibilities and to get some things moving around community infrastructure.”

“I was frustrated because they had great big contracts to manage and we had no idea what was in them.”

“I think that things have changed though.  The people working in Places Victoria respect the skills and experience that we’ve got in facilitating urban design that’s suitable for a city.”

“I feel very positive about Docklands.  There’s nothing that’s not irredeemable.  Bit by bit, we will chip away.  It’s a beautiful area.  It’s something for Melbourne to be proud of in terms of the buildings that are sustainable and it is a city of the 21st century.  We will meld it with the best ideas from the old city.  You can see it starting to take shape now with the connections that have been made.  I think it’s in a great space.”

“One of the outcomes of the city being involved was to add an awareness that the community had to be involved.  I absolutely committed to communities being informed and being involved at a real level,” Dr Alexander said.

Dr Alexander said her time at the helm had been simplified because of the council’s consistent adherence to the “Future Melbourne” plan and principles which were first suggested by the John So council in 2008.

“I’ve had a pretty clear path to follow in those seven years,” she said.  “For the past six years the council has been working on a very solid set of directions around those major (Future Melbourne) community goals.”

So, how does she rate her performance?

“I don’t like to appraise my own performance, but the fact that I keep getting my contract signed is a good sign,” she said.

“I can certainly see huge progress being made in the directions that council wanted.”

“I’ve always been able to report that the plan’s been implemented and always ahead of budget and, if you look at the international recognition that the City of Melbourne has had for the projects that it has run and the programs that it implements and the directions that it has been taking, there’s no doubt that our excellence in those endeavours has been recognised.”

Dr Alexander said her task as CEO had also been made easier by the alignment and commitment of her staff.

“It’s a great organisation.  The organisation itself is fundamentally committed to the City of Melbourne,” she said.  “We’ve done culture surveys amongst the staff and the thing that gets them up in the morning to come to work is the city.”

“Making Melbourne a bold, inspirational city is on everyone’s mind.”

And, while Dr Alexander will miss the role, she won’t miss the 12-hour days and the burden of reading all the council’s papers every Sunday.  She also says her retirement is a good opportunity for the organisation to introduce new energy and new thinking.

She said a health scare for her daughter and grandson last year was a contributing factor to her decision to retire.

“She had a very difficult pregnancy and it was touch and go for both herself and the baby,” she said.  “Trying to ‘fit in’ my family, rather than focus on them, was an interesting time in my life.”

“And also I’m 60 and things start to happen after 60 and I’m fit and healthy.  Do I want to wait until I’m 70 or 65 when maybe I’m not so healthy?”

Dr Alexander said she would pursue some board positions where she would be able to continue to contribute to organisations at a strategic level rather than at the operational level.

“I’ve had quite a lot of calls. I’m quite comfortable about my future,” she said.

“I don’t think I’ll be idle.  It’s not like I’m going home to be with my family and work in the garden.   I’ll still be in the workforce, but I won’t be doing 12-hour days.”

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