01 October 2018

Jeff Ellison

Jeff Ellison

CEO & Managing Director, SeaLink Travel Group
Non-Executive Director, Adelaide Botanic Gardens and State Herbarium
Bachelor of Arts (Accounting)

Almost as iconic as the pristine coastline and breathtaking wilderness teaming with everything from kangaroos to koalas eying you from the gum trees, seals and penguins parading the beach, the SeaLink ferry has been a Kangaroo Island mainstay for almost three decades thanks to CEO & Managing Director, and University of South Australia Alum, Jeff Ellison.

Jeff joined the SeaLink Travel Group in 1991 as a Chartered Accountant after an Arts (Accountancy) degree at UniSA antecedent the South Australia Institute of Technology, and time in private practice.

During his tenure he proved instrumental in the development of the SeaLink Travel Group from a ferry operator to one of Australia’s most successful and expansive tourism and transport businesses.

Under Jeff’s guidance, the SeaLink Travel Group’s increased its revenue from $12.8 million as a small, privately-owned South Australian business in 1997 to $204 million in 2017, even making it onto the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) as a multi-million dollar publically-listed company in 2013.

Today, during peak periods, SeaLink Kangaroo Island ferries make the 45-minute journey up to 12 times a day, carrying locals and tourists alike to the beautiful sanctuary lined with more than 500 kilometres of pearl white beaches and towering cliffs.

“My interest in tourism started at SeaLink when we found that it was a great way to increase the number of passengers on the ferry services and showcase a great part of Australia,” says Jeff. “Today on the Kangaroo Island ferry over 80% are now visitors to the island, including around 23% of which are international visitors.

“We had a strong belief that we had developed a sustainable business model of balancing transport (commuters, cars and freight) with the tourism industry.

“Following the success in the South Australian business, we expanded into New Zealand in 2000 purchasing a loss-making ferry business operating out of Auckland.

“We were able to refocus the business, introduce tourism experiences to the islands and built a strong profitable business. Since then we have expanded into Queensland, New South Wales, the Northern Territory, Western Australia and recently Tasmania with the same business model of transport and tourism.”

Seal Bay, Kangaroo Island
Seal Bay, Kangaroo Island

After all his success at the SeaLink Travel Group, with the acquisitions of multiple cruise lines and diversification into transport (with companies such as Transit Systems, the Adelaide Central Bus Station, and operation of the SkyLink Adelaide Airport Shuttle Service), Jeff still credits his time at UniSA as a significant stepping stone and valuable groundwork for his career.

“I have very fond memories of my time at UniSA and it’s great to be involved with such a strong growing leading University.

“I chose the UniSA degree as it was recommended by my employer and considered to be the most practical degree to have for the accounting industry. Not only did it give me a great base to build my career but it was a very enjoyable time of my life – with a great environment to work, study and network.”

Now with the SeaLink Travel Group firmly planted in the country’s tourism psyche, employing more than 1600 staff nationally – operating in every state except Victoria and Tasmania – and a fleet of 80 vessels and over 60 coaches, Jeff announced his retirement in August this year confident he will be leaving the company with a strong foundation.

“I firmly believe that now is the time to give a new generation of leaders the opportunity to build on the strong platform that now exists. The direction and strategy of the organisation is established as an integrated provider of transport and tourism experiences,” he says.

Jeff Ellison in his office
Jeff Ellison in his office

But retirement doesn’t mean exactly slowing completely down for Jeff. Still a voracious traveller, he is particularly looking forward to a holiday with the freedom to just enjoy the destination, and spending relaxing breaks at his new beach house.

But SeaLink will always hold an important place in Jeff’s heart, with the relationships he formed just as significant as the many business heights he reached at the company.

There are many highlights from listing on the Australian Securities Exchange in 2013, building our very first vessel in 1998, buying the Captain Cook brand and operating on Sydney Harbour, but my greatest enjoyment comes from the people I work with and meet during my career.”

”Retirement from SeaLink for me will be a change in career, but I will still look forward to keeping in touch with my many friends at SeaLink.

“The SeaLink Board has also suggested they would like me to come back as a Director after a break. For me that would be a great way to stay connected.

“I am a great believer all businesses have a responsibility to the community in which they work. I have always been happy to provide support, particularly in the tourism industry, as a strong industry is good for the whole state.”

The Remarkable Rocks, Kangaroo Island
The Remarkable Rocks, Kangaroo Island

As someone who knows the spectacular oasis of Australia’s third largest island more intimately and distinctly than most, Jeff has a couple recommendations next time you are down Kangaroo Island way.

Stokes Bays, Kangaroo Island
The Remarkable Rocks, Kangaroo Island

“Kangaroo Island is a zoo without fences, so number one must be the abundant wildlife of kangaroos, koalas, seals, echidnas.”

“Second are the amazing natural landscapes such as Admirals Arch, Remarkable Rocks, and the amazing coastal cliffs on the south of the island or the prestige sandy beaches on the north.

“Finally it is the small towns and the food and wineries, and many other tourist attractions you can find dotted around the island.”

With his many accolades and achievements – like becoming a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, a Life Membership to the Tourism & Transport Forum Australia, the 2013 South Australian Tourism Award for Outstanding Contribution by an Individual, and the 2014 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Listed Award – Jeff as proven himself as a canny businessman in expanding SeaLink and putting Kangaroo Island on the map.

For now though, Jeff will continue his role as CEO and Managing Director officially up to October 2019 when he can properly celebrate his contribution to South Australia’s thriving tourism industry –and he will finally have more time to relish trips to the beach cave at Stokes Bay on Kangaroo Island which he considers a “real gem”.

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