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September 8, 2020

The Star Gold Coast’s gaming floor fell silent and dark on March 23, a kaleidoscope of colour and life now a monochrome monument to a world before COVID-19.

And as the lights finally went out, Jessica Mellor wondered when the organisation she led would return to business.

Fast forward a few months and the lights are back on at The Star, customers are returning, and the property is once again a hive of activity.

As Chief Operating Officer, Ms Mellor is at the forefront of The Star’s resurgence, and she’s well-placed to lead the business and its 2500 staff through the uncharted waters ahead.

The 35-year-old, who completed a Bachelor of Property and Sustainable Development at Bond University in 2009, was recently named one of six AFR BOSS Young Executives of the Year for 2020.

“Coronavirus has been, like for many others, the biggest challenge of my career," she says.

"It's the speed at which things have changed, the shock and the uncertainty that has been hard to navigate.”

When the pandemic hit, Ms Mellor moved quickly.

The Star, formerly Jupiter’s Casino, stood down 95 per cent of its staff, and paid out two weeks of pandemic leave to ease the initial shock, while setting up a hardship grant program for those worst-affected by the sudden lockdown.

Ms Mellor’s thoughts turned immediately to the people around her and supporting them through the worry and uncertainty, but she admits to taking a moment to reflect as The Star closed its doors. 

“I remember the last day when everyone had left and we had turned all the lights out and it was just… silent. We didn’t know how long it would be before we were back.  That was a very emotional moment and very confronting.”

She freely admits to not being totally comfortable with the ‘command and control’ style of leadership she had to adopt during the crisis.

“I have an adaptive leadership style but spending so much time outside my comfort zone has led me to question and challenge myself many times over the past few months" she says.

"I really encourage leaders to make their own decisions and find their own way, but in a time of uncertainty, that requires a lot of support and confidence building and sometimes there’s just no time.”

Ms Mellor has also had to find her own way, blazing a trail both as a female leader and the youngest executive at The Star.

“I think I became aware of the challenges for female leaders a bit later in my career. I was lucky to be a little oblivious to it initially," she says.

“Now I understand some of the systemic challenges for women in business and the corporate world, I see it as my responsibility to make sure women are getting those opportunities.”

As restrictions lift, life is slowly returning to normal at The Star, which last year hosted Bond University’s 30th Anniversary Gala Ball.

And as she looks to the future, Ms Mellor is keen for The Star to learn from the past.

“I like to look for the positives in these situations, and I think one of the positives is that we banded together to get through it," she says.

"The resilience that we’ve been able to build through this challenging time - and the way we’ve been able to look at the business, make changes and really challenge some of the assumptions around the way we operate – will be a long term benefit.”