Derek began his career as a biochemist teaching at Otago University and Otago Polytechnic. In 1986 he became National President of the NZ Association for Staff in Tertiary Education, a role he held until during a period of major reform of the tertiary education system, for which he served on numerous governmental and ministerial committees, working groups, and boards. In 1990, he joined the Auckland Institute of Technology (AIT) and held a number of senior roles in its journey to be established as a university, which occurred in 2000. Derek was appointed a Deputy Vice Chancellor of the newly established Auckland University of Technology (AUT) and in 2004, Vice Chancellor. In 2022, he retired from the university to pursue other interests, having led AUT to its position as a large, world-ranked, comprehensive, research university, noted for its commitment to opportunity and local communities. He has had extensive experience in governance roles in wide range of organisations representing, sports, health, the arts, education, and community interests.