Updated: Mar 11
Ricci-Lee Wheeler is undoubtedly one of the industry’s rising stars. In fact, she’s already received an award of the same name twice, first in the form of a scholarship while working at Crowne Plaza Hotels and again at last year’s Australian Hotels Association NSW Awards for Excellence for her current work with Hunt Hospitality.
Upon meeting her, the accolades come as no surprise due to her high energy, bubbly personality, dedication to her work and ability to connect with just about anyone.
“My career began working on Front Desk with Crowne Plaza Hotels checking in and out guests and recommending rooms and activities,” Ricci-Lee said.
“It was while working at The Crown Plaza, Terrigal that I first realised having a heightened level of customer service resulted in high impact sales.
“When I was 19 I received a Christmas bonus of one per cent on my total upsells. At that age it was a hefty incentive and from that moment forward I learned the power of the transfer of energy from one person to another and the absolute importance of anticipating a customer’s needs and providing solutions.”
Within two years of her initial Crowne Plaza Scholarship, Ricci Lee went from strength to strength and was soon awarded the role of Wedding and Events Planner, which saw her manage social events and increase the company’s sales by more than $1.6 million per year.
Not content to rest on her laurels, Ricci-Lee went on to hold the role of Executive Sales Manager at Southern Cross Austereo (SCA) and it was there she would meet two people who greatly influenced her life.
Newcastle business icon Peter James was Ricci-Lee’s first radio client at SCA and together they launched the now iconic Blue Door brand.
“Peter was always a leader in food, design and social media,” she said.
“I watched people over the years mimic his ideas and it never bothered him. He took it as a compliment and instead just focused on creating the next big hit. He was always willing to share his knowledge and I found him extremely inspiring that way.” In her current role as Director of Operations and Marketing at Hunt Hospitality, Ricci-Lee manages all of the group’s marketing and sales and played a crucial role in the hospitality team's ability to raise more than $300,000 throughout 2019 for the NSW Variety Bash.
It was this campaign that also saw Hunt Hospitality short-listed as a Heart of the Community category finalist in last year’s Australian Hotel Association NSW Awards for Excellence.
“Stephen Hunt and I worked closely together for six years while I was at SCA before I took on my current role,” Ricci-Lee said.
“He is obviously a huge mentor to me as my Managing Director and speaks in a language I understand and admire. He has an executive team in which three out of four members are women and he is our biggest fan.”
“I’d love to see Hunt Hospitality popping up all over the country or better yet Waikiki. But on a serious note, I would love for Hunt Hospitality to be one of Australia’s top 10 companies to work for in the future and I always have that on my mind...”
In true Ricci-Lee style, despite her successes, the marketing and sales expert already has her eye on the next big challenge.
“I’m loving my current role, but my goal is to take over the world one bar at a time,” she laughed.
“I’d love to see Hunt Hospitality popping up all over the country or better yet Waikiki. But on a serious note, I would love for Hunt Hospitality to be one of Australia’s top 10 companies to work for in the future and I always have that on my mind.”
With such hefty goals ahead, it would be easy to wonder how a woman as driven as Ricci-Lee manages to fit in any personal time. She’s the first to admit it’s not always easy.
“One of the challenges I find, is that it can be difficult to unwind,” she said.
“When you are so invested in giving your team all of your energy, and your customers the best part of you each day, I find it challenging to treat myself with the same courtesy.
“But I exercise every day and try to get out into the elements. In saying that I’m terrible at maintaining a work life balance.
“I have a policy when it comes to my friends and family. They must love to eat and drink. That way I’m continually updating my knowledge in the industry.”
There are moments within the working day however, that do cause Ricci-Lee to stop and take a breath. A lot of the time, those precious moments are provided by local patrons.
“No matter how I am feeling every time I walk into The Kent I am greeted by my favourite local ‘Ray’, she said.
“I gather my spirits and best singing voice to bust out ‘my little Ray of sunshine’, because I know it means the world to him to finish the lyrics. For people like Ray I am grateful.”
And when it comes to gratitude, there is no shortage of women in Ricci-Lee’s professional life that she feels grateful to have around her each and every day.
“I am grateful to all the women in my industry who work so hard to make it what it is, but if I had to make a short list there’s no going past the women in our Hunt Hospitality team..."
“I am grateful to all the women in my industry who work so hard to make it what it is, but if I had to make a short list there’s no going past the women in our Hunt Hospitality team, in particular Fidelma Hunt.
“Fi launched an Employee Assistance Program across the Hunt Hospitality group which is a free service for any employee struggling with mental health or the stress of modern life. She is a mother of five beautiful children and her human resource experience makes her an essential support for the team.”
Ricci-Lee also included Hunt Hospitality Admin Director Hannah Purdy on her list of incredible women.
“Hannah started as a bar tender and now has the job of taking Stephen and I’s big crazy ideas and either making them financially viable or breaking the news they’re not.”
Also on Ricci-Lee’s list was Meg Coyne, the team’s administration manager who completed $60 million worth of pub transactions in 14 days at age 23, and all-rounder Zoe Lord whose role includes social media, events, front of house and training.
“Zoe is the most beautiful, welcoming face in our front of house team,” Ricci-Lee said.
“She is a social media wizz, event extraordinaire and has just developed a training platform for all of our hotels which she will run from The Kent headquarters. Zoe does all this while also raising her beautiful daughter Lily.
“In fact, we have a saying at Hunt Hospitality and it is YTG -”Yeah the girls”. But don’t get any ideas about using it. Of course, Zoe already has a Trademark on this. That’s my girl.”