How the feminine touch sparked life back into a tired city's heart

If you're in business, the law is that you have to go to lunch.

If you're in business, the law is that you have to go to lunch. Many great institutions developed in commercial capitals around the globe so that businessmen, and I mean men, could go to lunch and read the paper ... and, according to the bylaws of many of the old men-only clubs, not talk about business!

However, earlier this week, I went to a business lunch of a new kind. Our hosts were women - the chair, chief executive and board of Federation Square in Melbourne. And it made me realise the power of women and the influence they can and should exercise in our community.

This is a welcome trend and a worldwide one it seems. A few weeks earlier in New York, I met Anne Henderson, executive vice-president of the Central Park Trust, which raises $US45 million each year to maintain its 240-hectare gift from the Rockefeller family. She says it is the women of New York who raise the bulk of the funds in order to allow the lungs of the city to be safe and healthy.

If Central Park is the lungs of New York,

then Federation Square is the heart of Melbourne.

Well, it is now, thanks to former premier Jeff Kennett for accepting a radical, yet person-friendly design, and for not going ahead with his threat to paint the slab green and forget about building when the cost estimates started to blow out.

The site of "Fed Square" was once more akin to the dead heart of Melbourne with its two beige featureless office blocks that housed the beige bureaucrats of the old gas and fuel utilities for the state.

A few weeks ago, I asked the question in this column: What would the world look like if it were run by women?

Well, in the case of Federation Square, we now know the answer.

Its formidable chairwoman, Catherine Walter, and its equally impressive CEO, Kate Brennan, together with the all-female board have racked up some great results.

This year, Federation Square will attract 10 million visitors for the first time. That's nearly 90 million visitors from the time it opened. Nearly a quarter of them come from overseas.

"I love it," Louise says. "I always take family from overseas there so we can keep arguing about something."

With more than 2000 activities in its public spaces this year, Federation Square is a roaring success, reflecting all the cultures that make up the city.

From a marketing perspective, Fed Square ticks some very important boxes. Location - it sits at the intersection between the city's retail and business district, and its famed gardens and arts precinct. And it's directly opposite the transport hub where most people get off to do anything in Melbourne.

Its products and services are valued by all sections of society - from elite fine arts to the big screen telecasts of major sporting events in the city and around the world.

It is constantly innovating with new events and partnerships, many of which bring their own audiences into the city.

And its spaces, while still hotly debated by many, are people-friendly. You get the feeling that you are in a village of the future, and you are - one where women bring a much greater influence to the world we share.

In short, it has developed a great brand and as Brennan says, "the people have voted with their feet".

While millions of visitors to Federation Square enjoy themselves either eating their lunches on the cobbled steps, or browsing the surrounding galleries, shops and restaurants, this formidable management team fights all the normal business battles of a landlord and an entrepreneur.

It's never easy to get great results in business and that's why you need a person like Walter, who once famously said, "It's important to be true to yourself, to fight the battle until it is over and to live to tell the story."

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