The Star’s Focus on the Future Remains Unchanged

By Alexandra Cain

When Harry Theodore, CFO of The Star Entertainment Group, took up the role in 2019 he could not have foreseen the company’s properties being forced to close under federal government instruction within months of his appointment. While the COVID-19 pandemic certainly changed the focus of his role in the short-term, the business’s longer-term strategy remains unchanged. 

Nevertheless, Theodore says the challenge ensured a baptism of fire. “Within seven months of taking the role, we found ourselves dealing with a pandemic that led to all our properties being shut down and 95 per cent of our staff being temporarily stood down. That was a scenario that placed enormous pressure on the company’s senior leadership team. Being with the business for a long time before transitioning to the CFO role at least gave me an opportunity to hit the ground running.”

Although the pandemic had an unexpected effect on the business, Theodore says the strategy remains the same. “When we invest, it’s with a very long-term view. Our strategy is about having large-scale resorts that appeal to a broad and diverse audience of both local, domestic and international visitors. So, the medium and long-term strategy hasn’t fundamentally changed for us as a result of COVID.”

In conjunction with its joint venture partners, Chow Tai Fook Enterprises and Far East Consortium, the business has a comprehensive development program underway across the group that includes The Star Gold Coast, formerly Jupiter’s. The aim is to transform The Star Gold Coast into one of the biggest integrated resorts in the Asia Pacific region. The first stages of that program have already been completed including the refurbishment of The Star Grand Hotel, opening of The Darling Hotel and award-winning restaurants and entertainment facilities like Nineteen at The Star and Kiyomi.

Understanding capital allocation is also critical. “This is probably the most important role the finance function has in my view.”

Harry Theodore, CFO | The Star Entertainment Group

“We also have a Queensland government approved $2 billion master plan that will deliver four new hotel and apartment towers in stages adjacent to the existing property. The first tower, the $400 million Dorsett hotel and residence, will be completed during 2022. A second tower has been greenlit and construction has started, which will include a new five-star hotel brand, with a launch planned for mid to late 2024.”

The Star has also embarked on a $3.6 billion development at Brisbane’s Queen’s Wharf. The project will involve building a bridge across South Bank to connect the new entertainment precinct on the edge of Brisbane’s CBD to the existing cultural precinct. A further $1 billion investment at The Star Sydney has been proposed, including the construction of two towers, both housing hotels with one of them slated to be a luxurious six-star Ritz-Carlton.

This project is expected to open in a staged fashion from late 2022. The new precinct will feature more than 50 bars, restaurants and cafes, 12 football fields of open space and house world-renowned hotel brands such as Rosewood and The Ritz-Carlton.

Practical matters

On a practical level, Theodore says in his view, the best finance teams spend most of their time on business insights and partnering with the business to deliver commercial outcomes rather than data gathering or reporting. Understanding capital allocation is also critical. “This is probably the most important role the finance function has in my view.”

Diversity and inclusion is also very important to The Star. Says Theodore: “Diversity and inclusions drives long-term success by tapping into a wealth of individual experiences and backgrounds. We want to build an environment that really reflects the communities we serve and the millions of guests we welcome each year.”

The business has established a range of working groups focused on areas like gender multicultural representation and LGBTQI+. It is also working towards a reconciliation action plan. “We’ve set targets across all the key diversity groups, and our working groups have driven a number of initiatives each year to help us meet those targets. There’s been a real commitment all the way through the organisation, led by our CEO.”

Future focus

While Theodore says he’s enjoying his role at the moment, at some point he has ambitions to be a CEO.

“Matt Bekier was the CFO at The Star before transitioning to the CEO role back in 2014. I have had the benefit of working closely with Matt and seeing him make that transition very successfully. I have worked closely with him for around 10 years now and learned a great deal. Matt’s a very good strategic thinker. When you add the detailed understanding of the business drivers he had as a CFO with strategic expertise, a key learning is the importance of that balance where you can look forward and strategise, but also go deep and detailed when required.”

“The CFO can often be a trusted adviser to the CEO. At times, that is going to require challenge and debate, and it’s important there’s respect and trust as foundational elements of the relationship”

Theodore says a good working relationship between the CEO and CFO requires lashings of trust. “The CFO can often be a trusted adviser to the CEO. At times, that is going to require challenge and debate, and it’s important there’s respect and trust as foundational elements of the relationship. We have dealt with a range of strategic challenges over the years and have worked through them collaboratively. That established a strong foundation in the relationship even before I moved into the CFO role.”

As for the future, Theodore says when leisure travel returns, The Star wants to be in a position of having world-class assets to welcome the inevitable pent-up demand for international visitors.

“So we have continued along the pathway of our significant investment program through the pandemic to set the business up for the recovery. COVID obviously posed a number of challenges in the short term for The Star, which we’ve been dealing with. We’ve also been very focused on making sure we come out of it a stronger and more valuable company.”

It’s a strategy that will no doubt stand the company in good stead once travel and tourism is back up and running again, hopefully in the not-too-distant future.