Since its founding more than a century ago, Delaware North has been serving up some pretty large slices at the international table. The A$4.2 billion enterprise is one of the largest privately owned and operated hospitality and food service companies in the world, dealing primarily in the culinary and hospitality sectors.

Through its more than 200 subsidiaries across the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, the group is dedicated to creating special experiences worldwide at iconic locations. This includes sports and entertainment venues, national and state parks, destination resorts and restaurants, regional gaming operations, and airports and travel hubs. The company’s Australia, New Zealand and Singapore operations are led by Managing Director Gary Brown. Gary is a businessman with a keen eye for opportunities. With a background in retail chain management, he jumped at the opportunity to join Delaware North in 2008, initially as the head of its travel hospitality and services division. Two years later, Gary was appointed to the role of Managing Director for Australia, New Zealand and Singapore.

Gary Brown, Managing Director of Delaware North Companies

When Gary first stepped into the top job, he saw a range of opportunities to take the company forward. However, he also recognised that to do so, there was a dire need to redirect the company’s vision and make some cultural changes.

This realisation led to the implementation of a transformation program for the company. Gary worked closely with his leadership team to restructure the organisation, diversifying its portfolio and evolving its capabilities. This ultimately led to greater growth and a more prosperous future for the company.

Gary shares that, as part of this process, a focus on attracting and retaining the best talent has been critical, and it’s something that is still very much a priority for the company today. During interviews for new hires that Gary conducts himself, he takes
his time to ensure a candidate is the right fit, first in terms of culture, and then in terms of capabilities.

In his eyes, there are plenty of intelligent people willing to work for a company like Delaware North; however, their time at an organisation can be derailed if they don’t fit into the culture. Gary admits that he hasn’t always got it right, but it’s taught him how to determine who might make a good leader, as opposed to a good manager. “I’m not actually a great fan of the word ‘culture’, but I will say that each business has very different ways of doing things. If you put the wrong people into the business, you can negatively affect it, and you’re doing the wrong thing by the person as well. It creates a lot of issues,” he explains. “My view is that there are plenty of managers on the market, but good leaders are few. Finding those leaders who fit well into our culture has always been a challenge.”

“There are plenty of managers on the market, but good leaders are few.”

Gary believes talent identification is a critical part of any company’s growth, and that it’s worth making the effort to find people with the right values. “There is a lot of opportunity in the way we look at our people. While it can be difficult to find the right people, I’m always on the hunt for strong leaders because they are effective across the business and will deliver results.”

He shares that the difference between good managers and good leaders is their ability to make well-informed decisions quickly. “The best leaders enjoy taking over operations, making calls and being held accountable,” he notes. Those are the people Gary wants working at the firm, and whom he credits for the company’s success.

He also wants leaders who are action-oriented. “A lot of people might not like this, but I do tend to measure success on financial performance. It might not necessarily be the number one driver of everything you do, but it’s the outcome that you’re looking for. In the end, results are made possible by the right people. You need to ask, ‘Do we have the right people in the company? Do we retain really high-quality people? How long do they stay for?’ I think that’s a good indicator of whether you’ve got a successful business and culture.

“Retaining high-quality people shows that employees are enjoying their roles and being challenged by them. That’s how they operate; they want to be achievers. They want to be successful people, and that generally leads to the outcome that we like to see – strong commercial results.”

Having leaders who understand how to lead a team and create an environment for growth is much more beneficial to the company than holding on to employees who are isolated in silos, he adds. With Delaware North having six subsidiary companies in Australia, each with diverse operations across various industries, this becomes even more critical. Thus, Gary ensures that effective leaders sit at the top of each subsidiary and are interchangeable across the business. He reasons that, if his employees are locked into just one aspect of the business, it will spawn additional challenges during growth phases.

Those who pass the interview process and join the team quickly discover that it is a hive of activity all year round, with numerous projects and events.

One such event that was a highlight on the 2018 calendar was Delaware North’s involvement with the Australian Open Tennis Tournament in January, of which it has been the food and hospitality services provider since the early 1990s. At this year’s event Delaware North provided hospitality services to a record crowd of almost 750,000 over a two-week period. The company brought a unique twist to the operation at the iconic event this year, delivering a taste of New York via the implementation of a temporary ‘pop-up’ version of the well-known New York restaurant Lincoln Ristorante, part of the Delaware North-owned Patina Restaurant Group.

“Coopers Brewery’s association with Delaware North is via two strategic consumer engagement sites: the highly awarded Coopers Alehouse at Adelaide International Airport; and the iconic Melbourne Olympic Park home of the Australian Open, the largest sporting event in the Southern Hemisphere.” – Cam Pearce, Sales and Marketing Director, Coopers Brewery

The Australian Open is just one highlight on a busy calendar of top-notch music and entertainment performances that Delaware North caters for at Melbourne & Olympic Parks each year. The company also proudly manages food and hospitality services at Marvel Stadium in Melbourne and at Sydney Cricket Ground. Additionally, Delaware North recently won the contract to provide hospitality services in concession, corporate boxes and other premium areas at Westpac Stadium in Wellington, New Zealand.

Delaware North has also confirmed additional partnership agreements across a range of locations. The company was awarded a major contract by Auckland Airport to deliver nine new food outlets at New Zealand’s busiest airport, complementing its existing portfolio of partnerships with airports in capital cities across Australia and New Zealand.

The firm acquired two Brisbane-area pubs and gaming venues earlier this year, providing an opportunity to expand its business into the gaming and entertainment industry, which will contribute to its collective think tank of hospitality leadership.=0

Delaware North at a glance

  • Boston Holdings

    Delaware North is the owner/operator of TD Garden, serving more than 2.5 million visitors each year. Home of the NHL’s Boston Bruins and the NBA’s Boston Celtics, TD Garden is also a frequent stop for top music entertainers.

  • Sports Service

    Serving fans since 1915, Delaware North provides expertise in concessions, premium dining, event catering and retail in more than 50 stadiums, ballparks and arenas in the US, UK, Australia and Asia. This includes the Sydney Cricket Ground, Marvel Stadium and Melbourne & Olympic Parks.

  • Parks and Resorts

    Delaware North provides a wide range of services, including lodging, food and beverage, and retail and recreation at many high-profile parks and destination resorts. Its privately owned-and-operated hotels and resorts include a location at the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

  • Gaming Venues

    Specialising in regional gaming venues with slots and video gaming machines, table games and poker rooms, Delaware North’s gaming services can be found in numerous global locations.

  • Patina Restaurant Group

    A leader in the premium segment of the restaurant and catering industry, Patina operates more than 50 restaurants and manages catering and food service operations at landmark locations in high-profile cultural and entertainment venues, including Rockefeller Center, Disney Springs in Orlando and the Empire State Building.

Staying ahead of the game is a constant job for Gary, as what customers want today can easily change within six months. He points to the plethora of cooking shows now on air that are resulting in higher expectations from customers. “A current trend is seeing an increasing number of restaurants that are driven by what customers want. These days, customers are very outspoken about their desire for a particular level of service. We see this trend as a great opportunity to become more customer-centric, delight our customer base and get better spins in our business,” says Gary. “I think that’s been one of the real customer-led changes.”

Gary lists the cashless, self-serve, Amazon Go-style interaction with customers as an example of incoming technology that can be implemented across the board to better cater to customer needs.

“We need to be ready for it. We can’t wait for it to happen and then decide we want in. Those are the sorts of things we’re working on at this very moment, so we can grasp the opportunities when they appear. Staying ahead of trends is important, and those trends are quite varied and broad,” says Gary.

In the next three to five years, it will certainly be a very different company. Gary and his team are currently working through strategies and determining where to expand geographically. But one thing that’s for sure is that Delaware North won’t be slowing down any time soon as it continues to serve big at the international table.