How to avoid weekend penalties: have lots of kids

The Colosimos became one of Australia's biggest hotel and brewing families by leaning on their six sons. Now they all own and run the business - and have eyes on the international beer market.

It’s a lucky family hotel owner who has six boys: weekend penalty rates are for others, not you.

Rosario (Ross) Colosimo, now 66, was blessed with six boys and now owns one-seventh of a sprawling $40 million hotel and brewery business based in Sydney’s Hills District.

Marcello, his oldest, is CEO, Sergio runs the Australian Brewery and Hotel at Rouse Hill, Vince the Hillside Hotel, Leon the Bella Vista Hotel, Julius operates the property development division and Ricky, the youngest, was in the business and is now doing some travelling. Oh happy days.

All except Ricky are married and they have nine future workers, err, I mean children, with two more on the way.

The Colosimos have no external directors or managers (don’t need them) and the seven of them have a formal board meeting once a month and family gatherings every week. They are a close Italian family that operates on consensus; if there’s a deadlock, Ross is the boss.

They also have a family constitution with two significant provisions: that third generation children need to go to university before coming into the business and are “encouraged” to work somewhere else first; and second, partners don’t get involved in the business, which is the first time I’ve seen that rule.

Says Marcello: “We watched other family businesses, and realised that’s when complications and arguments arise. You have to keep each person’s own family and business involvement separate. If you don’t, and your partner comes into the business with you, you tend to start looking at the business from a micro perspective – just from the point of view of your own family.”

Ross’s wife Pamela didn’t have time to work in the business in the early years: she was too busy producing staff. All the boys worked weekends in his hotels as soon they could hold a tray of glasses. All of them finished school and went to uni and then joined the business full time.

Rosario, as he was then, emigrated from Calabria at the age of 13. His father Marcello had a fairly traditional work history for Italian migrants: first the Snowy Hydro scheme and then the Queensland sugar cane farms, before settling around Baulkham Hills.

The young Rosario started working in hotels in the area and eventually built a bottle shop in Baulkham Hills (Crestwood Cellars – it’s still there). He and Pamela lived in a caravan at the back of the shop and worked seven days a week.

He also had a talent for property development and made decent money developing a block of industrial units in the area, before building the Castle Hill Hotel which, with the help of his six sons, became one of New South Wales’ three biggest hotels.

He then moved into the city and developed the Retro nightclub and restaurant in Sussex Street, and then to the Hunter Valley where he developed a big tourist centre and brewery on 11 acres just outside Cessnock. That gave the Colosimos a taste for brewing.

They sold Crestwood Cellars, the Castle Hill tavern and Retro as well, and in fact developed and sold a few hotels along the way, hanging onto Hillside and Bell Vista, and then developed the huge Australian Brewery and Hotel at Rouse Hill.

Australian Brewery’s three types of beer and one cider are the first craft beers to be sold in cans. They won prizes at the Beer and Brewery Awards last year and the pub in Rouse Hill won the Best Traditional Bar and Best Boutique Beer Venue at the AHA awards. In 2004 they were named Family Business of the Year.

The family’s ambition now is to be the biggest craft brewer in the country. They have just signed a national distribution deal with the Kollaras Group, another big family business, and have an export distribution deal with Konishi Brewing in Japan.

Ross and the six boys are all equal shareholders and they haven’t yet discussed the third generation succession (the oldest is 12, so it’s a few years off). There are no dividends, just salaries, and all profits are ploughed back into the business.

From “humble beginnings”, as the website says, they now employ 300 people, serve 4000 meals a week and turn over $40 million a year.

It’s one of the many stories that gives immigration a good name.

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