Louise Herron AM

 Louise Herron

Louise Herron (BA/LLM) is an alumna at the top of her game. Appointed last year as the Sydney Opera House’s seventh CEO, she is also the very first woman to hold this notable position. Her career to date is extremely impressive and spans senior roles in law, business and the arts, including positions with the Australia Council and Belvoir Street Theatre. It is due to this breadth of experience that she was awarded an Order of Australia for “significant service to the performing arts through leadership and advisory roles.”

Louise takes over at an important time for Sydney Opera House as it prepares for its 40th Anniversary in October. Since her arrival, she has launched the Sydney Opera House’s Enterprise Strategy, founded a hugely popular ideas festival (All About Women), and initiated a new group of influential supporters, The Idealists, which is already well on its way to realising its goal of 100 members.

Here she shares her rich career experience and passions with us.

What are your happiest memories about your time here as a student?

My happiest memories are French and Italian tutorials and endless cups of coffee in Manning. All three were an education.

Who was your favourite Professor while you were a student at the University of Sydney and why?

Ivan Barko, Professor of French. He loved French poetry and existentialism and he taught his students how to delve deeply to find new thoughts and feelings. He encouraged us to strive for a new understanding of both the language that was being used and what it captured.

What is your proudest achievement?

I am proud of a few things in my life. I am proud to be leading the Opera House at a really important time in its history, with our 40th Anniversary approaching in October, which is all about safeguarding the Opera House for future generations. And I am very proud of our children, who are currently studying architecture and politics and international relations at Sydney University - and having lots of cups of coffee in Manning.

Who inspires you?

Karen Brooks Hopkins, President of the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York. Like the Opera House, BAM is a multi-arts centre, and like us, it is a centre in every sense, one that is at the heart of its city. What Karen has achieved in her 25 years at BAM, particularly in engendering a vibrant and vital culture of giving, is an example of what can be achieved through creativity and determination. Brooklyn’s renaissance is no accident.

Tell us more about yourself and how you ultimately became the first female appointed to the position of Chief Executive of the Sydney Opera House since it opened in 1973

I spent ten years as a partner at Minter Ellison lawyers and then ten years as a corporate advisor. I was also Chair of Belvoir Street Theatre during that second decade, a position I loved. I then became very sick with septicemia and almost died. As a result of that experience I decided to only work on things I cared deeply about. That coincided with my appointment as Chair of the Major Performing Arts Board of the Australia Council. The opportunity to run the Opera House was irresistible to me. It was the culmination of everything I had done to date.

What is the mantra you live by and what drives you?

Seize the day and don’t die wondering. What drives me is realising possibility, the possibility I see around me every day. My basic motivation is to make things what they can be.

What has been the most memorable success you have had?

I found my time at Belvoir Street Theatre incredibly fulfilling. 2002 to 2012 was a period of unprecedented change for the company. We launched a multi-million dollar fundraising campaign to renovate the theatre and to create new headquarters for Belvoir and then to transition from our founding artistic director Neil Armfield. I have been thrilled to watch Belvoir go from strength to strength.

What are your plans for the future?

To help navigate a secure future for the Opera House. It has transformed Australia and our sense of ourselves as Australians over the last 40 years. I want to ensure it continues to do so for future generations of artists, audiences and visitors.

What advice would you give to students graduating from the University of Sydney?

To live imaginatively and make the most of every opportunity that comes your way, even if you can’t immediately see where it might lead. Don’t be scared of the unknown, embrace it. Work out how you can contribute, how you can make things better and how you can make things more alive. Then do exactly that.