$6b man betting the house on Queensland
MATT Bekier flashes that easy, cheeky smile as he surveys the big hole in the ground that will shape the future of the company he leads, the Star Entertainment Group. We are standing beside the site of the $3 billion Queen's Wharf development, a transformational project that looms as a game changer for Brisbane.
"I've bet the house on Queensland,'' the Swiss-born chief executive says. "It's that simple.''
In fact, Bekier is so enamoured with the possibilities in Queensland over the next 20 years that he has bought a unit in Brisbane and will be spending more time in the Sunshine State.
"The plan is that the family moves here ultimately,'' he says. "I think Star Entertainment's long-term future is very much aligned to Queensland.''
Star, which runs its namesake casino in Sydney, has put a lot of its fiscal eggs into the Queensland basket. A $3 billion plan to build an extra five towers at its Gold Coast Jupiters site, as well, as Queen's Wharf, is testament to the company's belief in Queensland. Over the next decade, no private investor will spend more money in Queensland than Star Entertainment.
"We believe in Queensland,'' Bekier says.
"It's a state that has so much potential with a lot of intrastate migration. I'm a foreigner, as you know, but to me Queensland is like California in the 1960s, with that easy air of optimism. We find Queensland is easy to do business with.''
Bekier has an economics background and after working his way through the finance department of Star, he took over as the boss four years ago.
"It's a job I enjoy very much,'' he says.
"Does it have its challenges? Of course. But that is what doing business is all about.''
He is bullish about what Queen's Wharf will do to the CBD of Brisbane.
"Excavation has begun and as you can see it's about the biggest (construction) hole in Australia right now,'' he says.
For a guy who has been brought up in the hurly burly world of corporate Australia, Bekier, 54, switches off at home, seeking solace in his dog, Fluffy.
"We have five daughters so when it all gets too much I just take our dog Fluffy for a walk,'' he says. "She listens to me.''
At the moment, Bekier spends two days a week in Brisbane but that is likely to increase significantly as Queen's Wharf and the Gold Coast expansion takes shape.
The plan is that ultimately Star will be based here in Brisbane,'' he says.
It's been a difficult and challenging past six months for the Star chief executive.
Earlier in the year he was forced to slash $50 million of executive talent after softer economic conditions. Star's profit guidance was downgraded and the share price fell significantly.
Shares in Star plunged 16 per cent to a four-year low.
Bekier says he had been left "scratching his head'' at the share price plunge. The share price has rebounded slightly but headwinds remain, particularly with the regulatory spotlight honing in on Chinese high-roller gamblers. Bekier says Queensland must seize the opportunity to host the 2032 Olympic Games.
"The Commonwealth Games had such a strong impact on the Gold Coast,'' he says. "The global television coverage went through the roof. You would see the exact same impact in Queensland, but obviously on a much bigger scale with the Olympics.''
Bekier believes the Logies must remain on the Gold Coast, despite murmurings they may be moved to Queen's Wharf.
"As long as they remain with us, I'm happy,'' he says.
"The Gold Coast has quite rightly adopted the Logies. The sense is that they are now the home of this event. It's like Schoolies for adults.
"I can't see any reason to change that.''
For Bekier, the Gold Coast remains Australia's tourism hotspot. He says Star looked at the Gold Coast as complementary to its Queen's Wharf plans, not in direct competition.
"The plan is that as Asians come into the southeast corner, they spend as much time in Brisbane as they do on the Gold Coast,'' he says.
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