The Shopping Centre industry is driven by people. It’s the skills and expertise of the people that manage, develop and evolve shopping centres for their communities that creates this great industry. Shopping Centre News profiles a range of interesting people from the industry each week. This week we talk to Melissa Schultz, General Manager Sustainability at Vicinity Centres.
Vicinity Centres is one of Australia’s leading retail property group who own and manage 84 shopping centres across Australia. The focus on sustainability at Vicinity Centres is an ever more important one and aims to create sustainable destinations that shape better communities. With the recent announcement of their investment in to solar of $75 million they are serious about driving sustainability across their portfolio.
What is your current role and main responsibilities?
General Manager Sustainability at Vicinity Centres. I lead the sustainability function at Vicinity, which includes developing the strategy and direction for the company around sustainability, and providing the business with the tools and support to deliver it. We also monitor and report on our organisation-wide sustainability performance, and communicate this both internally and externally.
How did you get in to this industry?
I’ve been at Vicinity for 3.5 years and this is my first role in the shopping centre industry. I’ve worked in sustainability in a broad sense for almost 18 years, but in roles in other industries (banking and finance, major infrastructure, oil and gas).
Tell us a little bit about your career
I’m actually a geologist (according to my undergraduate training), but started my career in a boutique contaminated land and groundwater consultancy. From there I moved into a project management role at ExxonMobil (downstream – at Mobil) leading major contaminated land and groundwater assessments and clean ups of their service stations, depots and aviation sites. I then moved upstream (Esso) into a broader Environment role covering their Australian onshore sites. By this time I had started studying a Master of Corporate Sustainability Management part-time while working full time – it was a busy few years! After ExxonMobil I spent 5 years leading the Environment function at Transurban. After that I did a short stint at ANZ as their Manager Corporate Sustainability Strategy, and then moved on to my current role at Vicinity.
What has been your hardest career decision?
Understanding how to (and having the patience) move out of contaminated land and groundwater work into a broader corporate sustainability role. It took me to undertake a Masters to make the shift, but it was well worth the wait, effort and financial investment.
What do you love most about your job?
Definitely the diversity of activities and range of people I get to interact with across the business. My team is responsible for both environmental sustainability and community, and in order to achieve the strategy need to collaborate with almost every business unit.
What do you least like about your job?
Reviewing long detailed reports! It can also be difficult at times to be heard – everyone has their own individual definition of sustainability which is usually much narrower than how we consider it at Vicinity, so often people stop listening after you mention the word ‘sustainability’ as they feel they already know what it means. This can be difficult internally when trying to get buy in.
What motivates you?
Knowing that I come to work every day to do something that makes a difference both inside our organisation as well as outside (community and environment).
What makes a great professional working in sustainability?
It’s essential to be able to build trusted relationships across the business and to be able to successfully get buy in across the business for sustainability, but in particular the corporate sustainability strategy. Without this the strategy won’t be successful. Resilience is also important, as well as patience.
What is your most memorable moment of your career?
Ooohh… I have a few. But the proudest moment was probably last year when we found out we had received number 1 position in the Australian Retail sector in the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB) – an international property focused investor survey. I was so proud of all of the hard work across the organisation and that it had gained us recognition with such a prestigious Sustainability accolade.
What do you think makes a successful shopping centre?
The right retail mix for the surrounding demographics is obviously key. I think it’s also important that a shopping centre is welcoming for all parts of the community and is truly seen as the ‘town square’ – the place where everyone comes to socialise, eat, be entertained and shop, and where the local community really feels a sense of ownership and belonging.
Which in your opinion is the best example of a good shopping centre, retail precinct or place?
I can’t go past Chadstone. I can’t think of anything it doesn’t have, which makes it a convenient one stop shop (particularly for someone like me who never goes shopping without a list!). The recent development there is amazing – particularly the grid shell roof.
What are some of the trends you are seeing in the industry?
In Sustainability there is definitely a focus on modern slavery and climate change currently. This is being driven by emerging regulation in these spaces that is leap-frogging best practice – unusual for legislation which usually aims to bring the bottom performers to an acceptable level. Closer scrutiny of how companies are responding to climate change is also being driven by the investment community.
Did you think you would end up in the role you are in now?
Not at all. I don’t think my role was common in companies when I was finishing school, so I guess that’s not surprising.
What advice would you give to someone starting in the industry?
Make sure you go to industry events and if you are invited to sit on any committees or roundtables, do it. I have sat on the PCA Sustainability Roundtable since starting my role at Vicinity, and in the early days I found it incredibly useful to get a deep understanding of the key Sustainability challenges in the industry and how others have overcome them.
What do you do in your leisure time to de-stress?
I love the ocean so my husband and I try and get down the Great Ocean Road every second or third weekend which is a great de-stress. We usually go for a bush or beach walk and sample some of the beers from the brewery across the road!
What’s your favourite retailer and why?
I used to love GAP, so was really disappointed when they closed in Australia earlier this year. I also really like Zara and Midas (shoes).
Do you like shopping?
Not particularly! I’m quite targeted when I go shopping – I usually have a list, but have been know to stray from the list from time to time if I see something that catches my eye.
What is the single most important quality you need to possess to be in this industry?
You need to be authentic. Since working in the industry I’ve noticed that property people say what they mean and mean what they say. I really appreciate this as I tend to operate in a similar way.