Spotlight on GEOFF HOGG Chief Casino Officer Queensland, The Star Entertainment Group

WORDS: Caroline Russo PHOTOGRAPHY Supplied

Appointed to his current position as Chief Casino Officer on July 1, 2020, we are delighted to spotlight Geoff Hogg, whose career has gone from strength to strength with more than 20 years of operational casino experience at a senior executive level.

Prior to taking on his new role, Geoff had group-wide responsibility for operations at The Star Sydney, The Star Gold Coast and Treasury Brisbane. Geoff is an active participant in the Queensland business community and in particular, the tourism and entertainment industry. He is a member of the Responsible Gambling Advisory Committee, a director of the National Retail Association and a Board Director of Major Events Gold Coast.

Where were you raised and what was your first job?

I grew up in Christchurch in New Zealand, then worked in Auckland for 10 years, and have called Brisbane home for more than 12 years. I started my journey as a gaming machine attendant at the Christchurch Casino in 1994. My salary was $18,000. It was a role I knew very little about, except that the focus would be on ensuring guests felt welcomed to the property. I certainly did not envisage that this customer-facing role would lead to an exciting and rewarding career in tourism and hospitality for more than two decades.

 Who were your biggest influences and mentors?

I believe the most significant influences in my personal development have been my father and my wife, Praveena. They have helped shape who I am as a person and have provided wonderful support and encouragement over the years. Also, being a parent has greatly influenced and changed my perspective on life and my focus.

Throughout my career, I have developed and grown as a leader by learning from my manager, my peers and my team. One of my direct managers earlier in my career was a great mentor in his approach to my development. His focus on how to lead effective change, influence outcomes and empower others impacted the way I thought about my leadership style and approach. The key thing I like to remember is that every day is an opportunity to continue to learn, develop and grow as a leader. Having a group of people around you that are supportive and will give you honest feedback is critical. I have also learnt that some of the best advice can come from those with less experience, including my children, who have taught me many valuable lessons in life.

Were there turning points in your foundations to building your career? Were there any highs and lows?

The highs have regularly occurred off the back of real challenges – circumstances that required my team or myself to really stretch ourselves. These situations have taught me, to get the best out of people, you must empower them to take on challenges, give them space to learn (and therefore make mistakes) and support them in their development. I strongly believe that you learn more from the things that don’t go as planned, and the mistakes you make, than the highs. However, your willingness to accept your mistakes and focus on the positives from them is critical. This is the lesson that you must take away with you for next time.

The quicker you take ownership of the mistake, understand what you would do differently and move on to the next challenge is important. Also, as a leader, we have to ensure our team members don’t lose confidence from their mistakes and or challenges.

How do you balance life working within the tourism industry in such a demanding role? What makes a good business leader?

Firstly, as with any role you need to enjoy it and the challenges of it. I both enjoy my role and am proud to have been given the opportunity and responsibility. I do my best to lead my team in a way that gives them the support and confidence to own and deliver and work together to help meet our company’s objectives.

I want to actively demonstrate that I have trust in them and for them to know I am always available to help with their challenges. Personally, I have the support of my family and they help me find a great balance in my life.

Construction at Queen’s Wharf Brisbane will raise the flag for tourism and jobs. Will this make Brisbane a leading city in Australia and do you see South East Queensland exploding as a place where people from other states will want to move to in the future?

Absolutely. To put simply, we are changing the game in Queensland. We’re building much-needed tourism infrastructure, working collaboratively with industry and governments, creating economic opportunities now and into the future such as thousands of tourism and hospitality roles, and helping raise the global reputation of Queensland as a must-see destination and a very attractive place to live.

Our vision is to be Australia’s leading integrated resort company and our plans for Brisbane and the Gold Coast are completely aligned with that positioning. This means our focus is on delivering assets of premium quality, size and scale, and creating within them a diversity of offerings for locals and tourists to enjoy. These offerings include new public spaces, sumptuous dining to suit every taste and budget, exciting retail, premium hotel accommodation, apartments and a wide range of entertainment. In Brisbane particularly, our Queen’s Wharf development is part of a new wave of transformation with more than $15 billion being invested into the city to build major tourism and infrastructure assets to 2026, which will drive significant visitation and people moving here. These include Brisbane Metro, Cross River Rail, the new runway, Howard Smith Wharves and the Brisbane International Cruise Ship Terminal.

How has COVID-19 affected your business and how long will it take the business to recover? 

As a result of COVID-19 restrictions, we were forced to temporarily close our operations across our entire company in March, which meant temporarily standing down around 95 per cent of our team members. However, I am pleased that while we still continue to operate well below pre-COVID-19 levels, we have now returned around 90 per cent of our workforce to their jobs. Here in Queensland, the business has recovered to the extent that we are no longer receiving Job Keeper support. Along with our consortium partners, we continue to have strong confidence in the future of tourism in SEQ, especially on the Gold Coast. While international tourism may take a few more years to return following COVID-19, we are expecting strong domestic tourism, especially from our southern counterparts in places like Sydney and Melbourne, once border restrictions are lifted.

We all know the Gold Coast and Brisbane are fantastic places to visit or live with our beautiful weather, natural scenery and outdoor lifestyle; and particularly in the winter months from April to September. We expect to see these cities do exceptionally well in the domestic market. At some point around 2022 or 2023, we believe international borders will open up again so we expect to see visitation levels rise around six to 12 months later. By this stage, we’ll be well-positioned to take advantage of this influx of visitors through the opening of our Queen’s Wharf Brisbane development and the opening of the Dorsett hotel and apartments tower.

What are your views on the border closures?

The reality is Australia and New Zealand are well-positioned when you consider how other countries have dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic. There has been much debate on this but when we are seeing second waves around the world – and what is happening in the US, the UK and other countries – Australia is significantly better off. We are in that position courtesy of Federal and State governments prioritising the health and safety of citizens and balancing that with economic recovery. However, while that suppression strategy has delivered success and flattened the curve, there comes a point where we need to carefully allow the economy to recover.

What are three things that you will take away from 2020?

The first is being super clear on my priorities from a personal and professional perspective. The second is how quickly we can all change our focus and adapt if we need to. And the third is the extra time with my family, and in particular, my youngest son Zach, which was fantastic.

If you looked back on your life so far, is there anything you would change?

My focus is on enjoying the present and being excited about the future. I have an amazing family and I work for a great company, which is currently undergoing an exciting period of growth and transformation, along with our consortium partners.

If you could throw a dinner party and invite anyone who had passed away, who would you invite?

I would love to have dinner with the legendary Sir Edmund Hillary, who was a great New Zealand mountaineer, explorer and philanthropist. In 1953, he was the first to reach the Earth’s highest peak of Mount Everest, along with fellow climber Sherpa Tenzing Norgay.