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The City Leaders Forum is a joint initiative between Griffith University and YP Gold Coast showcasing the people in our city, who are driving innovation and change within the business community.

Samantha Gray, Student - Griffith University 18 November 2020

Finding a way forward after COVID

It has been a year of firsts for many. For YP Gold Coast, 2020 marked the organisation’s first decade of industry impact, and a first all-female panel for the City Leaders Forum.

The atmosphere was abuzz as four inspiring industry leaders covered an array of topics in the ‘Learning to Unlearn’ panel discussion.

Acclaimed Creative Producer, Thea Jeanes-Cochrane, said people across the world had to unlearn, reevaluating what was important during the pandemic.

CEO of Home of the Arts, Criena Gehrke echoed this sentiment and shared how she changed her reaction to the shut down from tears to innovation.

“We had to ask ourselves ‘what is it that we do? So, what is most needed right now?’. We knew there would be a gap from when artists would be eligible for JobKeeper so we wanted to keep them alive… We focused on humanity,” she said.

“We as a business also learnt that our immediate response took time. You develop this idea, then present a business case, then you tease it out and then you overthink it, and six months has passed. But you can be quick in your response and deliver what you believe in.”

As an academic, Dr Sarah Gardiner, Deputy Director of the Griffith Institute for Tourism, studies trends and projections but says COVID-19 has thrown all of that out of the window.

After a question from the audience, Dr Gardiner confirmed the unpredictable nature of the current environment means all we can do now is look towards experience and knowledge to read the market and meet the need.

“To be a market leader you really going to have to be on the edge of the shifts and know the consumers mindset to ask well if that’s the way they’re thinking, what can I offer?” she said.

Local resident Danelle Harth expressed her concern about the lack of visitors visibly evident in areas such as Surfers Paradise, and asked what other industries are growing to help balance the impact of the decline in tourism activity.

MP Angie Bell responded, conceding the Gold Coast is the “hardest hit region in Australia” but said other industries were thriving, including manufacturing and health.  

Ms Bell said the federal government is investing in manufacturing, namely; future manufacturing; vaccine manufacturing; glass manufacturing; and defence manufacturing.

“We need to be pushing the non-traditional key pillars so when tourism does bounce back the other key pillars help the city to grow,” she said.

Griffith University’s Deputy Vice Chancellor of Research, Professor Mario Pinto, believes that it is a combination of creative arts and science that will produce innovative ideas with a competitive edge.

“Wayne Gretzky, a famous Canadian hockey player used to say ‘you have to know how to skate to where the puck is going to be’ and that is what we have to do and where the education sector can play a role, but not by itself. We have to embrace our partners and work in a collaborative fashion,” he said.  

Also at the event, YP Gold Coast President, Mary Grant, announced a refresh of Great Ideas for the Gold Coast, a YP initiative that produces five ideas for the growth and prosperity of the city.

The initiative has already proven successful with previously proposed ideas coming to fruition – opening the door to a refresh which will be delivered in partnership with Griffith University and Civity.

Written by Samantha Gray, Student - Griffith University.

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Samantha Gray, Student, Griffith University. 10 November 2020

‘Learning to Unlearn’ might be what we need to succeed in the future

"Transformation is often more about Unlearning than Learning" - Richard Rohr

As Covid-19 changed so many aspects of life, it propelled the creative to think 'outside the box'.

Many people thrived by their innovative means whilst many more struggled under the weight of the restrictions. Why such contrary responses? What did one have that the other didn't? 

YP Gold Coast created the City Leaders Forum to connect the professionals driving innovation to the whole of the business community.

Committee President, Mary Gant, said this year’s theme of “Learning to Unlearn – a post-COVID-10 Gold Coast that’s better than before” would showcase and share the positive changes industries made to operate during the pandemic.

“As a committee, we felt it was important to connect our city leaders with the business community, to share their insights into how different business and industries have adapted and changed the way they market and deliver their services,” Ms Grant said.

“This adaption to our current environment has fostered innovation in industry to ‘do things differently’ and in time, I believe this will deliver social benefits to our workforce and [the] wider business community.”

The need is evident as entire workforces were reduced to skeleton structures, or in some cases, completely shut down. Many people had to make career changes or return to previous industries, but how can these transitions be made more efficiently? How can communities of industry professionals change their entire perspective?

Deputy Director of the Griffith Institute for Tourism, Dr Sarah Gardiner believes that this change in perspective will be the key to creative and innovative developments. “We are discovering a different marketplace. The survivors will be the businesses that reorganise new and different resources, restructure their module, and are adaptive to the environment.”

Learning to Unlearn’ and adapting to the new marketplace might just be what we need to succeed in the future.Ground-breaking industry firsts all from our piece of paradise here on the Gold Coast.

See you on Friday 13 November 12pm for this year’s City Leaders Forum at Glasshouse at the Island, Surfers Paradise.


Written by Samantha Gray, Student - Griffith University.

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29 October 2020

Meet Thea Jeanes-Cochrane, Panellist at our 2020 City Leaders Forum

Thea Jeanes-Cochrane is a leading originator in entertainment projects and touring exhibitions that has delivered highly acclaimed events and experiences for globally renowned clients recently including The Rolling Stones, Real Madrid C.F, The AFL, The Commonwealth Games and the Nelson Mandela Foundation. Coupled with extensive experience in the sports industry with the likes of IMG, Supercars Australia and S.E.L, Thea has helped generate well in excess of $20 million in ticket revenues across her career.

Her most recent major endeavour was with the AFL, engaged as the Creative Producer of entertainment for the night-time 2020 Toyota AFL Grand Final at the Gabba, where the world witnessed the largest, most diverse and inclusive line up of Australian artists featured in both a pre-game and an historic half time show.

A brand and marketing strategist, she has combined business acumen and unbridled enthusiasm to originate, creatively produce and promote a diverse range of ceremony events, global touring exhibitions, theatre shows, and concert spectaculars including most recently the 2020 Toyota AFL Grand Final at the Gabba, the Gold Coast’s Flag Handover Ceremony at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games and the 2011 & 2009 Arafura Games Opening Ceremonies.Thea also produced the City of Gold Coast's formal bid events at the CGGA in St Kitts, which secured the 2018 Commonwealth Games for the Gold Coast.

Along with being a Board Member of Motorsport Australia and HOTA (Home of the Arts, City of Gold Coast), Thea is a passionate environmentalist and gender equity advocate, having been the recipient of an International Women’s Day Entrepreneurial Leadership Award.

To book tickets to the 2020 City Leaders Forum, click here.

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29 October 2020

Meet Criena Gehrke, Panellist at our 2020 City Leaders Forum

She has a diverse and eclectic background in arts management and a particular passion for the role of arts and culture in building strong and connected communities. She’s worked with all tiers of government on the development and implementation of cultural policy.

Under her leadership as the Executive Director of Arts Access Victoria, one of Australia’s leading cultural development organisations, she developed a range of key initiatives. These included Australia’s only disability film festival, The Other Film Festival, and an Industry and Audience Development Program that worked in partnership with the arts sector to increase access for disadvantaged communities.

She has been a peer assessor for Creative Victoria and The Australia Council for the Arts and is a member of the Griffith Centre for Social and Cultural Research Advisory Group. Criena is also a past recipient of the prestigious Harvard Business Club Victoria Non-Profit Fellowship.

Before taking up the reins at HOTA, Home of the Arts she was Executive Coordinator of City of Gold Coast’s Arts and Culture Unit where she was instrumental in the development of the City of Gold Coast’s Culture Strategy 2023. The Cultural Strategy had at its heart a central cultural precinct for the city’s thriving cultural and artistic activity. She’s now bringing this vision to life as CEO of HOTA, Home of the Arts, a vibrant arts precinct and a real home to the arts and artists on the Gold Coast.

To book tickets to the 2020 City Leaders Forum, click here.

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29 October 2020

Meet Dr Sarah Gardiner

Sarah Gardiner has a PhD in Marketing and is the Deputy Director of the Griffith Institute for Tourism. She has worked in the private and public sectors of the Australian tourism industry. Her research is published in leading tourism academic journals and she has written several book chapters on the topics of travel consumer behaviour, experience design and innovation.

She regularly delivers presentations, consultancies and training for government and industry in these areas.

She is especially interested in youth tourism and future tourism travel trends.

To book tickets to the 2020 City Leaders Forum, click here.

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29 October 2020

Meet Angie Bell MP, panellist at our 2020 City Leaders Forum

Prior to entering Parliament, Angie worked across Australia in every State and Territory as a retail consultant and business development specialist. She is an author in the area of rebranding and marketing. As a former professional saxophonist for over 30 years, she has performed throughout the Americas and the Asia Pacific region.

Angie served as President of LNP Women in Queensland and is passionate about the Liberal National Party values of reward for effort, freedom of association and the family as the building block of society.

She is a fierce advocate for the people of Moncrieff and is focused on working with local stakeholders to support the beating heart of the Gold Coast during these challenging times. As your member for the central Gold Coast, she continues her work to support the engine room that is small business, tourism and education and for those in our community who may need extra support.

In May 2020, Ms Bell convened the City Heart Taskforce to bring Gold Coast industry bodies together to work with the federal government to re-engineer the path forward to create the jobs of the future. In August 2020, she chaired the ‘Gold Coast Reimagine’ jobs, skills and industry forum at the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre (a COVIDSafe event) that saw peak bodies, politicians and industry work together for all Gold Coasters.

To book tickets to the 2020 City Leaders Forum, click here.


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Rosemary Ball 22 October 2019

2019 City Leaders Forum Wrap-Up

The YP Gold Coast City Leaders Forum 2019 sparked conversation on how the Gold Coast can be the most liveable, innovative, and business friendly city in the world.

Business leaders with a shared passion for the city congregated last week to stimulate high-quality debate and promote action towards creating a highly skilled Gold Coast.

The panel included City of Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate, Paul Jaffar - Partner at Chempro Chemists and Vice President of Gold Coast Central Chamber of Commerce, Professor Carolyn Evans - Vice Chancellor and President of Griffith University, and Jessica Mellor - Chief Operating Officer at The Star Gold Coast. 

The city leaders had personal, emotional or professional interests in the region and drove discussion on the important steps needed to enhance job growth and talent retention on the Gold Coast. They discussed the importance of educational facilities, required investment in further digital and physical construction, the role of liveability in terms of long term job growth, the need for a central business district, and action the community and government can take to improve the competitiveness of the region.

City of Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate said it was important for the next generation to have an opportunity to work on the Gold Coast or be enticed to come back and work in the region.

“It is important to have jobs with enough seniority for talented professionals to boomerang back to the city,” he said. 

“I would encourage professionals to spread their wings, learn and grow beyond the region, and then come back, develop more, and contribute to building a highly skilled city.”

The panel agreed one of the biggest challenges for the city in recent years was a lack of senior positions compared to capital cities. 

The Star chief operating officer Jessica Mellor said talent was one of a businesses most significant investments.

“It is important to retain talent by treating staff as individuals and harnessing their strengths when building teams,” Ms Mellor said.

The panel believed harnessing the talent of university students and graduates was also an important facet in developing a highly skilled region. 

Griffith University vice-chancellor and president Professor Carolyn Evans said encouraging young people to study and work in the region was important.

“There is a need for broader plans for economic diversification so there are different types of opportunities for students coming out of university to stay in the region,” she said.

“We also need to encourage talent to the region. Talent attracts talent and bright people want to work with bright people on exciting and important work.  Great universities, great hospitals, global companies, and global start-ups make the city more attractive.”

Chempro Chemists partner and Gold Coast Central Chamber of Commerce vice-president Paul Jaffar said industry partnerships with local universities, like Chempro’s partnership with Griffith University School of Pharmacy, was an important step forward for job self-containment on the Gold Coast.

“It is important to give students hands-on-experience in the community,” he said.

“The liveability the cityis also one of our greatest assets, and needs to be considered in the recruitment process. At Chempro we have a unique business structure that we encourage interns to go on to managerial positions or partner with the business - young people appreciate it.” 

Jessica Mellor said since returning to the Gold Coast after working in Canberra, she noticed the city’s cultural offering had grown.

The panel agreed the growing arts and culture sector had the potential to further diversify the city’s economy, but there was also a need for a defined centre of commerce on the Gold Coast.

Paul Jaffar said Southport, which is home to the health and knowledge precinct, has easy access to light rail and increased IT capabilities, had been earmarked as the city’s CBD. 

YP Gold Coast former president Sean Braybrook provided a keynote address and said with $12.5 billion invested in transformational projects over the next 12 months the city is at a turning point, but it is time to spark the next wave of maturity and evolution in the city’s growth story.

“As a member of the business community, as a parent of two young children and someone who is fully invested in the future of this city, I want to ensure the end is right,” he said. 

“I want us as the business community to be involved in what happens to our city today and tomorrow.”

- By Rosemary Ball, Griffith University  




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19 September 2019

One person cannot build a highly skilled city (Opinion Piece)

As a Griffith University student, I am in a unique position to meet and be able to write about the next generation of professionals and leaders. My friends are I are out there working and studying hard to get ourselves ready for the next stage of our lives and careers. Together we are a diverse bunch, but also have so much in common. We are hardworking, motivated, ambitious, and civically engaged in our local community.

We recognise how lucky we are to live in a city known for its world-class events, infrastructure, high-ranking universities, leading healthcare, research and training, vibrant nightlife, and Hollywood cinematic productions. However, it is time to spark the next wave of maturity and evolution in our city’s growth story, particularly to entice us young professionals to stay on the coast. 

To keep talented graduates on the Gold Coast we need more than just quality education. We need a city that provides global connections, employability and leading digital infrastructure

Is this actually possible? Yes, but we need a multi-generational voice for positive change to create a city with a competitive edge. 

The YP Gold Coast City Leader’s Forum is an opportunity for professionals to congregate and stimulate high-quality public debate and promote action to issues such as talent retention and job growth. As emerging professionals, our goal is to finda full-time jobaccess efficient transport, embrace arts and culture, be surrounded by world-class infrastructure, and enjoy the quintessential Gold Coast lifestyle. 

The latest YP Great Ideas for the Gold Coast advocacy report has a distinctive vision for our city’s future – to create the “The World’s Best Subtropical City”. The idea of long-term job growth and a laidback lifestyle, unlike metropolitan city centres, is a great bargaining tool; I am sure many of my fellow university pals would agree this would be an attractive proposition from an employer. 

One person cannot build a highly skilled city. As future leaders we have a responsibility to join forces to ensure we have a bright future. We need to make sure, collectively, we have an opportunity to thrive after university, and build a better life for our family and the next generation.

So, let’s not just sit back and wait, let’s take action now. Start the journey for a better tomorrow with YP at the Gold Coast City Leader’s Forum on 27 September. 

Written by Rosemary Ball, Student, Griffith University.


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10 September 2019

2019 City Leaders Forum welcomes keynote guest speaker Sean Braybrook

Sean is a former president of YP Gold Coast and is passionate about the city, its people and its potential.

He is a director of Gold Coast Leaders, working with more than 70 leading local companies including G8 Education, Griffith University, Metricon Homes, Feros Care, Hickey Lawyers, KPMG, Morgans and more – assisting SMEs to fast-track growth, identify new opportunities and access investment. 

Sean has also held leadership roles in technology, education and professional services consulting. He was part of the team that developed the City Leaders Forum and he returns in its fifth year to give his view on the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for the Gold Coast in the coming decade.

We look forward welcoming Sean, as a keynote speaker, and hear from a panel of heavy-hitters at the 2019 YP Gold Coast City Leaders Forum, presented by Griffith University, at The Star Gold Coast this September.

Sean will deliver a keynote address, leading into a panel discussion with city shaping experts including:

  • Councillor Tom Tate, Mayor, City of Gold Coast
  • Professor Carolyn Evans, Vice Chancellor and President, Griffith University
  • Jessica Mellor, Chief Operating Officer, The Star Gold Coast
  • Paul Jaffar, Partner, Chempro Chemists and Vice President, Gold Coast Central Chamber of Commerce 

To purchase tickets, please book here

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10 September 2019

Meet Jessica Mellor, panellist at our 2019 City Leaders Forum

Jessica Mellor is The Star Gold Coast’s youngest and first female Chief Operating Officer (COO), appointed to the position in June 2019.

In her role, Jessica oversees the operations of this iconic and transformational property including its five-star hotel, The Star Grand; luxury suite hotel, The Darling; more than 20 restaurants and bars; Azure Spa & Fitness; its state-of-the-art theatre; and the Event Centre. 

It is the second time Jessica has called the Gold Coast home after first moving to the region to study at Bond University in 2007 and remaining on the coast for nine years.

Jessica began her career as an Assistant Design Manager for a multi-national construction company and has since worked across multiple sectors including infrastructure and property development, funds management, and corporate advisory.

In 2013, she moved into the hospitality and entertainment industry after taking on the role of Executive Director, Strategy, and Project Development with the Aquis group. In this role, she was involved in a range of activities including key asset acquisitions, government affairs, and modernisation of gaming legislation in the ACT.

From there, Jessica quickly progressed to become a Board Director of ASX-listed Aquis Entertainment in 2015, before being appointed to the company’s first female Chief Executive Officer (CEO) in 2016. 

As CEO, Jessica took on the challenging task of returning the Casino Canberra business to EBITDA profit following many years of sustained losses. Jessica led a fundamental restructure and realignment of the business, with her changes positively impacting the organisational culture and playing a key role in its turnaround.

During her time in Canberra, Jessica actively supported many not-for-profit/community organisations and initiatives and was appointed to Director of Lifeline Canberra in 2016.

Jessica gained a Bachelor of Sustainable Development (Construction Management) at Bond University, before going on to study Law at Queensland University of Technology (QUT), and is now close to completing her Executive MBA with QUT Business School.

We look forward welcoming her and a panel of city shapers at the 2019 YP Gold Coast City Leaders Forum, presented by Griffith University, at The Star Gold Coast this September.

To purchase tickets, please book here

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