Deanna Varga is a Non-Executive Director for four organisations, including Dress for Success Sydney, Business Events Sydney, Sydney Improvised Music Association and Biz Events Asia. She is also the Assistant Director Commercial & Visitor Services at the Australian National Maritime Museum.
Deanna draws on her extensive sales and marketing and consultancy expertise delivering international tourism and business events across government, corporate and not for profit sectors. Her aim is ensuring the diverse range of organisations she provides leadership to, have a focus on optimising their individual capabilities and revenue generation.
At the Australian National Maritime Museum, Deanna has been instrumental in almost doubling the international visitor ratio in four years. As well as significantly growing the average spend per visitor. She has been driving organisational awareness that profitability and commercialisation must be a shared responsibility to ensure sustainability.
As a Dress for Success Sydney Board Member, what have you seen women achieve as a result of your programs?
I’ve been on the board since February 2017 and volunteering since January 2016. I’ve seen programs like the inaugural Empower Hour raise much needed funds to support women to get back on their feet and into the workforce. What this means is more women securing financial and emotional independence.
Dress for Success Sydney’s Career Support Program conducted activities this year which supported over 500 women to enhance their employability skills so that they can secure and sustain employment. We also dressed 2500+ women across NSW for interview and employment.
In March, we opened a Dress for Success Sydney branch in the Illawarra which means we are now able to help women located in a regional area of NSW on a consistent basis.
For me personally, as a volunteer and board member, I’ve experienced firsthand the importance of giving back. Volunteering not only opens your eyes but with a charity like Dress for Success Sydney, you see the difference you make and your contribution is immediate and vital. There are so many incredible people volunteering and working for this charity. I feel privileged that I have this opportunity to give back.
As a Board Member for Business Events Sydney, how have events helped shape Sydney’s global brand?
Sydney is Australia’s #1 meeting place and ranked #10 in the Asia Pacific region. The new $1.1billion ICC Sydney convention centre opened in December 2016. This put a spotlight on Sydney’s ability to provide world class, innovative and iconic venues. Which means an enhanced experience for both delegates and conference organisers, shaping Sydney’s brand as a leading business events host city.
Our credentials as a global city were reinforced with Business Events Sydney winning the 2018 Global Summit of Women and FIGO 2021. This is the International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics conference. These events have and will continue to shape Sydney’s position as a global leader. Particularly in relation to our approach to diversity, and women’s health and economic independence.
As an elected member of the board, I represent the interests of unique venues and cultural institutions. Our city is leading the way with some of the world’s best scientific, innovative and creative minds located within Sydney’s cultural institutions and universities.
You are a member of the Board of the Sydney Improvised Music Association (SIMA). How is SIMA supporting the artistic flair of women?
Sydney Improvised Music Association (SIMA) achieves so much given it only has 2 full time equivalent staff. Its role is to demonstrate the excellence of jazz and improvised music through a range of performances.
With the help of a philanthropic donation, this past year enabled the organisation to grow a key event for women, the Sydney International Women’s Jazz Festival. In addition, SIMA partnered with other institutions to provide regional performances, workshops, and a new development initiative specifically for young women. The Young Women’s Jazz Workshop program was presented for the first time in ACT, increasing participation to 56 young women across NSW, ACT and WA.
My role on the board is to tie in that of a cultural institution as well as bring my expertise in marketing and revenue generation to the table. The museum is keen to support community initiatives and the arts. This year the museum was able to partner with SIMA on an international Indian Folk Music performance called The Three Seas.
What has been your greatest challenge?
At the Australian National Maritime Museum, I’m responsible for self-generated revenue. My portfolio needs to drive profit so that the museum can continue its mission while federal government budgets tighten.
Operating a profit focused division within a federal government agency which is also a museum has been a challenge. Museums, particularly public funded ones are for the ‘greater good’. For the cultural interest of the community, audiences, protecting assets for future generations and educating our next generation. So, when traditional funding models change, requiring commercial or profit driven parameters, this necessitates a cultural shift across the organisation.
The challenge for me has been about driving profit, identifying profitable opportunities and also culture change within my portfolio and other departments. In the last 3 years we’ve launched a new venue year on year and shifted the events and catering from $2m turnover to almost $5m.
What are you most proud of?
I have been appointed to four boards. I’m proud of my resilience and determination to secure these positions even though I’m not a CEO. I have proven it’s possible if you have the credentials and tenacity.
In 2012, I recognised I needed some training and support if I was to be appointed to a board, so I joined Women on Boards. In 2013, I was invited by an industry colleague to be an editorial advisory Board Member of Biz Events Asia. I nominated myself and lobbied (hard) in 2015 to be elected to the board of Business Events Sydney. And in 2016 and 2017 through a competitive interview process, was appointed to the Boards of two charities, SIMA and Dress for Success Sydney.
What’s one piece of advice for future female leaders?
You must be passionate about what you do. You will thrive at anything if you are passionate. This naturally takes others on the journey with you. Admittedly, when you are passionate the line between work and play is hazy. Love what you do and it’s not so much work.
Surround yourself with leaders and peers who inspire you. And who provide support and guidance when the path is unclear. They will help you through tough times and celebrate your wins. Celebrating the wins with people genuinely interested and encouraging is equally important. If you are passionate, this support network will find its way to you.