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George Hughes: An Avid Marketer Aiming to Improve Customer Experience

Marketing is an intoxicating blend of art and science. It involves understanding human behaviour and creating or inviting a change in the customer mindset to ensure superior results. In equal measure it is dependent on measurement and analysis for insights and learnings. The ultimate mix of left and right sides of the brain. As customers become more selective, even cynical, when making decisions on brands, products, and services, marketing is key to driving consideration. Excellence without the differentiation a targeted marketing campaign can deliver will not necessarily turn the revenue or market-share dial for a business. It is for these reasons the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) is considered crucial to an organisation’s growth and success. The CMO’s strategic and executional abilities go hand in hand with high levels of responsibility and accountability. George Hughes, CMO of The Star Entertainment Group is one such C-suite leader. The depth of his experiences across direct and digital marketing, marketing communications, product development, and corporate development have him positioned to help drive The Star’s brand in a highly competitive tourism and entertainment industry. The Star’s vision is to become the leading integrated resort company in Australia. George Hughes has that at the forefront of his daily planning.
Below are highlights from the interview conducted between George Hughes and Insights Success:
Give a brief overview of your background as an influential marketing leader. 
I never expected to have a career in marketing. I started my career in the early 2000s on a graduate program at one of the largest banks in Ireland. Whilst on the graduate program I qualified as a chartered accountant but quickly realised that my passion (and some may say talents!) lay elsewhere. Working as a commercial analyst on a range of growth and cost containment programs instilled in me a deep appreciation for the drivers of profitability; an essential ingredient for modern day marketing. It wasn’t until years later when I moved into a strategy role that I found my real passion – customers and consumer behavior. Over the years I have had the great privilege of working for some of the most recognisable brands in Australia and in the U.K. I tend to gravitate towards challenging roles. The commonality is usually the need to make instrumental change whether that is setting up a business unit from scratch, turning around the profitability of a loyalty program, overhauling the marketing mix of a well-established consumer brand, developing a suite of consumer products or building a challenger brand in a mature market. I’ve learned that fundamental change requires bravery, calculated risk-taking, commerciality, focus and tenacity. Success comes down to people; do you have the right team? Is there diversity in thought and experience? Do they trust each other? Can they collaborate for effect? Do they understand and are they passionate about their customers?
How do you diversify your organization’s offerings to appeal to the target audience? 
In too many companies the marketing team operates as a communications or campaign execution function. Exceptional marketing requires a combination of direct accountability for core functional areas (brand, creative, channel, etc.) and an influence role in developing or evolving the core value proposition of the business. The Star Entertainment Group’s marketing team plays an integral role in bringing the voice of the customer, the competitive market and the brand to the table. Our marketing team has a seat at the table in each of our business units and is involved in the development stage of everything from the design of a new bar or restaurant (such as Chuuka, our first off property signature restaurant at Jones Bay Wharf) through to the planning of The Queens Wharf development in Brisbane. Great marketing teams are customer obsessed. They know how to collaborate, engage and influence their colleagues. They also know their company’s point of difference and can communicate this to their target audience in an engaging and compelling manner.
What were the past experiences, achievements or lessons that have shaped your journey? 
I’ve had my fair share of “career defining moments”. Most of it is oriented around the role of leadership. One of those was when I was in my mid 20’s and living in the UK; I was given the opportunity to lead the sale of a financial services business. I reported directly to a member of the executive team for this project. The disposal process proved to be a challenging one. I was young and had limited experience in managing a program of work of this scale and was operating in a high-pressure environment.
Thankfully, I worked for a very experienced leader who was adept at getting the best out of me and the team. I’ve gleaned from my mentor the importance of recruiting for potential, attitude and ability to learn. In addition, she also taught me the importance of fostering a positive work culture where personal accountability and calculated risk taking is encouraged.
What were the primal challenges and roadblocks you faced during the initial phase of your career as a marketing leader? 
Like most people, I’ve had a few challenges to deal with in my career. There have been times when a presentation has tanked, a campaign hasn’t delivered to plan, or a business case rejected. I’ve encountered poor leadership behavior and inappropriate behavior. On reflection, those challenges have been instrumental in my development. I’ve learned to be more resilient, patient, planned and philosophical. I’ve learned to speak up and to always stay true to my values. It’s taken a (long) while but I’ve also learned not to be so hard on myself when things don’t go to plan.
What inspires you to become an influential marketing leader? 
I am passionate about creating impact and tend to gravitate towards challenging projects. I find inspiration everywhere – from the small moments through to the big things in life. It could be through music, art, a story, an advertising campaign, a new business venture or a business transformation. The common thread tends to be turning an idea into reality. I am continually in awe of human creativity, passion and resilience.
Where do you see yourself in the near future and what are your future goals? 
Over the next several years The Star and its partners could invest as much as $6 billion into further developing its tourism and entertainment destinations across South East Queensland and Sydney. It’s an exciting time to be part of this growth agenda. To support the successful execution of these projects, we have transformed our marketing function. We have moved from a decentralised, generalist marketing structure to a centralised functional specialist model. I’m really pleased with the quality of talent we have in our business, augmented with recent external appointments. My priority is to lead our team through this exciting stage of development and deliver exceptional results for our customers, internal business teams and ultimately our shareholders.
What is your advice for budding and emerging marketing leaders? 
Jack Welsh summed it up well when he said “before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you are a leader, success is all about growing others”. Invest your time and energy in growing your skill set, seek out feedback even if it is confronting and finally, never stop learning.