Leading Edge Event Management – Atlantic Group [v] of Companies

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-By Claire Suttles

Hatem Saleh has produced a legacy for Melbourne, having transformed Central Pier into the unrivalled destination for Melbourne’s hottest events and parties, attracting approximately 1000 events per annum following a $34 million re-development.

In addition, his restaurant, The Atlantic at Crown, welcomes thousands of guests per annum to enjoy a premium seafood experience in his one hatted restaurant. His passion and dream is shared by a team of dedicated professionals delivering memorable hospitality experiences to ensure they showcase the heart of Melbourne’s food culture to diverse groups including local, national and international demographics.

A restaurateur turned businessman, with true entrepreneurial flair, Managing Director of Atlantic Group [v] of Companies, Hatem Saleh has taken his love of Melbourne and made it his canvas to bring his dreams to life. He entered the field of hospitality by accident, going to work at a young age to assist his parents who had fallen on hard times. “I kept on bugging the owner of a nearby function space for a job,” recalls Hatem. “I visited him every week until he basically gave in and gave me my start.”

Through sheer hard work and tenacity, Hatem climbed up the ranks quickly. From his first business venture in 1994 as an owner of Mediterranean restaurant Atlantic in St Kilda, Hatem then identified a gap in the marketplace for a 500 guest event space and opened two function spaces in quick succession at the new event precinct South Wharf – Atlantic, followed by Sumac, then a nightclub, Alumbra.

It wasn’t always easy. The business hit a snag in 2006 when the Victorian state government compulsorily acquired the South Wharf venues for redevelopment and Hatem was suddenly without a location for his businesses. The problem was solved when Atlantic Group [v] won a highly competitive tender to develop the derelict Central Pier in Melbourne’s Docklands.

Turning Central Pier into a five star function space that now welcomes one million visitors a year was a major challenge and a significant risk for the company. Sheds 9 and 14 at Central Pier had been abandoned for close to 30 years and needed a complete overhaul, and because the space has a heritage overlay, Atlantic Group [v] had to abide by particular rules during the remodel.

The pier location added even more difficulties. “All construction, plumbing, electrical, everything, had to be run from underneath on water,” Hatem reflects. “Because of the waterfront location it was a very, very challenging and costly development.”

But the calculated risks Hatem took in moving the company to Central Pier proved worthwhile, as a number of clients still wanted their functions hosted by Atlantic Group [v], and were willing to wait for the construction to be completed.

The team was forced to work under tight and stressful deadlines to ensure that these clients could be accommodated. “I had many events that had booked in advance,” Hatem recalls. “I had some clients who brought their weddings forward at South Wharf and other weddings and corporate events that postponed their dates waiting for the completion of Central Pier.”

Overall, Hatem says that the Central Pier redevelopment was probably the most difficult challenge of his entire career. “Anyone who had any common sense probably wouldn’t have jumped into it,” he admits. “But we did. We had a bigger vision, and that vision was to give the people of Melbourne something more, something special.”

Hatem also reflects that the challenges of the project gave him the ability to put things into perspective. “Everything seems a lot easier after you’ve been through something difficult like that,” he explains. “When it gets to the point that you don’t know if you’re even going to be in business and you survive that, the day to day challenges become not really challenges at all.”

Hatem met his Atlantic Group [v] of Companies business partner Tony Schiavello through the Central Pier construction process. Mr Schiavello’s company the Schiavello Group was contracted for the redevelopment and, after working together, the two men realised that their shared enthusiasm and outlook made them a great team. Bringing Mr Schiavello’s skills and experience into Atlantic Group was a natural next step. Hatem recalls, “Tony and I share a business philosophy that anything is possible and in those early days at Central Pier, Tony saw potential and has been an incredible mentor ever since.”

The Central Pier project was completed successfully and, in 2007, Atlantic, Alumbra and Sumac reopened in the new location, along with two new venues, Peninsula and Sketch. In 2008, the company launched Atlantic Group Catering, a division designed to extend the company’s cutting edge style across any social setting or corporate location.

As part of Hatem’s leading innovation, Central Pier is also home to an eclectic mix of businesses in Shed 9, including the alluring waterfront cocktail bar and nightclub Alumbra, an authentic Italian eatery Va Bene pizzeria and The Woolshed Pub, a rustic warehouse conversion with a host of spaces to uncover including a bar, outdoor decking, bistro and event spaces.

Hatem’s creation at Central Pier promises a highly entertaining experience for a diverse range of guests and visitors and encapsulates a one-stop events and hospitality destination at Central Pier, Docklands.

Nowadays, Atlantic Group [v] is Melbourne’s leading event and entertainment precinct and it is Hatem’s genuine passion for the hospitality, events and entertainment industry that has been fundamental to the success of the company making it a Melbourne icon, with a reputation at local, national and international levels.

In 2010, the Atlantic event space at Central Pier was renamed MAIÀ – Arabic for water – so that, in 2011, a new restaurant at Crown Entertainment Complex could open under the name ‘The Atlantic.’

The most anticipated restaurant opening in 2011, The Atlantic is where Executive Chef Donovan Cooke continues to showcase his Ocean to Plate seafood philosophy.

“Essentially, we moved from a restaurant space to functions, then cocktail bars, and have grown from there into all facets of hospitality,” Hatem says of the Group’s steady, 18 year expansion.

Hatem has a sincere love of good food and wine but it is his genuine care for the customer experience that sets him apart. As a loving husband and father of three young children, he is still committed to being hands on – rolling up his sleeves when there is work to be done. You will often see him at functions greeting guests and working closely with management and staff to ensure the event goes off without a hitch.

The Atlantic Group [v] of Companies is known for its fine cuisine and skilled chefs, but Hatem says that, “It’s not just about delivering food.” He knows that the company must offer more to stand out from the competition and keep clients satisfied. The key, he believes, is “understanding the client’s vision and what they are ultimately trying to get out of the event,” and then implementing a careful plan to ensure that the Atlantic Group meets each and every one of those needs.

Throughout this process, careful attention is paid not only to food quality, but to presentation and style as well. “We put a lot of effort, commitment and resources into making sure that our spaces are incredible,” Hatem reports. The team also knows that, without dependable suppliers who are committed to meeting deadlines, Atlantic Group [v] of Companies cannot meet its clients’ needs adequately.

Through carefully built alliances and professional relationships spanning decades, Atlantic Group [v] of Companies ensures it maintains its commitment to excellence through a shared understanding with suppliers that only the best will do. “We have high demand chefs and event specialists who expect only the best quality,” Hatem reports. He says that Atlantic Group [v] of Companies’ suppliers not only meet these expectations, but go above and beyond.

Hatem also understands that in order to meet client demands, the company must have the best possible staff. The team needs to be sure that every employee clients interact with, from parking attendants to waiters, are “polite, enthusiastic, and demonstrate passion,” so that “the minute the client makes contact, they know they are in good hands.”

Hatem knows that his staff are integral to the company’s success and tries to actively reward employee effort. “I like looking at people within the organisation, learning more about them, understanding what their passions are, and then looking at how we can develop those people more,” he explains. There are several instances “where employees started off as a barman, or waiters and have become a senior person in the management team or an executive in the business,” Hatem reports. He says that helping others move up in the industry is important to him because, years ago, his own boss recognised his talent and enthusiasm and mentored him. “It’s all about giving back,” he says. “It’s all about sharing in your successes.” Nowadays, the group employs 440 full time employees.

In one example, Hatem tells the story of a young Chilean woman who had been travelling and picking fruit. She was referred to Hatem by a friend with the hopes of landing a job in the kitchen or waiting tables. However, when he took the time to speak with her about her background, he discovered she held a double degree and “was a very talented young lady,” with a “passion” for graphic design. After viewing her portfolio, the team “threw around the idea… to give her a couple of projects.” She completed them successfully, and now has a place with the company as a graphic designer, and sponsorship to stay in the country. “We’ve probably got six or seven other stories like that,” Mr Saleh reports. “It’s quite rewarding for me as an employer to… give them the chance to succeed.”

Among the projects which unequivocally raise the bar for Melbourne hospitality and catering, Hatem now draws an unwavered focus back to Central Pier in Docklands. In mid 2012, Atlantic Group [v] of Companies along with respected baker Ian Martin, will open an artisan bakery which will be responsible for the delivery of breads, pastries and desserts for the group as well as a retail outlet for the local community.

Hatem says that there are approximately one million visitors to the pier each year and that, with around 7,000 people living nearby and 19,000 workers in the area, he wants to “provide something to the locals,” as well as tourists. He explains that even “with so many people living and working in the area, there isn’t what I would consider a good, handmade, artisan style bakery.”

An ongoing hallmark trait of the vision behind Atlantic Group [v] is daring to be different and attention to the little things that others often miss. Hatem’s innate leadership and entrepreneurial flair has allowed Atlantic Group [v] to be successful in winning over 21 awards across many categories from events industry bodies. Some of these have included the Restaurant and Catering Award for Awards for Excellence ‘National Caterer of the Year’ and a coveted one hat in The Age Good Food Guide for The Atlantic restaurant in just five months of operation. This, combined with an infrastructure base that continues to support the expansion of operations, has Atlantic Group [v] of Companies well placed to take on further opportunities and propel itself into an even brighter spotlight.

The future goals of Atlantic Group [v] of Companies are to “keep growing our business” and to “continue to improve whatever our offerings are, so that clients get value for [their] money.” Hatem believes that, with the help of his staff, these goals will be easily met. “When you know you have the support and commitment of your people, it’s not hard to achieve anything,” he says, “if you put your mind to it.”

Hatem believes that even the most ambitious goals, can become a successful reality, “with a healthy dose of passion, tenacity and hard work.” Hatem Saleh is an innovative and progressive thinker and will continue to inspire and lead a culture of exceptional staff to further success and exciting new ventures.

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

September 20, 2018, 5:31 AM AEST