Uniting People And The Sea


The New South Wales Government recently released plans for a major makeover of local institution and tourism landmark, Sydney Fish Market. To be commenced in 2019, the Blackwattle Bay redevelopment will elevate the Market to an exciting new level, creating a bustling community food and tourism precinct that faithfully preserves the authenticity of a working wholesale market.

At the helm of this breakthrough development is General Manager and Syndicate 64 member of The CEO Institute, Bryan Skepper, who has laboured long and hard to navigate the project safely to harbour.

Bryan’s association with the Market began when he was working with the NSW Auditor-General’s Office. The vibrant energy of the place, with its colourful boats, larger than life characters and gritty little family businesses made it one of his favourite audits, and when they offered him the position of Chief Accountant in 1973, Bryan was quick to come on board.

In 1994, when Bryan was Company Secretary, the government commenced a process of privatisation and deregulation, establishing Sydney Fish Market Pty. Ltd., an independent company whose shareholders represent licensed fishermen and tenants in equal proportion.

The business itself is built around three central activities.

A wholesale auction is conducted 5 days a week, trading over 14,000 tonnes of seafood  a year with about one hundred different species traded every day and approximately 500 traded annually.

Second is the actual operation of the site, which has grown to include some 40 wholesalers and retailers selling not just fish but a range of other fine foods. These two activities represent about 50% of Market revenue each.

The third arm, and perhaps the jewel in the crown, is Sydney Seafood School, established in 1989 to inspire and educate the fish-eating public on everything seafood. Visitors learn to prepare and cook different species in the School’s kitchen before enjoying the results in the dining room over a glass of wine.

“It’s like going to a restaurant but cooking yourself,”  explains Bryan. “We get about 12,000 people a year through the School, experiencing the absolutely amazing range of products we have here.”

As the Market has changed and grown over Bryan’s 45-year involvement, his vision for the business has also been steadily expanding. Working with marketing group Tricky Jigsaw, dozens of interviews were conducted across the Market’s diverse range of stakeholders including customers, non-customers, fishermen, merchants, wholesalers, retailers and tourists.

The results have provided new insights into the Market’s place in the community and a new expression of its purpose - to unite people and the sea. The spectacular design of the new complex which hovers proudly over the water flows directly from that idea.

The project also helped crystalise the dual nature of the operation.

Sea to Market identifies the business to business side including fishermen, wholesalers, retailers and transport and logistics operators.

Market to Plate relates to customers in six defined segments including the large and growing tourist market.

Of the three million annual visitors to the Market, some fifty percent are tourists. Over 900,000 of these come from overseas, with China the largest single source of visitors ahead of other Asian countries.

Engaging with such a diverse range of stakeholders is a major challenge. For the last few years, Bryan’s primary focus has been on enlisting everyone from politicians to fishermen in the grand vision that is the new improved Sydney Fish Market. At the same time enabling his own staff, now 65 strong, to take on increased responsibility for the Market’s day-to-day management.

“It’s important to empower the people around you, help them grow, let them make a few mistakes,” says Bryan. “Too often we try and direct rather than enable creativity to bubble up from underneath.”

Six or seven years ago, Bryan’s predecessor, Grahame Turk, himself a member of The CEO Institute, encouraged Bryan to join. He did so, under the initial Chairmanship of Sandy Hollway.

"Sandy was an amazing mentor for me,” says Bryan. “Very insightful, with an ability to make the complex sound simple.”

Since then Bryan has become a huge advocate of The CEO Institute.

“So much so that I’ve put my Corporate Services Manager Stephen Groom through the Future CEO program, and Sydney Seafood School Manager Roberta Muir has joined a Syndicate group and is getting a lot from it.”

Bryan is also is a great fan of site visits.

“Even when you host visits, you always learn from other people’s observations and the questions they ask.”

And if he can’t make a meeting, Bryan likes to deputise one of his senior staff to give them a brief exposure to the opportunities The CEO Institute provides.

At the time of writing, Bryan was waiting on the outcome of the NSW Tourism Awards, with the Market being a finalist in the category of Excellence in Food Tourism. It’s another demonstration of the Market’s special place in Sydney’s cultural and economic landscape.

The current business generates about $303 million of wider economic and social benefit to the state annually, over and above the value of trade on the site. Deloitte Access Economics estimates that the new development with its spectacular design and improved facilities will add another $52m of tourist income to the state economy, with an additional $54m in broader economic benefit.

Meanwhile, a skipper by the name of Skepper is having a whale of a time.

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