By Shane Scanlan
With the Queen Victoria Market (QVM) redevelopment nearly ready for shovels in the ground, it’s probably no surprise that its new CEO has an urban renewal background.
Stan Liacos (pictured right) takes up the reins at the end of January – and is the fourth CEO in nearly as many years (as well as two acting chief executives).
The controversial, highly political environment was too much for its most recent chief executive, Malcolm McCullough, who resigned last July and has become a QVM trader.
Conversely, 51-year-old Mr Liacos says the challenge was exactly what attracted him to the role.
“My character type is attracted to difficult circumstances and uncertainty,” he said. “It’s the way I’m wired.”
But he bristles at the descriptor “bureaucrat”, despite having worked in the public sector nearly all his career.
Unlike the stereotypical bureaucrat of the public imagination, Mr Liacos has an impressive track record of achievements for public benefit.
“I prefer to call myself a public sector developer,” he said.
He was responsible for the emergence of Bendigo as a regional tourism force, having redeveloped the Bendigo Art Gallery and theatres. His CV also includes time at Federation Square, Docklands Authority and the Geelong waterfront redevelopment.
Mr Liacos has a rare combination of skills and qualifications. Essentially, he is a town planner with a masters degree in marketing and post-graduate qualifications in business management.
He is a marketer with big picture vision with a passion for urban renewal and economic development.
Significantly, he entirely “gets” City of Melbourne design director Rob Adams’ vision to transform the market car park into the Fed Square of the north. In fact, Mr Adams was his first boss, when he briefly worked at the council as a cadet town planner in 1986.
He said he would not have been attracted to the CEO position had the market renewal project not been poised at the physical construction stage.
“What is needed is a sensitive but assertive redevelopment,” he said.
But it’s not all about the heritage-sensitive building program. The marketer in Mr Liacos is equally challenged to position the market to Melbourne as the retail destination of choice.
He acknowledges his lack of core retailing experience, but says it is not necessary.
“The role of the CEO is to create the best environment where the managers and the staff can achieve their very best,” he said. “I know how to manage people.”
He has been a senior executive for the past 20 years but this is the first time he has been chief executive officer.
“I’ve been a very loyal number two in several organisations and I’m really looking forward to being CEO,” he said.
Mr Liacos acknowledges the difference between “real” and “box-ticking” consultation and is looking forward to becoming immersed in the QVM’s unique culture.
As a western suburbs son of Greek migrants, he believes he is well equipped to communicate equally well with market traders and state government ministers.
He’s not naive enough to expect to be warmly welcomed by the opponents of the redevelopment. But he does not expect to be pre-judged as an individual.
“I’ve got too much faith in human nature to believe otherwise,” he said. “It would be unfair if I wasn’t treated the same way as they expect to be treated.”
Friend of Queen Victoria Market convenor Mary-Lou Howey said she would reserve her judgement of Mr Liacos.
“It looks like he would be good and that he’s a good communicator,” she said. “That’s great, but we’re tired of ‘good communicators’ – people with silver tongues who can’t be believed. We have lost faith.”
She predicted that Mr Liacos would struggle to have genuine dialogue with redevelopment opponents while remaining answerable to the QVM board.
“He answers to a board who views traders in terms of ‘them and us’. I don’t know how he can straddle that. The culture at the market at the moment is punitive,” she said.
However he is greeted, Mr Liacos is going to need every ounce of his considerable charm, good humour and optimism.