It would be hard to list many Australian business leaders who have been at the helm of a company for 50 years.
But Arinex founder, Roslyn McLeod OAM, has done just that. In the five decades since her tour guiding business started at the kitchen table with her Mum’s help, she has both witnessed and been a major architect of Australia’s visitor economy growth.
Firstly, as a Japanese interpreter, then tour guiding and ultimately a major organiser of business meetings and exhibitions.
Outstanding commercial acumen, passion and professionalism are what she is best known for – and big doses of discreet and well-articulated advocacy at times when the business events sector was desperate for recognition and support.
She spoke with Joyce DiMascio about the historic milestone – and passing the baton to the new owner, CEO Nicole Walker.
It’s a marvellous Australian story which deserves to be celebrated.
Roslyn McLeod OAM has always been one to speak up. She commands respect and admiration the world-over for this quality.
Half a century after starting her business she has a lot to be proud of, especially as the company is now on a new trajectory under new owner, Nicole Walker.
In corporate Australia – in sectors like mining and agriculture – celebrating a 50th anniversary would easily make it into the Financial Review and mainstream media.
But as this achievement is in business events, it may go unnoticed outside the community of peers in the sector. All the more reason to shine the light on one of most important pioneers of tourism and business events in Australia.
A connector and networker
The consummate networker, Roslyn McLeod has invested heavily in nurturing relationships and working not only in her own business – but contributing to a multitude of peak bodies.
They included roles on the board of the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA), IAPCO, INCON, Meetings Industry Association of Australia (MEA) and also Business Events Council of Australia (BECA).
BECA Chairman, Dr Leo Jago OAM, said after a half century in business events, few have her sectoral knowledge and wisdom.
“Although she is quietly spoken, when she does speak, everyone listens,” he said.
“Throughout her time as a Director of BECA, Roslyn was a driver of the need for the many business event related organisations to collaborate for the benefit of the sector and to speak with one voice.”
Committee work started early
Stepping up to collaborating on committees is in her DNA and it started way back as a student leader in the Rotary youth movement called the Interact Club.
While at Bankstown Girls High School in 1965, Roslyn became Interact’s first president. She learnt a lot from those days – about organising people, working together and also about connecting with the rest of the world. She was selected to be a Rotary Youth Exchange Student and after a year in Tokyo her world opened up.
Roslyn’s Japanese and English bilingual fluency was something unique and one which opened many doors. Her first jobs were possible because of this skill, at a time when Japanese inbound tourism and business ties were on a growth trajectory.
She attributes so much of her success to this.
“I believe it’s been the grounding for me in everything I’ve done,” she said.
Early years with Australian Tourist Commission
Executive General Manager, Commercial & Business Events Australia at Tourism Australia, Robin Mack, said the Arinex founder has been a trailblazer, and major contributor to the success of inbound tourism and business events for Australia.
“Her passion and love for the industry, as well as her country, are felt by everyone she meets, and I believe, is a key contributor to the success and longevity of Arinex,” he said.
“Roslyn, was even the first Japanese speaking tour guide for what was then the Australian Tourist Commission,” Robin Mack confirms.
Japanese visitors drive business start
And from her work assisting with groups her reputation grew and soon she began to operate a business in her own right.
“In 1971 Rotary came to Australia for its international convention – there were 1,000 Japanese participants and I was asked to organise the tour guides. I recruited and trained them and started my business while also escorting for the Australian Tourist Commission,” she said.
In the mid-70s her business scaled up as the boom in Japanese tourism took off.
She said hers was the first company to charter a vessel specifically for Japanese visitors on New Year’s Eve from fellow pioneer, Captain Trevor Howarth, founder of Captain Cook Cruises.
“We were the only boat out there. That was an important first – we were the first to do that,” she said.
From a focus on Japanese tour guiding, other countries also began to emerge as strong markets for Australian tourism.
“I opened my first Sydney office in 1973. The first staff member was Japanese. We then also moved into the German market – providing German speaking tour escorts. That was the beginning of multilingual as opposed to bilingual tour guide services.”
The conference market becomes a focus
But Roslyn had developed an interest in the conference market. It was 1976 when she decided to become an international conference specialist and the enormous professionalisation of conferences began.
Roslyn and her team travelled the world sourcing opportunities and cultivating the relationships in order to convince organising committees to entrusting their events to Arinex and to Australia.
“I really enjoyed the collaboration and partnership of the conference committees that we worked with,” she said.
“It enabled us to work with some of the most eminent people in Australia, putting together programs and satisfying the international delegates – constantly improving the quality of their experiences.”
Things were small in the beginning but Tour Hosts and later Arinex grew strongly – weathering many ups and downs, including the Pilots’ Dispute, SARS, the GFC and, most recently, the COVID pandemic.
The company was also involved in many major events including the Festival of Sydney, the Bicentennial, and the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. They were exciting times she said – when Australia was coming into its own on the world stage.
The company was at its biggest in 2012, when as Tour Hosts it employed 127 people and delivered 65 conferences in that year alone. They were also the times when Governments began to recognise the power of business events to ignite the economy, and Roslyn’s role in advocating for the industry was at its peak.
Her drive comes from the joy of getting things done.
“I thrive on achievement,” she said emphatically.
International reputation flourishes
Roslyn McLeod has been omnipresent internationally over recent decades – a constant presence at international business events expos and also supporting the work of associations.
Angela Guillemet, Executive Director INCON’ said Roslyn has been an incredible asset to the international meetings industry.
“She has always been at the forefront of exploring innovations and new ways of doing things ensuring the industry stays competitive.”
Geoff Donaghy, CEO, ICC Sydney and Group Director, Convention Centres, ASM Global (APAC) also a veteran of the business events industry, holds Roslyn in the highest regard.
He said she has been instrumental in shaping the business events industry across the globe over five decades.
“I’ve worked with Roslyn in many roles and positions across much of this time and experienced and enjoyed first-hand her passion and advocacy for the industry as well as her commitment to service excellence,” Geoff Donaghy said.
But she has also had a big impact in helping to create opportunities for women to have enduring careers in business events providing rewarding, flexible and empowering roles.
She is very proud of this. With a tradition of hiring only women in the first three decades of the business – Roslyn said the work they did was the passport to their economic independence.
“It was interesting to see how our jobs enabled women to get their independence. I had wonderful people that came through Tour Hosts and Arinex – that has been inspiring. And I learned so much from them. They’ve always been my greatest teachers,” she said.
A remarkable story with legacies
For Roslyn McLeod the development of high standards for the industry – and delivering work with integrity were key legacies.
“We managed to manoeuvre through the minefields and have lots of successes – it’s the integrity of what we did and raising the standards in the tours, in the technology and event operations.”
She is generous with her praise and gratitude especially for the support of her family and also for the loyalty and skills of her staff. She singles out her husband, Angelo and mother Beth McLeod who backed her for the first 12 years, her sister Lorraine for 25 years of working in the business and her assistant, Bridget who has assisted her for 22 years.
Passing the baton to one of her own “feels wonderful” she said. To be able to see the company’s future in the hands of a staff member who, over eight years, learnt the business and is now poised to see Arinex transition into its second half-century.
“Nicole has been amazingly resilient, amazingly patient. I am extremely lucky. She has wonderful attributes to lead the business into the future,” she said.
A formidable force, industry pioneer and leader
Roslyn McLeod’s story at the helm of one of Australia’s best known professional conference organisers (PCO) mirrors the history of Australian tourism and the business events industry.
The Arinex 50th anniversary celebration in May 2023 is a fitting time to recognise the achievements of its founder.
She has contributed to the greater good of the industry through a wide range of roles on the national and international stage – generously devoting time to help build a strong and well recognised industry. She has been an ambassador at large for her company and Australia, and most deserving of the Order of Australia Medal bestowed on her in 1999.
Roslyn McLeod has been a formidable force, industry pioneer and leader – and Australia is indebted to her.
Accolades from industry peers
A chorus of supporters that have come forward to pay tribute to Roslyn McLeod – a testament to how much she is loved and respected.
Robin Mack, Executive General Manager, Commercial & Business Events Australia at Tourism Australia
“Roslyn has been a major contributor to the success of inbound tourism and business events for Australia. Her passion and love for the industry as well as her country is felt by everyone she meets, and I believe, is a key contributor to the success and longevity of Arinex.
Roslyn is a trailblazer in the tourism and business events industry in Australia. Over the years she has provided leadership, holding roles on the board of ICCA, IAPCO, INCON and serving as the President and Director of the Meetings Industry Association of Australia (now known as MEA).
Roslyn, was even the first Japanese speaking Tour Guide for what was then the Australian Tourism Commission. In addition to all this, she has delivered innovative and impactful work such as Arinex’s Sustainability Policy. Roslyn has left a lasting impact and legacy on the industry, one in which I am sure will continue in the hands of Nicole Walker.”
Dr Leo Jago OAM Independent Chair Independent Business Events Council of Australia (BECA)
“I first met Roslyn 20 years ago when we started collecting data for the National Business Events Study – she was passionate about the need for the sector to work together to demonstrate its economic value to government.
As Roslyn seemed to know all the ‘movers and shakers’ in the Australian business events scene, she was able to open so many doors for me as a ‘newby’ to the sector. It was only when I attended my first ICCA Congress that I discovered that her network extended far beyond Australia’s shores.
Due to Roslyn’s in-depth knowledge of business events and her considered approach, the many awards she has received highlight the fact that she is regarded internationally as a champion of business events. She is a strong collaborator and has always worked for the good of the sector while at the same time building a very successful business.
Throughout her time as a Director of BECA, Ros was a driver of the need for the many business event related organisations to collaborate for the benefit of the sector and to speak with one voice.
After a half century in business events, few have her sectoral knowledge and wisdom. Although she is quietly spoken, when she does speak, everyone listens.
For someone with small feet, she has big shoes to fill for Australia’s business events sector in general and Arinex in particular.
Stand-out qualities: passion for the sector, quiet determination, networking ability. collaborative approach.”
Geoff Donaghy, CEO, ICC Sydney and Group Director – Convention Centres, ASM Global (APAC)
“Congratulations to Roslyn McLeod and Arinex for the 50th Anniversary.
One of our great industry leaders and pioneers, Roslyn has been instrumental in shaping the business events industry across the globe over five decades.
I’ve worked with Roslyn in many roles and positions across much of this time and experienced and enjoyed firsthand her passion and advocacy for the industry as well as her commitment to service excellence.
Roslyn has been critical in contributing to Australia’s international reputation as a premium business events destination.
The Arinex team (formerly Tour Hosts) is to be commended as they continue to be an important client partner, working alongside venues such as ICC Sydney and the broader industry to deliver exceptional event experiences.”
Angela Guillemet, Executive Director INCON
“Roslyn has been an incredible asset to the international meetings industry.
She has always been at the forefront of exploring innovations and new ways of doing things ensuring that the industry stays competitive.
We were so lucky to have her as co-chair of INCON, the global partnership of conference organisers where she had a huge impact on profiling the group, creating successful collaborations, and expanding our partnership.”
Martin Boyle, CEO IAPCO
“Ros congratulations. And thank you for everything you’ve done, both for our industry, and also for IAPCO.
Remember, you’ll always have a seat at the table at IAPCO. Thanks again.”
Andrew Hiebl, CEO of the Association of Australian Convention Bureaux
“While I had already looked up to Roslyn for several years upon starting my career in business events in the late 90’s, I first officially met her through the Business Events Council of Australia when I was appointed CEO of the Association of Australian Convention Bureaux.
I was immediately in awe of her deep experience, wisdom, and connection to the business events industry. Roslyn always displayed a vision for the industry’s future and attracted respect as a thought leader by her fellow directors and peers, both in Australia and around the world.
Roslyn is a business events powerhouse and champions Australia’s leadership in business events globally as one of our finest intellectual exports.”