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News May 26, 2023

ARIA CEO Annabelle Herd Talks Leadership at VMA Congress: ‘Courage and Honesty’

Senior Journalist, B2B
ARIA CEO Annabelle Herd Talks Leadership at VMA Congress: ‘Courage and Honesty’

Understand your own values, stand for something, be brave. And perhaps above all else, tackle the task with “courage and honesty.”

Those are some of the pearls of wisdom shared by ARIA CEO Annabelle Herd, for a special keynote Monday (May 22) at the 30th annual VMA Congress in Melbourne.

Herd was invited to the annual gathering of venue operators to share her thoughts on being a better boss.

Speaking at the podium for a session titled “Leadership in the spotlight,” Herd recounted her eventful entry into the music industry, and the multiple crises that were unfolding — the ugliest of which were hidden from view.

“Something was very wrong,” she remembered. “COVID was raging and had annihilated the music industry, something that we had in common with your industry, but that was just a part of the problem, and hopefully a temporary one.”

As she connected with industry stakeholders at the time, folks “started quietly making me aware that there were big problems in music.”

Stories began circulating on inappropriate behaviour in the industry, “many of them pointed directly at the companies I was now representing,” she explained, and articles were appearing in both trade and consumer media “painting a very negative picture of the music industry while carefully dancing around defamation laws.”

Herd was told “horrible stories of things that had happened to their daughters in music studios or at gigs or venues.”

Those tales “were endless and everyone seemed to know what was happening.”

She’d heard enough.

Herd and ARIA reached out to APRA AMCOS, both organisations got to work on an invite list and a gathering was set for Monday May 24, 2021.

That meeting, less than four months after Herd made the leap from Network 10, where she had served as Chief Operating Officer, started a “very difficult process” that resulted in the first-ever industrywide report on systemic discrimination and sexual harassment in the music industry.

To get there, $500,000 was raised from music businesses and organisations around the country, during the pandemic. Independent consultants were tapped to research and publish what would become Raising Their Voices, issued in September 2022.

The document featured 17 recommendations. Among them, an apology from the music industry, which was actioned immediately.

“This process showed me that with the right skills mix, intention, communication, stakeholder management and leadership,” noted Herd, “all of these difficult problems could be worked through.”

She continued, “And for me personally I didn’t do any of this as a woman. I did it as a leader of an organisation that had a major reputational and operational problem to address for its members. I didn’t really have a choice. Perhaps my ambition and drive was stronger because it came from my own experience, but anyone in my position should have done the same thing.”

Herd drew on “25 years of experience, everything in my leadership toolbox, across strategy, communications, governance, problem solving, collaboration, risk management, and decision making. I also learnt so much from this whole process that I will apply going forward.”

Those top tips are many and varied: empower people to do their best work, build trust in your team, recognise your impact, and pay attention to your own behaviour. That includes bosses prone to “cranky” moments, and those whose staff are too terrified to challenge the leader or offer their opinion.

Also, when starting out, pursue a career you’re actually passionate about. 

In a follow-up Q&A, Herd shared insights into the sometimes “brutal” nature of competing at the highest ranks of commercial TV, leadership inspiration and the industry’s next generation.

“Our young talent,” she added, “they’re absolutely extraordinary. The future of this industry is so bright, but we’ve got to look after these people because they are amazing.”

The VMA Congress took place at Centrepiece at Melbourne Park, from May 21-23.

Some 500 professionals from the Asia Pacific venue industry gathered for the summit, the programme for which included guest speakers Harvey Lister, chairman & CEO, Asia Pacific at ASM Global; David Marcus, EVP global music, Ticketmaster; Live Nation VP of touring Luke Hede; Ticketek managing director Cameron Hoy; AXS CEO Andrew Travis, and Kenny star Shane Jacobson.


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