'Comfortable with being uncomfortable': Jessica Mellor's rise to the top of the hospitality industry

‘Comfortable with being uncomfortable’: Jessica Mellor’s rise to the top of the hospitality industry

Jessica Mellor

In 2016, Jessica Mellor was 31 years old when she was appointed Chief Executive Officer at Aquis Entertainment, the owner of Casino Canberra. She was the first woman to ever be appointed to the helm of the ASX-listed company.

Following many years of sustained losses, she was faced immediately with the challenging task of returning the casino to positive earnings. She did it within 18 months.

“I led a fundamental restructure and realignment of the business, with my changes positively impacting the organisational culture and playing a key role in its turnaround,” Mellor tells Women’s Agenda.

Four years on, Mellor is now the Chief Operating Officer at The Star Gold Coast, and is the youngest person and only woman to have been appointed to the job. Earlier this year, she was a recipient of The Australian Financial Review’s 2020 BOSS Young Executives of the Year award.

She will also be speaking at the Governance Institute of Australia’s National Conference in December.


Mellor says she’s never been particularly conscious of the fact that she’s been breaking through barriers in her rise to leadership at the executive level. But it’s something that makes her excited, especially now that she has the power to ensure other women are given the opportunity to grow and be promoted.

“Many women are inspired by seeing other women in senior leader roles – it helps generate some positive ‘self-talk’ that can be very powerful,” she says.

“Whenever possible I try to create space for women to lean into opportunities and take a step they might not feel comfortable with – more often than not, they smash it!”

Authenticity and transparency are the qualities that Mellor believes make a great leader, and staying true to herself has proved vital in helping her team get through the tumultuous year of 2020.

“There have been some very ‘real’ conversations, some tears, and lots and lots of laughter. I think that’s what’s prevented a full transition to madness at times!

 “When you’re dealing with people, whether they’re team members or guests, being genuine and authentic plays a big part in finding the sense of connection that’s so important in all of our lives.”

Mellor takes the role of setting the tone of her work environment very seriously. Here, communication is key to her leadership approach.

“I spend a lot of time communicating with my team at all levels – either face-to-face or by regular updates through various written channels and even videos.”

As Mellor shares, its this positive and authentic relationship with her team members that allows her to thrive as COO. Indeed, part of her approach to the job is to surround herself with an intelligent and high-performing group of people.

“I have an amazing team of subject matter experts who I trust implicitly to make decisions on the hundreds of specific, and technical, areas of our business that I know literally nothing about,” she says.

“The cultural benefits are immediate, but the business and commercial benefits that flow from a high performing team are immeasurable.”

Jessica Mellor is the Chief Operating Officer at The Star Gold Coast

Now the COVID-19 restrictions have started to ease in Queensland, The Star Gold Coast has reopened with a reduced capacity, adhering to social distancing and gathering limitations. Mellor says around 75 per cent of staff have now returned to work.

For Mellor, responding to the pandemic was and continues to be the most challenging time in her career. But in the long run, she thinks the adaptability that she has shown in the face of adversity has made her a stronger leader, and a stronger team member. Mellor is now a lot more comfortable being uncomfortable.

“Trying to make order out of chaos can be exhausting but training yourself to accept that it is a part of our day-to-day lives now – especially in a business setting – is such a game-changer.

“The pandemic has fast-tracked my ability to break down and deal with complexity, and I’m able to respond to difficult issues in a far more open-minded, positive, and strategic way as a result.”

If Mellor had to pin down why she’s risen to the heights of leadership in her industry, she points to a never-ending appetite for learning and it’s something she’d tell emerging leaders to dial into.

“Ironically, within that sits the realisation that the more you learn, the more you discover that you don’t know as much as you thought you did!” she says.

“It’s a humbling feeling that I think keeps you fresh, authentic, and always open to new ideas and helps you start asking a lot more exploratory questions, which in turn get you closer to the root cause of issues.”

In December, Jessica Mellor will be speaking at the Governance Institute of Australia’s Virtual National Conference, where she will share her experience and business insights as a young leader.

We are pleased to share a special discount count for the Virtual National Conference with Women’s Agenda readers. Use discount code WOMENSAGENDA10 for 10% off your registration!

The discount code is only valid for non-member tickets until 16 October, so register early to take advantage of your exclusive offer.

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