From Family Business to Hospitality Empire: Anna Cesarano’s Journey

Top 10 Inspiring Businesswomen to Follow in 2024

Imagine defying your own limitations, turning dreams into milestones, and rewriting the definition of “possible” for yourself and your team. That’s the essence of success for Anna Cesarano, the formidable CEO of Doltone House. For her, it’s not just meeting challenges; it’s about exceeding them, leaving a lasting impression, and positively impacting her world. It’s also about etching a legacy, not just for the company, but for herself as a brand.

This pursuit of excellence and innovation fuels her personal and professional evolution, propelling her toward the ranks of the “Top 10 Inspiring Businesswomen to Follow in 2024.” Quick thinker, sharp as a tack, and able to explain anything? That’s Anna! For this seasoned businesswoman, one word captures her essence: ‘PASSIONATE.’ We wholeheartedly agree. We delve deep into Anna’s legacy in this exclusive interview. Her vast experience – a goldmine for budding businesswomen – is carefully analyzed. Her insightful worldview transforms into essential advice for everyone charting their unique course to leadership success.

Doltone House: Where Family, Hospitality, and Philanthropy Converge

For over 50 years, Doltone House has been a cornerstone of Australian hospitality, offering award-winning catering across nine venues and over fifty event spaces including Sydney Harbour locations. But for CEO Anna Cesarano, the story goes beyond success and accolades. It’s about family, legacy, and giving back to the community that has embraced them.

As a second-generation family business, Doltone House embodies the spirit of Australian entrepreneurship. Anna, alongside her siblings Paul Signorelli OAM and Nina Milazzo, carry the torch ignited by their father, Biaggio Signorelli. Arriving in Australia from Italy in 1954, Biaggio built a hospitality empire from humble beginnings, a testament to this nation’s opportunities.

However, Biaggio’s story wasn’t without tragedy. Diagnosed with mesothelioma, he passed away in 2008, leaving a final wish: “They couldn’t help me, but you must do something to help save others.” It ignited a fire within Anna and her family, leading to the establishment of the Biaggio Signorelli Foundation.

Dedicated to finding early detection, treatment, and ultimately a cure for mesothelioma, the foundation has become a beacon of hope in the fight against this deadly cancer. Their annual black-tie gala ball, held in November 2023, attracted nearly 2,000 guests and raised a staggering $1.9 million, showcasing the power of community and compassion.

The foundation’s impact extends beyond fundraising. They have donated over $1.5 million to the Asbestos Dust Diseases Research Institute (ADDRI) and played a crucial role in developing The National Clinical Guidelines for Diagnosis and Treatment of Mesothelioma. Today, they partner with the Commonwealth Mesothelioma Network to train health professionals globally to eliminate asbestos-related diseases.

In 2023, ADDRI recognized the Signorelli family’s unwavering support by naming a laboratory after Biaggio Signorelli. This serves as a powerful testament to their dedication to his memory and their commitment to making a positive difference in the world.

“This will remain one of the highlights of my personal and professional journey and will continue to inspire me in the moments where, at times, being at the top of the organizational structure can be challenging, “Anna shares.

The life-size bronze sculpture titled “Life From a Suitcase,” created by Terrance Plowright, stands tall as a tribute to Anna’s family story. Unveiled in 2010 by Governor Dame Marie Bashir, it was a gift from Anna’s family to celebrate the spirit of immigration in Australia. The sculpture, located outside Doltone House on Darling Island in Pyrmont, depicts her late father, Biaggio, her mother Phillipa, and their seven grandchildren.

Anna remains deeply grateful for her father’s utmost dedication and acutely aware of his sacrifices as a new migrant in Australia. Today, she and her siblings continue to uphold the family values instilled in them, carrying forward their father’s legacy and honouring his memory through their family business.

This seasoned executive notes: “We were extremely honoured to have been inaugurally inducted into the Family Business Australia Hall of Fame in 2012.” 

Recipe for Hospitality Success At Doltone House

Michael Jordan said, “Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, and others make it happen.” The Doltone House’s CEO embodies this ethos in her commanding responsibilities at the company. She underscores real-time client satisfaction in their fast-paced business, making exceptional interpersonal skills paramount. Understanding customer needs, radiating positive energy, and motivating employees – it’s all about a personal touch. She feels that striking the right balance between empathy and drive is crucial. Leaders who communicate effectively, collaborate seamlessly and make tough decisions precisely excel in this industry. Confidence, creativity, and unwavering determination are the final highpoints in Anna’s role as an inspiring leader.

Anna’s leadership story started young. Even as a 5-year-old, she craved “grown-up” conversations, a reflection of her deep-seated desire for social and intellectual connection. She remembers engaging anyone, from toddlers to octogenarians! Raised in a nurturing environment that fostered her eagerness to achieve, Anna witnessed her father’s kindness firsthand, recalling, “Watching my father be the first person to wave to a stranger is who I also am today.” She asserts, “I am pedantic, particular, and a perfectionist – so was my dad.”

But he balanced it with humor, never at others’ expense. He instilled in her the values of exceptional hospitality and the ability to inspire and mentor people.

Carrying her childhood curiosity, Anna set ambitious goals, excelling in both academics and the performing arts. She landed the lead role in the school musical while also holding the prestigious titles of School Captain and Dux.

Rock on! Anna’s got the music in her – literally! Even her style to lead is a melody, not a command. While surprising many with her impromptu singing, she believes in its power to energize and connect. The team love it! Anna feels music reflects the emotions at the heart of leadership.

As Keith Richards said, “Music is a language that doesn’t speak in particular words. It speaks in emotions, and if it’s in the bones, it’s in the bones.”  She resonates with Einstein’s sentiment, “If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.”

This passion fuels her indefatigable discipline and dedication, two core values she is 100% committed to. Holding the highest chair, for her, is not about being a “boss” but a mentor, guiding and inspiring her team.

Roadblocks and Resilience: Anna’s COVID-19 Lessons

Celebrating Doltone House’s 50th anniversary in 2019 was a pinnacle of success, but soon after, COVID-19 threw a curveball. Hospitality, their core business, was crippled, pushing 700+ employees and their families into uncertainty. This unprecedented crisis became a testing ground for Anna’s values – resilience, composure, wisdom, humility, courage, and trust.

While family businesses offer unique support, the emotional burden can be heavy. This sagacious businesswoman faced tough choices, needing to balance empathy for her people with the harsh realities of a struggling business. It was a “defeat” that demanded a solution-oriented mindset and pushed her to adapt and learn. As Henry Ford said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” At 50, Anna imbibed this principle, turning the unprecedented challenges into a valuable learning experience.

Leaving Footprints, Not Footnotes: Greatest Recognition as a Leader

Nurturing personal and professional growth within her team is a source of pride for this inspiring CEO. But she doesn’t measure leadership by awards or titles. Her greatest achievement? The applause that echoes long after the curtain falls. Witnessing the seeds of potential she planted, blossom into confident professionals, even years later, fuels her more than any award. Phone calls, messages, and heartfelt reconnections are her testament to a pioneering style that surpasses titles and paychecks. It’s a flagbearer legacy woven not in gold but in the lives she’s helped empower.

Anna has actively contributed to her community and industry alongside her management roles. From judging panels like the NSW Young Achiever of The Year Awards to serving as a National Meetings and Events Australia Awards judge and mentoring as a former board member and Next Generation Mentor for Family Business Australia, she has consistently shared her knowledge and expertise.

Challenges and Aspirations

While some hospitality roles see many women leaders, Anna acknowledges the challenges she faces as a female CEO. Thriving in this demanding industry requires solid commitment and pushing beyond one’s comfort zone. “There can be an understudy,” she says, “but you are the main act!” She believes leaders embody their roles every moment, setting an example through consistent effort and professionalism. First impressions always count; she highlights giving one’s best at every interaction, regardless of the level.

Doltone House: Diversifying for the Future

Doltone House, Australia’s hospitality crown jewel, isn’t resting on its laurels. While new venues are planned, its CEO’s vision expands beyond walls. Following the success of Midden, their indigenous-inspired restaurant at The Sydney Opera House, 2024 brings a 4,000 sqm food market in Sydney, a global culinary haven for tourists. A boutique hotel in the Hunter Valley and interstate/international catering expansion are also on the horizon. But the mission will remain the same: ‘delivering exceptional and memorable hospitality experiences to exceed guests’ expectations. “We identify the need to be innovative in our hospitality offerings to have that competitive edge,” Anna asserts. By diversifying offerings and pushing boundaries, Doltone House is poised to remain a leader and a hospitality innovator, captivating hearts and palates across the globe.

A Typical Workday at Doltone House

Anna’s days hum with an open-door policy. Accessibility is part of Doltone House’s DNA, setting them apart. As CEO, her fingers firmly pulse on the brand’s heartbeat. This deep investment drives her to nurture a team of “Brand Ambassadors.” Beyond sharing successes, they readily share “learnings” – Anna’s term for growth opportunities. Consultations for her seasoned advice flow freely, and her solutions are honed from experience. In this open dialogue, this adept professional leads from the top and alongside, ensuring everyone walks the walk that builds reputation and fuels Doltone House’s growth.

Work-Life Harmony & Anna’s Recipe for Motivation

The tenacity and resolve that drive Anna come from her humble beginnings, which are the underpinnings of every journey. But true success, she believes, lies in balance. Her 20-year partnership with her husband, Steven, is a constant source of support, reminding her that a strong personal foundation is crucial, especially for high-performing leadership roles. Anna states: “They say the best leaders are settled in their whole self.”

Motherhood to Genevieve (17) and Ignatius (16) offers another layer of balance and of course the family pet cavoodle named Blaise (2) . Caring for their well-being, she says, mirrors the decisions she makes for her company, fostering a sense of interconnectedness and personal fulfillment. This harmony between her roles as leader, wife, and mother motivates her to deliver her best in all aspects of life.

Reclaiming Simplicity: Personal Goals

In a world dominated by digital screens, Anna yearns to reconnect with the lost art of human interaction. She aims to combat the digital distraction that engulfs modern youth and revive the joy of face-to-face connection. One personal goal is to instill in her loved ones, particularly younger generations, the value of handwritten letters, fostering anticipation and emotional connection beyond instant messaging.

Apart from enriching personal connections, Anna finds solace and inspiration in music. She desires to integrate music more deeply into her life, not just as entertainment but as a tool to elevate experiences, celebrate moments, and infuse shared joy and reflection. While seemingly simple, these goals represent Anna’s conscious rebellion against the digital tide.

Aim High, Lead with Heart: Anna’s Message to Aspiring Businesswomen

Anna’s message to aspiring businesswomen emphasizes the limitless potential of setting high bars and backing oneself with self-worth. She encourages positive language and a solution-oriented mindset, distinguishing one businesswoman from another. Anna emphasizes the infectious nature of positivity, attracting others to follow these emerging trailblazers. Reflecting on Brian Tracy’s wisdom, “Become the type of leader that people would follow voluntarily, even if you had no title or position.” she underscores the essence of leadership, where people voluntarily follow, regardless of title or position.