No fear of hard work here
BORN in what was recognised for decades as the most violent suburb in Australia, the odds were hugely against Clay Clayton ending up anywhere except behind bars.
Instead, publican Clay is now among the Fraser Coast’s most proactive business entrepreneurs.
And he’s only 38.
“I was born and grew up in the inner Sydney suburb of Redfern. There were four kids. At 15 I was expelled from school for being a bit of a gang leader. You could say I did cause a fair bit of trouble in those days.
“The police had Redfern as a no-go area. A woman officer was stripped naked there and her gun taken off her. It was pretty rough.
“At dusk each night you’d see the shutters go down on the houses. My sister died from a heroin overdose when she was 29.
“It was my father who probably saved me. He had a huge work ethic and when I was expelled he told me it was going to be either a new school or a trade – but no more gangs. He meant it and I started an electrical trade with Ansett Airlines.”
Clay is now managing director of Clayton Enterprises, which he spearheads from Maryborough with a lot of help from his business partner and wife, Katie.
“We met when we were both working for Sheraton Hotels. Katie was a restaurant supervisor and I had graduated from waiting to become director of food and beverage.”
Before the golden years with Katie began, Clay tried to kill himself with work rather than gang warfare – although he confesses he’s still a workaholic, doing 65 hours a week across their three hotels, the Criterion, Post Office and Bayswater.
“I moved into IT as a computer technician where I made good money because there were not many IT people back then, and I was happy to work excessive hours.
“I also worked in Sydney pool halls and late nights on a hot dog stand in the middle of the city from age 14, where I could make up to $200 a night.”
At 18, he was running a city food supply business and within two years had a partnership in a fruit barrow in George Street, a fruit shop in Redfern and an underground bar in the CBD.
But a split with his de facto when they had to sell all the businesses turned into pretty much start all over again.
Clay had been a supporter of NRL team South Sydney all his life. So when he won a management role in Australia’s largest club at that time, which happened to be South Sydney Juniors, the Rabbitohs fan was chuffed.
He also moved quickly into doing night shifts so he could study by day. He completed his HSC and then an Advance Diploma in Business Management plus other courses and he did this 8am to 4pm five days a week and almost straight into his night shifts.
“I wanted to expand my career into five-star hotels and along the way didn’t get much sleep, which is still going on, but the coffee was very good and it still is.”
In 2001, Clay was beginning to wonder about his working pace. He and Katie moved to Qld for a lifestyle change, where he took a six-month contract with Couran Cove Resort and then bought a 300-seat seafood restaurant and bar on the Gold Coast.
Of course it succeeded but once again Clay was about top step on one too many black cats.
“We had gone into a 50-50 partnership to start expanding into hotels. We were looking at hotels further north, where we then found the Criterion in Maryborough. It was a majestic building overlooking the river in a fantastic location.
“After six months we decided to sell our Gold Coast businesses and concentrate on Maryborough.”
The Post Office was their next purchase but within two years their partner decided to go into bottling water and they wanted to stick to their knitting in the pub business.
This dispute went in and out of the courts for around 12 months and eventually the Supreme Court appointed a receiver to sell everything and dissolve the company.
“This process was excruciating as Katie and I had put so much work into building up the hotels and they had become such an important part of our lives. The receivership lasted over nine months. We lost hundreds of thousands of dollars to receivers’ costs, court and lawyer’s costs.
“We were overwhelmed with support from the Maryborough community during this time. We were determined to buy our hotels back, so we were forced to sell most of our assets and in September 2008 we were successful in buying 100 per cent of our hotels back.
“We have always liked the Bayswater since its opening and we were frustrated with its lack of progress.” Two years later they managed to buy it.
“We need more growth in Maryborough, which I can see really happening within three to five years and this will result in an increase in population. Hospitality here is struggling. In the Bay it’s doing quite well. But Maryborough people go there. We need those services here.”
In the coming 12 months the couple will finish the $500,000-plus refurbishment of the Criterion and start on the Post Office Hotel.
“The Bayswater has already achieved a lot over the past four months; however we still have a long way to go.”
Clay mentions the three key components to their success have been loyalty, dedication and hard work.
“We are proactive members of the community. We support sporting teams, charities and many other local projects. In the last financial year we put $65,000 back into the community.
“We love the Fraser Coast and this is where we want to raise our family. This is home.”
The many faces Clay Clayton is –
- Director on the Fraser Coast South Burnett Tourism Board – three years
- Member of the organising committee of the World’s Greatest Pub Fest (since its establishment)
- Member of the Maryborough Safety Network Committee (since its establishment)
- Committee member of the Urban Renewal Group
- Member of both the Hervey Bay and Maryborough Chambers of Commerce and recently elected on to the executive committee of the Maryborough Chamber
- Founding member of the Maryborough Liquor Accord