CEO Speech: GML 30-Year Celebration

Sharon Veale, December 2019.

Photographer: Kai Leishman

GML Heritage celebrated 30 years of business in December 2019, with clients, colleagues and family at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Among the night's highlights was the speech by CEO, Sharon Veale, which is transcribed below.

‘Welcome special guests, our wonderful clients, friends, collaborators and supporters of GML, and of course our fabulous alumni and super talented staff.

Birthdays are significant occasions. A 30th birthday is surely something to celebrate! As children we spend much time wishing we were older. Whereas as adults we often wish we were younger. In business, I think getting older is a distinguishing mark of success.  A badge of honour.

But before we celebrate our success, I feel there is something more profound and urgent that I need to talk about.

GML 30-Year Celebration (Photographer: Kai Leishman)

What is Happening to Our World?

Fires still rage across NSW. Lives and property have been lost.  Species tip towards extinction.

I wonder what more needs to happen before we see our elected leaders act, even if they aren’t prepared to accept the climate emergency and the Anthropocene.

What have we created?

What will our children and children’s children inherit?

When I read recently about sustainability guru, Michael Mobbs selling his self-sufficient inner-city terrace to prep for the apocalypse because we have not kept pace with the speed of climate change, I took pause.

Each day, the extra heat that is trapped near our planet is equivalent to four hundred thousand Hiroshima bombs.

There are no known technologies that can be deployed at world scale to reverse the warming, and many climate scientists feel that the window for doing so is already closed, that we have passed the tipping point and the heat is on “runaway” no matter what we do.

We have all seen the disaster movies. We can all imagine what happens in cities when there’s no food on the supermarket shelves, no petrol in the bowsers, and traffic grinds to a halt as everyone tries to flee.

Michael Mobbs thinks the total breakdown is within the next three to five years where water, food, seasons and economies will collapse.  In conversations with his children he said, “The idea that life won’t go on for them in the same way it has gone on for me is incomprehensible.”

I know tonight is a celebration, but I am amongst friends and trusted colleagues.  I expect we all share a sense of bewilderment in the current lack of political leadership.

I believe it is collective action and communities that will shape the change we so urgently need.

Photo credit: Earth Observatory, NASA

GML’s Foundations

In the late 1960s and 1970s the community inspired and influenced the political agenda for environmental and heritage protection and Gough Whitlam said the Australian Government should see itself as the curator and not the liquidator of the National Estate.

GML’s foundations were built on a combination of wisdom and happenstance, with vision, and strong leadership.

Individually and collectively, the founders believed in and were committed to making a difference.  They saw that history and heritage were part of the fabric and identity of urban experience.

That historic places contributed to community, belonging and identity.

The best businesses are built with heart, soul and mind and a steady persistence working towards creating and achieving something that really matters.

GML has been a setting for much significant activity over three decades of heritage practice. The founders are recognised as leading professionals in the industry.

Over the years GML has inspired, guided and supported many emerging and leading individuals that work in heritage and related sectors.

GML would not be what it is today without the many people that have been part of its journey. Many of you here tonight have been integral to the company’s success.

Thank you to our esteemed alumni. We have been very fortunate to have attracted the talent we have.

Our great clients, both public and private, it is you that have provided us with a tremendous array of extraordinary projects that have consistently challenged us, taught us and inspired us.

GML’s work has helped make a difference in communities and at many places in Sydney, throughout NSW, and in other states, territories and countries.

The company’s journey over 30 years has been guided and supported by the founders and Partners, Don, Richard, David, Sheri and Peter. And I can’t forget our inaugural CEO, Reece McDougall.   Together with the Board, led over many years by Ian Neal, this team has helped us navigate the various stages in the business’ life cycle and challenges and opportunities along the way.

The combination of knowledge, skills and experience amongst this cohort of people is formidable and much of what we have achieved today is due to their collective and individual efforts.

Several years ago, they paved the way for GML’s succession to the next generation.

The GML of Today

Today GML is a majority employee owned business over 15 shareholders.

It’s also been a little more than 2 years since GML and Context in Melbourne joined together.

Similarly, to GML’s founders it was a brave and bold decision by founder Chris Johnston and Louise Honman to chart a new future for the Context business under GML’s stewardship.

At GML we feel very proud to count the Context team as part of the business.  Context turned 30 this year too.

Over three decades, GML and Context have been regular collaborators.  On ambitious and challenging projects such as at The Rocks, Sydney, Port Arthur Historic Site, Tasmania, and Norfolk Island at Kingston and Arthurs Vale Historic Area.

The collaborations brought out the best in both companies.  Strong purpose, values, mutual respect, with a focus on high quality research, well-reasoned analysis and conservation outcomes grounded in relationships between people and place.

This approach to heritage continues to inform and shape our work.

It is a wellspring that provides us with the freedom to explore what GML and Context might be in the future.  It has given us the self-confidence to take risks, to be bold, to lead.

At GML and Context we honour the past, and are restless and eager to make a difference by shaping a living future for heritage, for our communities and the environment.

It is the founder’s vision, wonderful staff and clients that have made GML the success that it is today and will continue to inspire and create the GML and Context of future.

The future is very bright for the combined business as we step toward it with an extraordinary team and an amazing archive of experience.

As Australian cities experience rapid growth and development, the values, meanings and significance of our history and heritage need to be foregrounded in communities, to inform urban planning, design and placemaking.

Our corpus of work and experience in public history, heritage planning, management and conservation positions us well to contribute to shaping the future.

I would like to thank Don Godden for creating Godden Mackay and Richard Mackay who’s strategic focus, intellect and acumen has contributed so much to the business.

To David Logan who’s wisdom and always considered views are much valued, as is his continuing contribution to knowledge and practice amongst staff today.

To Peter Romey, who’s experience in development, design and place-based conservation as well as leading our first forays into transport and infrastructure thank you.  To Sheridan Burke who’s global experience and network, combined with her commitment to innovation and creativity in heritage practice and the company’s culture enriched our working lives.

Thanks are also due to the GML Board and our Chair Ian Neal, who as individual has steadfastly supported us and collectively guided us as people and as a company.

To the team of Managers, Principals, Senior Associates, Associates and consultants, you are the reason I come to work.

The intelligence, energy, warmth and genuine care you demonstrate every day to each other, our communities, places, their histories and heritage makes everyday worthwhile.  Thank you so very much.  You have helped GML achieve something very significant.

The Future of Heritage

I would now like to invite, our Chair Ian Neal, Richard Mackay, David Logan, Peter Romey, Sheridan Burke, Reece McDougall and Chris Johnston to the stage.  I would also like to invite Rachel Jackson, Claire Geary, Claire Nunez, Abi Cyerhall, Tim Owen, Madeline Shanahan and Catherine Forbes to the stage to present the Future of Heritage to the Founding Generation.

This publication represents our current thinking about the Future of Heritage across a range of topics.

It’s a gesture of our appreciation as you have been so generous in sharing and exchanging your knowledge and experience with us, we wanted an opportunity to give you something in return.

It’s our gift to you for your vision, leadership, trust in us and continuing commitment to the future of GML and the future of heritage.

We are very grateful to each of you.

It’s a busy time of year and that you have taken the time to come along to be here to celebrate with us, makes the occasion so much more special and memorable.

Huge thanks to all. And now, to borrow from one of Australia’s political visionaries, ‘It’s Time!’

Happy birthday GML and Merry Christmas everyone’