After a successful career as an entrepreneur having already built and sold her first business, it wasn’t until Danielle Duell completed her MBA that she was ready to take on the role of leading the portfolio of another entrepreneur.
Danielle is now one of Australia’s most respected tourism industry executives and heads up one of the country’s most successful luxury accommodation brands.
The mother-of-two is currently the CEO of the Spicers Group – the private interests of Flight Centre founder and CEO, Graham (Skroo) Turner and his wife Jude. She has held the role since 2010.
Danielle talked about her “non-linear” path to success and some of the key moments and decisions which have contributed to her accomplishments.
“I have come to strongly believe that chance really does favour the prepared mind… and completing an MBA offers countless experiences that serve as solid preparation for success in business,” she said. “The MBA really has been one of the key catalysts to achieving my goals while leading a dynamic, successful company.”
After achieving top marks at high school, Danielle deferred formal undergraduate studies in favour of a career in retail.
“I never did get around to going back and spent the next ten years, until the birth of my first child, totally committed to this business,” she said. “Returning after maternity leave the company I had loved so much and put so much into had changed ownership and was no longer the company I remembered.”
“I unexpectedly found myself out of work – it was a real game changer.”
However, it wasn’t long before a new opportunity emerged to get involved in a start-up – the now incredibly successful Storey Bridge Adventure Climb. While not an investor in the company it had sparked an ongoing passion for tourism and travel ventures and it wasn’t long before she was embarking on her own.
Together with a business partner she founded Riverlife Adventure Centre and the Riverlife Mirrabooka indigenous experience and served as CEO before successfully selling her half of the business.
Following the sale Danielle pursued the opportunity to become the high-profile CEO of Brisbane Marketing, the body responsible for taking the city of Brisbane to the world. In a rare setback she missed out on the job.
“It was great in hindsight as it provided me with opportunity and incentive to embark on an MBA,” she said. “It was a conscious, deliberate decision at that point in time to invest in myself.”
After completing the MBA at QUT in 2009 things really started to fall into place for Danielle.
Determined to stay in Brisbane and make the most of her new qualifications she targeted an opportunity at emerging hotel business Spicers. Despite desperately wanting to work for Spicers she turned down their first job offer.
“In retrospect it was an important and powerful decision to say no even though it was the number one company on my shortlist of prospective employers. I wasn’t prepared to compromise on the role I wanted.”
Six months later, after staying in touch with the founders, she was offered the CEO’s role.
Danielle is responsible for a diverse portfolio which includes a luxury accommodation group, a collection of award-winning restaurants, a number of day spas, an outdoor adventure park and a number of cattle breeding enterprises and nature refuges.
“It is an extraordinary role and I certainly wouldn’t have been prepared for the level of complexity and scale that the role demands without having completed my MBA.”
Shortly after securing the role she won a scholarship to Harvard Business School through QUT’s Fostering Executive Women alumni program to participate in the Women’s Leadership Forum – Innovation Strategies for a Changing World which is part of Harvard’s Executive Education Program.
Danielle continues to seek excellence and is working to turn Spicers into an iconic Australian brand renowned for relaxed luxury retreats and award-winning restaurants. It is a goal she readily admits is much more achievable with her MBA.
“My MBA didn’t just teach me theories, it taught me how to take knowledge and convert it into the habits, practices and processes that underpin success… it really can help you to evolve into a better version of your professional self.”