Australian Hotelier spoke to Solotel’s new CEO, Elliot Solomon, on his plans and strategy for the hospitality group in 2021.

Solomon’s promotion to the CEO role was announced last week, as Justine Baker stepped down from the group’s leadership to focus on new opportunities after a 20-year career with Solotel.

After Baker notified Solomon and his father Bruce – founder of the group – a few months ago, preparations began for Solomon to step up as the chief executive of the hospitality behemoth.

“I’m very excited and really ready for the challenge. I feel incredible support from the executive team, Justine, Dad and the Solotel board as well. I’m feeling very positive about it all.”

Solomon has worked within the group for the last decade, mainly as the director of property and design. His focus has been on the commercial and investment side of the business, and has been heavily involved in any new projects or major concepts the group has unveiled in that time.

Having worked closely with Baker for many years, Solomon has learned a lot from the esteemed industry leader, and certain values and lessons have stuck with him and inform his own leadership style.

“From Justine I’ve learnt a lot about the importance of strong and positive leadership; the importance of being a great and clear communicator; and also the need to constantly reinvent, be creative, look at things with fresh eyes and constantly evolve – that’s something that she’s really inculcated in the company over the last five years.”

That drive to constantly re-evaluate the group’s offerings was reinforced last year, as the pandemic made every operator scrutinise all aspects of their business. Solotel was no different.

“One of the things we did so well was how we were able to so quickly and decisively adapt to things as they changed. When we were reopening we really had to look at everything with fresh eyes and adapt the venues and the concepts to what the new world was. I think that’s something that we will bring into the new year, and despite the toughness – particularly when we had to close the venues during the lockdown – it has been quite amazing to see how our people have been so resilient and adaptable to the changes,” explained Solomon.

2021 focus

Scrutiny of the entire portfolio will continue, as the new CEO says the way the pandemic has changed the way people interact with the community hubs – meaning those hubs need to change as well.

“Our focus and our mission has always been the same, and that’s really about creating and delivering the best experiences for our guests and our customers; and being cultural pillars in the communities we’re located in,” stated Solomon.

“But I think the guests and communities have changed quite a bit in the past year – the way people live, the way people work, the importance of local community has really strengthened – so we’re really looking at our portfolio with fresh eyes, having entrepreneurial spirit, and that’s what I really want to push in the venues: to be creative and try out new ideas, adapting the venues to the new normal.”

While newly promoted COO Ben Stephens will continue to run the day-to-day operations of the venues, Solomon is focused on the strategic vision of the group and already has some plans in the works for the year ahead.

“I’m looking at new opportunities, new ways we can grow the businesses in the portfolio. We’ve got quite a few new projects that will be coming up this year – renovations of a few venues, and there’s a couple of other opportunities that we’re looking into at the moment.”

“Hopefully we stay on the same trajectory as a country and things only continue to improve. If things continue down that path I think we’re in a really strong position to try new things and push ahead again. We’re all pretty motivated to do that.

Solomon officially begins his role as CEO on 1 March.


Image: Solotel’s new executive team. (L-R)  People and Performance Director Sarah Maxwell; COO Ben Stephens; CEO Elliot Solomon; Chair and Founder Bruce Solomon; Creative Director Anna Solomon; CFO Karin Hattingh; and Marketing and Digital Director Rob Squillacioti.

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