In December 2017, Justine Baker moved into the chief executive officer role at Solotel, following the rapid growth of the business over the last two years.
Baker has served as the hospitality group’s chief operating officer for almost four years, but with the merger of the Solotel and MorSol businesses in 2016, directors Bruce Solomon and Matt Moran – along with Baker – decided the business’ structure needed to change in order to continue growing.
“It’s a much bigger business now, we’re running 32 venues with 2000 people. We’ve actually moved into a fairly sizeable family business, instead of where we were before the merger, where we very much looked at ourselves as being a hospitality family business,” explained Baker.
“It was understanding that the reality is that now we’re fairly large and we need to act with a bit of governance around that.”
Bruce Solomon, who founded the business with the opening of The Paddington Inn over 30 years ago, will continue to be heavily involved in the group’s growth.
“He’s still very much involved, he just moves to more of a strategic role. That was very much one of the drivers, enabling the family to really move to the strategic role that they wanted to be in. Bruce is still very linked to our customers as well, and Matt is seen within our venues every week. So it’s a move to recognise the size of our group and where we want to go – and have someone look after that everyday,” states Baker.
The Solotel directors have decided at this stage not to fill the COO role, instead elevating the capabilities of the executive team in terms of decision-making power. As CEO, Baker’s priorities short-term are to consolidate the rapid growth the group has undergone in the last two years, not just in terms of the merger, but also recent purchases (The Marlborough and Clovelly Hotels) and the opening of new venues Little Big House and Barangaroo House.
“It’ about really ensuring that the capability of our people and also our procedures and systems, and business information is strong. How we’re actually measuring our business – that is very much a priority that we’re working through at the moment.”
As one of only a few female CEOs in the industry, Baker understands that this is an important moment for women in hospitality, but also states that this is very much par for the course at Solotel.
“I am really proud that a female is leading Solotel. I think it’s a fantastic thing, but I also think it’s pretty normal for me. We’re a big supporter of women in leadership. We do a lot of programs both internally, and are big supporter of the WOHO movement as well.
“I don’t see it as momentous, but others in the business probably do. But I think it’s a great glass ceiling cracker to make sure that there’s women out there pouring beers while they’re at university, and I’d love for them to be able to think ‘That’s what I really want to do, that’s what I aspire to.’”
Justine Baker will be speaking at the Pub Leaders Summit, sharing her experience of growing a group in a specific area. For more information, visit www.publeaders.com.au