The City Leaders Forum is a joint initiative between Griffith University and YP Gold Coast showcasing the people in our city, who are driving innovation and change within the business community.
Derek Cronin, lawyer, owns prominent law firm Cronin Litigation and has achieved outstanding success through application of exceptional professional skills, savvy market analysis and working hard to take advantage of opportunities presented in his much - loved City of Gold Coast.
While thriving in the cut and thrust commercial litigation space, Derek is also strongly driven to do all he can to make the Gold Coast a better city by focusing on issues not associated with “bricks and mortar.”
He balances the robust nature of litigation by caring for others and crusading on behalf of worthwhile causes.
He is a “people person” with a passion for progress in human terms.
Derek wants to see the emergence of a more caring Gold Coast with greater cultural diversity - a city with more tolerance with more effective plans in place that address social issues alongside plans for City development.
The City must maintain strong growth but not to the detriment of a lifestyle Derek cherishes and rates as the world’s best.
Derek is much more than a leading commercial litigator, he is a committed citizen who ‘wears several hats’ including working with Gold Coast project for Homeless Youth and campaigning for marriage equality.
A third generation member of the local and highly respected Cronin family of professionals, Derek looks into the city’s heart and takes action to help those who need it most, or whose voices are not heard.
Aged 43, Derek says he can no longer be classified as a ‘young professional’ – but he was certainly youthful when he started his practice on the Coast in 2006.
He brought with him a professional package that included years of experience as an associate and then partner in a Brisbane law firm – achieved while still in his twenties.
“While I was with the Brisbane firm my partner, ABC Television reporter Tom Forbes and I, found that every weekend we were either travelling to the Gold Coast, or to his parents’ place on the Sunshine Coast,” said Derek.
“It dawned on us that we were living where we didn’t really want to be and the Gold Coast was calling out for us to come home.
“I am a third generation Gold Coaster – my grandmother is aged 100, my grandfather was the chief civil engineer at the Gold Coast City Council for many years, my father David, is a medical specialist, and uncles Brian and Barry are prominent lawyers.”
“I was raised on the Gold Coast, went to TSS, was in the original student intake at Bond University and then worked initially as a solicitor at Primrose Cooper Cronin and later at McLaughlins, before moving to Brisbane.
“I got to know as lot of locals in the legal profession and in business, so in 2006, I thought it was a good time to back myself and give it a go.
“We sold our house in Brisbane and used some of the money to start the practice - and the phone simply has not stopped ringing since day one.
“The practice grew quickly and today employs ten lawyers and 5 support staff - we have been consistently busy for what will be ten years in January.
“Unlike many lawyers, we don’t do criminal law, family law, personal injury law (or other more common areas of practice).
“We have a very strict business model that focuses solely on commercial litigation – business disputes, partnership disputes, debt recovery, insolvency, bankruptcy and franchising disputes.”
Derek is among the new generation of smart professionals that have emerged during or soon after the global financial crisis.
“When we started the global financial crisis was driving up demand for work in insolvency and I had good relationships with some local insolvency practitioners, producing a lot of referral work.
“Then as things got better and insolvency declined, business people with discretionary spending moved to pursue litigation regarding issues that they have had in a “back drawer” for a while; issues from the property sector also started to rise.
“The business model has worked and the practice has grown along with communications technology and engaging young and highly capable graduates who at the leading edge of today’s digitally serviced legal world.”
While we see so much about ‘bricks and mortar” – news about the new development and infrastructure happening on the Gold Coast, what else is needed if the City is to continue to be a great place to live and do business in years to come?
“I wear several hats - I am on the board of Gold Coast Project for Homeless Youth; I am on the board of the Queensland Aids Council and I am also involved with major current issues such as marriage equality.
“I am a strong advocate for better promotion of the Gold Coast as a city that should more strongly welcome our diversity of races, cultures and religions and that supports more forward thinking on issues such as same sex marriages.
“I think Southport’s China Town is great, so is the new Glitter festival for the lesbian and gay and transsexual community – I think this is making a good start.
(The week long festival is a celebration of arts and culture with a program including cabaret, theatre, art gallery displays, films and community events).
“I think changing attitudes starts at the top – we’ve got to have a mayor that says ‘come here and get married’ on the Gold Coast to same sex couples – because this says to the community and Australia at large is that we are a community of tolerance and acceptance.
“We need to look at the barriers to be overcome in achieving a large, culturally diverse city.
“Usually the attributes of the Gold Coast are communicated in terms of bricks and mortar; what we don’t see is how our identity is to be influenced by what happens culturally in the city.
“The new cultural centre will help (go a long way towards ) achieving this goal.
“But still there is a lot of focus on new buildings, shopping centres and other forms of development.
“It was interesting to note the proposal for a mosque at Currumbin that many people were up in arms against.
“But what is the solution? Where can we build a mosque? I think these are the kind of questions that must be asked.
“While I am like a broken record with regular meetings with local government, and state and federal members pushing the same barrow, but I will continue to knock on their doors and to gain support from others in the community.”
As the president of Gold Coast Project For The Homeless Youth, you must see a lot of the other side of life in this city, how serious are the problems for this disadvantaged group and are you getting enough support?
“Gold Coast Project for Homeless Youth has three houses and mobile team devoted to helping young people who have nowhere to call home.
“There is a very large number of homeless youth on the Gold Coast ( aged between 17 and 25) and last year we had to turn away 150 of them because we simply could not accommodate them.
“But more help is on the way - with the assistance of Villaworld, the Arthur Earle Foundation, some subbies and other generous people are now building a fourth house in Olsen Avenue, Southport.
“But we have one major hurdle, a large component of the build cost, approximately $70,000, will be payable to the Gold Coast City Council in infrastructure charges.
“So here we are raising money to build a home for the homeless and a portion of the donations will go directly to meeting our obligation to the council.
“ I struggle with this issue.
“The physical reality is that we will have to do a lot of fund raising between now and next year, so that this critically needed facility can simply exist – providing eight beds plus staff accommodation.
So where are all of these young people living now?
“They are doing a number of things – they are couch surfing, on the streets or in the care of various government departments.
“They are facing various levels of risk - many have been subjected to abuse, but the day they go into one of our houses, they can have locked bedroom – their own space – something many have never had before – it gives them that feeling of safety.
“But we have to push them through, as there is a constant stream of people needing this help – we do things like helping them with with their resumes and to find jobs.
What do you see in the small business sector on the Coast in terms of their needs and future?
“When people take the risks that go with starting a business they need certainty - if governments and policies change with the wind it is ultimately problematic for small business.
“Some businesses I see need to go back to the old school ethical principles about always doing the right thing by staff, clients and others; generally there needs to be a better sense of community in terms of businesses looking after each other.
“There’s a market out there that is big enough for everyone to have a go - there is no point in attacking each other - take the legal industry for example, it is a big space.
“In litigation I see some firms attacking others when there is just no point to it.
“I am very positive about the future on the Gold Coast during the next 15 to 20 years - particularly with the young people coming through.
“I think the city is going to continue to develop at a great pace – continuing to pioneer advances in areas such as health and education.
“It is also great to see the new generations of families involved with successful businesses here coming to come through – families like the Lyntons (motor trades), the Goldstein’s (bakery), the Bradnams (windows and doors), and the Ramsays (formerly of Pindara Private hospital) and many others.
And what about infrastructure needs?
“It is a no-brainer that we need the light rail to be connected to the heavy rail;
The light rail as it is adds a lot to the holiday experience.
“I would like to see the rail go to (at least) Burleigh Heads and preferably right through to Coolangatta.
“As traffic gets worse, people need to be able to move freely through the city.
“From my house at Mermaid Beach, I just get on a skateboard and cruise down to a coffee shop, or to pick up the paper.
“More of us should be strong ambassadors for the Coast and be telling people about all the good things about the City.” - it (the light rail) is both efficient and cost effective and it should be extended sooner than later.
“There should also be greater emphasis on bikeways and pathways.
“Gold Coast drivers don’t respect cyclists enough; I just came back from Milan – they had trams everywhere and a lot of bikeways and the traffic was flowing freely.
“People who a frustrated by having to sit in their cars should think of cycling, or walking if they are close enough – but they need to be able to do so in safety.”
What frustrates you as a resident and businessman on the Coast?
“We need to be more positive about the city – the negative headlines like those about bikies, crime and corruption don’t paint a true picture of the Coast – really we are just a growing city and more of us should appreciate that this is “warts and all” the best place the world to live.
“Some of the negative elements we hear about are the product of any large population – we don’t see enough promotion of the city’s outstanding attributes.
“For example I have taken friends from Sydney and Melbourne and to The Fishhouse at Burleigh they say that it is the most amazing restaurant they have been to.
“I recently had a function at Circle on Cavill – we were on the 57th floor and the skyline was amazing.
“People criticise Surfers Paradise and say how grotty it is but this is absolute nonsense.
“If you actually go into Surfers there are some really great things to see and do – I take people to “Seaduction” on the Esplanade and they say they can’t believe they can sit, have a beautiful lunch and take in such a spectacular view.
“You’ve just need to know where to go and when – if you don’t go into Surfers at 3 am (when the club goers hit the street), you are probably at no risk at all.
“We really like having an office in Surfers Paradise – you get to taste the lifestyle – can see people enjoying holidays here as well as being in a great strategic location for business.
“I would like more positive attitudes emerge from the community.
“It really frustrates me that so many Gold Coasters are really down on the city, when they should stop complaining and not forget how lucky most of us are.
“From my house at Mermaid Beach, you don’t have to drive to shop or get most of what you need – I just get on a skateboard and cruise down to a coffee shop, or to pick up the paper.
“More of us should be strong ambassadors for the Coast and be telling people about all the good things about the City.”