16 August 2023

From busboy to CEO: Matt Walshe’s rise through the ranks at Canberra Southern Cross Club

| Dione David
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Ian Mackay, Matt Walshe

Ian Mackay will hand over the Canberra Southern Cross Club CEO role to Matt Walshe this November. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

At the end of November the Canberra Southern Cross Club (CSCC) will officially welcome its new CEO Matthew Walshe – a man who has worked at the club for more than 30 years, starting as a busboy at age 18.

His rise through the ranks cannot be described as meteoric – there was nothing fast or unexpected about it. This is a story of hard work, loyalty and “giving it a crack”.

As one of nine children, Matt was no stranger to elbow grease. His dad had to work two jobs – one in the House of Representatives and the other at the CSCC where his best mate, Paul Rice, was president at the time. His mum ran the extremely busy household and worked in retail.

“Both parents were instrumental in showing me that hard work pays off,” Matt says.

“And when Paul caught wind of the fact that I’d graduated from high school, wasn’t sure what I was going to do and wasn’t keen on attending uni, he arranged an interview for me at the club. And before I knew it, I was working for CSCC.

“The flash word for it then was Trainee Service Staff or TSS. I started at 5 am on 11 March 1993 and I’ll never forget it. I was responsible for keeping the place tidy, scrubbing every glass in the club (hence the 5 am start), clearing plates in the Golden Grille, emptying ashtrays, picking up glasses and stores work. I think my least favourite was scrubbing out the butcher’s fridge every Sunday morning.”

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He applied himself to all he did and his hard work didn’t go unnoticed by then CEO Peter Head.

“He said, ‘You’re spending more time here than I am. You’d better go full-time’,” Matt says.

He became a trainee supervisor, stepping up to supervise at the main bar, doing functions work and administration. It was the first of many role changes within the club that gave him a thorough understanding of its operations.

He was second in command at Henry’s Family Restaurant, a supervisor at the main club in Woden and a duty manager at Yamba Sports Club when it was still around. But the next big turning point came in 1999 when he became venue manager at the yacht club.

“I was 27 and ready to throw my hat in the ring,” Matt says. “Peter said ‘I think you need more experience, but we are going to give you a go for six months’.”

Six months turned into three-and-a-half years.

Matt Walshe pulls a beer.

Matt Walshe is very much at home at the Canberra Southern Cross Club, his workplace of 30 years. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

Towards the end of 1999, Matt was tasked with overseeing the execution of Southern Cross Fish & Chips – a hole-in-the-wall shop that quickly became a local favourite for its delicious fish and chips.

He moved back to the Woden club in 2003 to usher it through a $20 million extension that included a three-level carpark, new gaming lounge and 1000-seat auditorium. He stayed that course for 16 years.

“Being the flagship of all our hospitality venues, to be the venue manager of the Woden site was significant and something I was proud of,” he says.

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In 2014, Ian Mackay took over as the club’s third CEO, bringing with him a vision for CSCC’s venues beginning with Southern Cross Fish & Chips and the creation of Snapper on the Lake, which Matt was again tasked to oversee.

It had long outgrown its kitchen, but the hole-in-the-wall was punching above its weight, averaging about $230,000 a year. Snapper on the Lake was expected to roughly double that but in its first year, turned over more than $2 million.

Matt then oversaw the rebranding of the iconic Golden Grille to Woden Central, stoking a growing taste for project management. So when the COO role was split into three, he was given General Manager Facilities.

When that role was re-amalgamated back into COO in 2021, Matt filled the position. And when earlier this year Ian Mackay announced he was leaving, Matt found himself on the shortlist of replacements.

“When the president, John Lewis, told me I had been successful – I was elated and a little emotional, truth be told. Climbing the ladder rung by rung, it’s been a journey of 30 years and as he put his hand out and said ‘congratulations’, I saw it play in front of me like a movie,” he says.

“A young man, fresh out of school, no idea what he wants to do with his life gets a job clearing plates and glasses. Thirty years later he’s the CEO.

“For years it’s been a dream to one day lead this organisation, and with hard work, perseverance and staying the course, here I am.”

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Well done Matt! Good on you for having a go at the opportunities offered to you. I hope you enjoy this new role.

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