Tess Wilcox

Tess Wilcox

CEO / World Resorts of Distinction

CEO

Tess has a major non-negotiable in her life, and that is… ‘travel’.  Having travelled the world for most of her life, this eco warrior has giant dreams to to rejuvenate the planet, and as a creative strategist, she is doing it with a flair of her own. 

Growing up in WA, in the glorious town of Margaret River, Tess had a childhood laced with adventure. Think surfing, 4-wheel driving, exploring creeks and waterfalls… awesome right? Her school was small but mighty. 

In her own words:

I’m really grateful I went to a small community High School, where teachers were really invested in us as people. Some of my teachers really shaped the way I learned, and I still think of some of their advice to me to this day.

Tess’s journey after school is where the magic of her story really begins. Tess is the CEO of World Resorts of Distinction, a role which enables her to combine her vast skill set across multiple disciplines, having a strong focus on marketing, digital, brand development, content creation/management and networking. Personally, I am utterly obsessed with this woman. She has eloquently created a life and career that is very much her own. A world of creativity, travel, love and passion.

If this #careerstory doesn’t make you want to live life more daringly, and challenge all your preconceived ideals of what a career “should” be, then nothing else will. 

Let’s dig in. 

Tess Wilcox, the woman herself!

Hi Tess, can you tell us where you grew up, and how your experience shaped the person you are, and the career that you are in today?

I started my life journey in a beautiful little town called Margaret River in the South West of WA. My parents really blessed me with the best childhood. We lived in a forest, which was a national park walk away from the beach via waterfalls, or a quick horse/4 wheeler ride. We spent our weekends surfing, horse riding, exploring the creeks and waterfalls with my brothers and playing sport.

It was an extremely small town back then, and we were raised with an affinity and respect for the land and community. As a family, we used to travel to the Mentawai Islands and sail through the remote islands before anyone really travelled there. That’s where my love for travel, adventure and exploring rogue untouched places started. I think growing up with that kind of connection to the environment, really shaped who I am as a person and where I wanted to take my career. If you had asked me whilst I was on the journey I would have had no idea, it’s funny how life has that kind of synchronicity. I actually studied Broadcast Journalism and PR, with a goal to be on Getaway. What I fell into and consequently created is a platform that allows me to travel the world and fuse my love of travel with environmental crusading.

Where did you go to High School and how was that experience for you?

I went to Margaret River Senior High School which only ever went up to Year 10. My mum was such a legend that she campaigned for the school to become a Senior School in time for my brother to finish Year 10, so we could all complete Years 11 and 12 at home. Otherwise it would have been an hour bus ride away for us. I liked High School, but I really had no idea who I was.

I was fairly self-conscious but was quite extroverted. I loved all the creative classes like drama, pottery, art and also loved PE. I used to LOVE things I was good at (totally embodied what is referred to as a ‘Fixed Mindset’ if you go ahead and read one of my book reco’s). Our school was both girls and boys, which I think was important for someone like me. I used to play in all the boys sports teams (Tomboys unite). I’m really grateful I went to a small community High School, where teachers were really invested in us as people. Some of my teachers really shaped the way I learned, and I still think of some of their advice to me to this day.

Your mum sounds like a total legend Tess! So, did your high school play an important role in helping you choose your further education and future career?

High School didn’t shape what I wanted to do with my life at all, but in strange ways it really set me up for the path that I would take.

If I had gone straight to university from High School, I would have studied Sport Science and my entire life would have taken a totally different direction. Instead, my parents always encouraged me to take time off and travel, work, get some life experience. Which I did. I think accidentally, High School prepared me for the career path I would take even though I didn’t know it at the time. Studying drama built my confidence, travelling to Japan on exchange absolutely ignited my interest in other cultures and the stories they tell.

Did you complete any internships or work experience placements in high school? Tell us about that experience.

I’d love to say yes, but no. Besides an internship in the school of life haha. We were too busy having fun on the weekends – out adventuring, surfing, exploring the forest and beaches. Reading! I always loved to read. I started working when I was 14 years old at my parents’ best friends’ farm, The Berry Farm.

I scooped ice-cream and worked in the café on the weekends and over holidays. I loved it. We got to go and pick strawberries after work, run through the Nashi fruit orchards and cruise around on the farm with our friends (the owners’ kids). We spent half our childhood there and it really helped me with customer service and being in nature again. As I said above, I did go on exchange to Japan for 3 weeks to a family that didn’t speak any English. Which was horrifying at the time, but also amazing. I really got thrown out of my comfort zone which was a good lesson for me at 15.

Did you go to College, University, Tafe or another equivalent? Take us through the courses that you studied and why you chose them?

After 2 gap years of travelling and working, I went to Edith Cowan University in Perth to major in Journalism and PR. I honestly had no idea what I wanted to do, but I knew I loved to write, to travel and thought being in front of the camera would be amazing. Turns out I did NOT feel that way when I was actually in front of a camera, so I quickly flagged the broadcast journalism for a PR/Marketing Major. I’ve always been a creative, so I knew I would fall into something that worked for me, but I legitimately had no clear plan for my career.

In my last year of University, just to really cement my fierce independence, I packed up my car and moved over to the Gold Coast, transferred my degree over to Griffith University and finished my last year there. I’ve been on the Gold Coast ever since (besides a few stints living abroad in Bali and Spain) and I graduated with a Bachelor of Communications.

Tell us about your career journey so far. Who you have worked for and explain any highlights.

My journey is quite unique actually. My first job out of Uni, was as a Sales Executive for the company I now own, and work in as the CEO – World Resorts of Distinction.

My new boss at the time took a massive chance on me being so young, and I worked my way up in the business over the years. I got to travel the world and experience luxury Resorts, then work on their Sales & Marketing to the Australian and New Zealand markets. After 5 years I left the company and moved to Bali to do PR & Marketing for a bikini brand (which was now 12 years ago!!!), only lasted 6 months then came back to my old job which I really had such a strong passion for.

I committed to another 5 years there and then left again to move to London / Barcelona. In the interim I had started a fairly fluid side project; a brand called Ames Collective which had changed direction a few times(!!!). It started as a shoe label, then added Moroccan homewares and imports. Then, finally rested on a bespoke hand shaped and designed skateboards (mostly for girls).

That went absolutely crazy so after resigning again, I moved to Europe and did that for the next 9 months. I think running that as a business was a real highlight, and also one of the hardest things I’ve ever done especially with my limited Spanish. I did some incredible collaborations with brands like Lorna Jane and First Base, but it mostly just allowed me the freedom to design my days, my life, and work out where I wanted to get to.

Incredible, so, how did you get into the job that you are in now?

Whilst I was in Spain, I was offered a partnership in World Resorts of Distinction, which I deliberated over for some time. Once I made the decision to take it (in hindsight I CANNOT believe there was ever a question in my mind) the next 2 years involved my business partner retiring, and me taking 100% ownership of the brand and business.

What a wild ride it has been, completely rebuilding and rebranding everything with a tribe of truly wonderful women around me. This job / business has been my passion since day one, but I took myself on quite a necessary journey before I committed my life to it. I’m obsessed with the brand now. It emulates everything that I stand for now that I have changed the direction and allows me a platform to market the true leaders in sustainable luxury amongst the travel industry. The highlight for me over the years has been working with the incredible clients that we have in our portfolio. From the #1 voted Resort in the World (www.nihi.com), to the #1 voted Resort in Fiji (www.tokoriki.com), to the World leader in sustainability (www.soneva.com) and the new sustainability players in the world that are creating absolute magic (www.bawahreserve.com). Every single client of ours has a story and owners that we adore. So, we’re incredibly blessed to represent their brands.

I guess you could say I worked my ass off for 15 years in this job to get to where I am today – owner, CEO, and peripatetic world traveler.

What is the hardest part of your current job as CEO?

If you judge by our social accounts, there are really no hard parts to travelling around the globe and representing the best resorts in the world. In reality the hardest part is the juggling act. I am not averse to hard work, in fact I’ve been a hard and dedicated worker my entire life, but the juggling act of managing between 13-15 different clients and 6 staff is challenging. It’s very exciting, but also challenging. I feel incredibly blessed to visit the places I do, but there is always the downside of missing special occasions back home. We avoid it if we can, but sometimes it’s inevitable.

Tess’s work space at work. Cool!

What does a day a typical business day look like for you at World Resorts of Distinction?

I wake up at 5am every day. It’s an important part of getting off to the right start, and sunrise on the beach is my favourite time of day (besides sunset). I make a concerted effort not to look at my emails until I am in my office at around 8am. A lot of CEO’s would disagree, but that’s a vital part of how I condition my morning and the rest of my day.

Wake, move, meditate, gratitude.

I travel to visit our clients annually, and a lot through Australia and New Zealand to meet with partners and on sales trips, so suffice to say it is RARE that my day will ever be the same. For the 6 scattered months that I am in the office, my day generally looks like this.

Meet with my incredible team in the morning for a coffee and creative brainstorming / catch up. We’ll go through each of our clients, discuss plans, goals for the week, marketing strategies, social channels, digital distribution, any new ideas that need to be implemented. Most days will involve a catch up on skype with clients which is usually mid-morning. We have 13 different Resort brands/clients, with 22 Resorts under those brands, so we have a lot of time zones and personalities to manage.

Checking emails, responding to the important ones, and sending off the day’s pro-active actionable emails to lock in marketing campaigns for clients or brand partnerships. Some days it will be lunch with a partner or agent, or just the team. Afternoons will generally be running through more client ideas and actionable steps, chatting to the luxury agents that we work with to ensure they are selling our Resorts, sitting with our PR & Brand Manager to chat EDM’s and brand strategy for the company.

Monitoring client social channels, scrolling Instagram for inspiration or to find any companies we may not yet be aligned with, then finishing off the day by making sure my top 3 things on the TO-DO list were ticked off. We all generally leave the office at 4.30-5pm as we all live on or close to the beach, so it’s nice to finish a full-on day with a wine on the sand to decompress.

EMAILS. Always emails!

Tess and her team.

Who has been your hero, or greatest inspiration growing up and why?

It would be remiss of me to say anyone but my parents first and foremost. I think in High School we all lack the right amount of appreciation for what our parents teach us, and how much they steer and nurture us. But beyond that, some of my hero’s and mentors are Sonu & Eva Shivdasani who are the founders of Soneva Resorts. I am lucky enough to get to work with them and am inspired on the daily by how innovative and pioneering they have been in the sustainable travel sector.

What advice would you give girls who are interested in your career?

Travel and network. Treat everyday people with just as much relevance and love as you do high flying people – if not more. The amount of connections I have made from travelling the world and striking up conversations with strangers is crazy. I think pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is such an important part of travel, and in turn it builds your confidence up in order to handle clients, presentations to hundreds of people, hosted dinners with people from all walks of life.

You never know what you’re going to get in this job, so being prepared for absolutely anything and being confident are the key assets. Also, start educating yourself on the distribution channels of the travel industry and the trends that are emerging. Read, read, read!

List your most valuable resources that you can turn to constantly for inspiration:

  • Favourite Websites: www.thegoodtrade.com, www.smackbangdesigns.com and obviously www.wrd.com.au
  • Name an Instagram Account that you can’t go a day without checking: I check our clients daily and also what Creative Direction we have on @worldresorts.co. Then my go-to’s are @thegoodtrade and @wild.ark. I’m also regularly on @riverhawkranch and @missarahglover because I am obsessed.
  • Favourite Podcast: I’m a podcast aficionado so Melissa Ambrosini, Marie Forleo, Oprah Super Soul Conversations, Green Dreamer (A MUST) and NPR How I Built This!
  • Favourite Netflix Series: Grace & Frankie, Parts Unknown – Anthony Bourdain, Designated Survivor, Tales By Light.
  • Favourite all time book/s: The Alchemist, Celestine Prophecy, Let My People Go Surfing (Yvon Chouinard), MINDSET (Carol Dweck)
  • Others: Family & Friends, a chilled Rosè and olives on a Marrakech rooftop as the sun sets, My beloved 1970 Series 2 Convertible Landrover, The nooks of Mallorca in summer, Black coffee out the front of my place on the beach at sunrise, cultural immersion, winter nights with red wine and an open fire.

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