Building a team to light up Brisbane

Charlie Cush

Charlie Cush is a seasoned leader in the performing arts who recently became CEO at Brisbane Festival. In this interview, we ask Charlie about his approach to recruiting and uniting a team to deliver spectacular results.

As the CEO of Brisbane Festival, you’re managing a hugely diverse range of people. Is there a common trait that you’ll be looking for during recruitment, irrespective of whether it’s a permanent, temporary or voluntary role?

First and foremost, the candidate has to really, really want to be here. The perfect person to apply for a job with me is someone who says: “I have experience in some of the areas you’re looking for – maybe not all, but some – and I’m smart enough and hungry enough to learn the rest”. That shows me that they’re extremely self-aware, and that they’re willing to work hard to fill any gaps in their experience. I want people who tell me they are keen to grow and become part of our culture. Those are signs that they really want to work for Brisbane Festival.

How do you attract those kinds people?

It has to be the appeal of the place and the opportunity to be successful here. In the arts, career success is never going to be measured in terms of how much money you take home. There will always be other industries that pay better. But we can offer something that other employers can’t: The opportunity to light up Brisbane every year; to bring wondrous things to our hometown and share them; and to disrupt the way people think about things. And we’ll do that together, as a great team doing really great things. 

Fortunately the festival that I've walked into is in top condition too. Last year it smashed box office targets and it’s got strong levels of support from private philanthropy, government partners and sponsors like Robert Walters. So we have the backing, which provides stability, and we offer a culture and an environment that allows people to do their best work and be part of something that is genuinely unique.

Live performance can be fiendishly unpredictable – and you’re staging 70 live events in a three-week period across numerous locations! You obviously need a team around you who are supremely organised and good at problem solving.

How do you identify those qualities when recruiting and selecting new recruits?

Firstly, they’ll have the experience to prove that they've done it before or they’ll demonstrate that they’ve got problem solving characteristics like flexibility, proactive thinking, and a hunger for chewing through complex challenges. Secondly, they’ll know how to finish something. That’s really important and sometimes employers miss that. In the arts you can’t let a project drag on or spiral. You have a set date for your event and, above all, the show must go on. 

At Brisbane Festival you’ll have a permanent team working alongside an ever-changing seasonal team of temporary personnel. How do you plan to unite everyone?

The answer lies in the culture, which is easy for a CEO to talk about but I will be actively involved in that. For example, when new people join us I think it’s really important that their induction includes some time with me personally. That’s a chance for me to explain the really big machine we are running and to explain why they personally are an important cog in that. Regardless of whether they’re a marketing intern, or someone in their 50s doing lighting, I want them to understand their individual role and what success looks like. 

Sinead Hourigan, our Brisbane Director, recently wrote about the social and economic benefits when businesses support and partner with arts organisations. As the CEO of Brisbane Festival, why does corporate support matter?

Corporate partnerships allow us to provide opportunities for the community that we wouldn't otherwise be able to offer. The free offerings that we have, the family programmes that we run, and some of the more large-scale public projects are only possible when corporate partners get behind us. 

We deliver a programme of such depth and density and diversity – but behind that is a very delicate ecology. That ecology is made up of government partners at two levels of government, corporate partners like Robert Walters, a range of different audiences supporting us at the box office, and many philanthropic donors who all believe in what we do. In that ecology, if the butterfly wing flaps on the corporate sponsors' side, then actually the tsunami is felt on some of the independent theatre or the public programming or other things that we are committed to, but are only possible because of those corporate partnerships. 


About Brisbane Festival

Robert Walters is a proud sponsor of Brisbane Festival which runs 8 – 29 September



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