Western Sydney's newest attraction coming soon!

Meet the executive team at Sydney Zoo


Jake Burgess – Managing Director

Jake Burgess – Managing Director

Jake is a former partner and shareholder of Quay Partners, a Private Equity investment firm (now called Stafford Capital Partners). In this role he was jointly responsible for all aspects of marketing, administration, investment and governance of the Quay Partners business and its funds. He has raised and invested over $900m in institutional capital. He was at Quay Partners from 2004 until 2012. In 2005 he was made one of the youngest private equity partners in Australia.

Jake has extensive capital raising, strategic, transactional and governance experience gained during his time in the private equity industry. He has sat on several advisory boards of leading private equity firms and was elected to the Board of the peak industry body – the Australian Private Equity and Venture Capital Association (AVCAL).

Jake has a Bachelor of Science (Hons) (1998) from the University of Sydney, where he specialised in groundwater studies, hydrogeology and marine sciences. He has an MBA from the Australian Graduate School of Management (2002), where he received a scholarship.

Jake is the concept designer of the Sydney Zoo project. It has been his passion over the past 5 years to develop and operate a world class zoo to accommodate the demands of Western Sydney. Jake is passionate about animal conservation and the environment. The zoo will deliver unforgettable experiences between people and animals, using technology to enhance interactive learning and engagement.


Craig Sowden – General Manager Life Sciences

Craig Sowden – General Manager Life Sciences

Craig was previously Director of Operations at South East Asia Aquarium, in Singapore for over four years – one of the world’s newest and largest animal facilities, where he was responsible for approximately 130 curatorial staff. His role covered all aspects of management, including animal husbandry through to sales and marketing. He brings with him a strong conservation, education and display ethic that has always been a strong feature in the facilities where he has worked.

From 1987, Craig was employed to play a key role in building and stocking the Sydney Aquarium and preparing it for opening. His skills with the handling and husbandry of animals and his understanding of the needs of aquatic animals were paramount to the success of the Sydney Aquarium. He was employed at the Sydney Aquarium for twenty-two years, which saw him ultimately assuming the role of General Manager of Life Sciences.

Some of his significant achievements during that period include a key role in designing and building the second stage of the Sydney Aquarium which included a seal oceanarium, Great Barrier Reef oceanarium, platypus and penguin displays, as well as many other associated animal habitats. He was also instrumental in the creation and development of the Sydney Aquarium Conservation Fund which is an independent organisation devoted to funding research and conservation initiatives.

The next phase in Craig’s career was the expansion of the Sydney Aquarium Company which saw the company buying out Manly Oceanworld in the mid-90s and with Craig involved in managing and starting the development of Sydney Wildlife World – a new major terrestrial fauna park that was situated in the Sydney CBD between 2003 and 2008. He designed all display and husbandry aspects of this fauna park, from the exhibits to all the back-of-house facilities. Craig was awarded a Master’s Degree in Aquaculture from Deakin University in 2007.

Through decades of experience, Craig has built strong industry connections both locally and internationally. He was the President of the New South Wales Fauna and Marine Parks Association in 2008. He also acted as the industry representative on the scientific shark summit as well as the Exhibited Animals Protection Act Committee for the NSW Department of Agriculture in 2006 and 2008 respectively. Between 2003 and 2008, he worked closely with the Australian Wildlife Conservancy while designing and stocking Sydney Wildlife World.

Some of the other organisations that Craig has worked with to coordinate research and conservation programs, include Conservation International, WWF, Traffic, Manta Trust, Shark Savers and the Australia Conservation Foundation. He also regularly attends local and international conferences such as the Zoo and Aquarium Association, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the World Zoo and Aquarium Association annual conferences to maintain networks and to acquire the industry’s leading-edge knowledge.


Lisa Christie – Head of Culture & Visitor Experience

Lisa Christie – Head of Culture & Visitor Experience

Having first entered the Zoo industry in early 2000, Lisa brings years of experience in marketing, sales and administration. Commencing as Featherdale Wildlife Park’s first onsite Marketing Manager, her passion for wildlife and tourism has proven an asset for the Zoo industry.

In 2003, Lisa transferred to the role of Park Administration Manager where her practical skills in communication and administration assisted in the development of the Zoological side of the Business. In conjunction with the Curatorial Staff she coordinated and implemented a range of workplace health and safety procedures and policies and zoo specific reporting measures. Within this role, Lisa gained extensive experience in human resources, staff management and development.

Lisa became involved in the NSW Fauna & Marine Park’s Association (NSW FMPA) and was voted onto the Executive Committee in 2004 as Secretary of the Association, a position she held for 9 years. In 2014, Lisa was awarded Life Membership in recognition of her services to the NSWFMPA and is the current Association President (2015-present). Lisa also gained her Certificate IV in Captive Animal Management.

Lisa is currently working on the Sydney Zoo project team and is assisting with development and design of the Zoo’s exhibits and support buildings. Lisa is responsible for coordinating submission of the statutory compliance documentation under the prescribed standards for this project. Drafting and designing WHS policies and procedures for the management and welfare of all species and safe and practical operation of the business, also falls under her expertise.

Lisa’s experience and roles within the industry and as President of the NSW FMPA have provided her with extensive knowledge in the legislative requirements of the industry. This knowledge, leading her to work with both the Department of Primary Industries and the Office of Environment and Heritage on licensing requirements and consultation on the development of industry standards.

Lisa has a sound understanding on the matters of welfare, conservation and compliance impacting the Exhibited Animals Industry and is aware of community attitudes and trends. Lisa was involved in reviewing and commenting on several NSW Exhibited Animals standards under the EAPA Regulation and has contributed to the Biosecurity Strategy and early drafts of the Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines. Lisa is also a current member of the Exhibited Animals Advisory Committee (EAAC).


Suzanne Williams – Head of Finance

Suzanne Williams – Head of Finance

Suzanne previously held the role of Executive Director – Finance, Fox Studios Australia Pty Ltd and its subsidiaries. This role involved finance transformations, compliance and governance initiatives, systems implementations, benchmark reporting and group tax. Prior to this appointment, other Head of Finance positions were held at Acer Arena, Riverside Oaks Golf Resort and Pathways Aged Care. Post University, Suzanne commenced with KPMG and completed her professional year in 1989.

Suzanne holds an Economics Degree from Macquarie University and a Master of Business Administration degree from Charles Sturt University. Suzanne is a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants and commenced her employment in KPMG audit. She is also a Fellow of Governance Institute of Australia, Fellow of Finance and Securities Institute of Australia, and a Certified Venue Executive from the International Association of Venue Managers. She also maintains Certified Practicing Accountants (CPA) status and is a Graduate from the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

At this point, Suzanne has experience in construction projects during her career to date which include: construction management of 35 residential golf course homes on sale and lease back, ($21M), construction management of 105 bed Aged Care facility in Northbridge ($25M), Lodge Accommodation ($6M), Golf Course Improvements, IT Infrastructure projects ($7.5M).

Suzanne is focused on governance, transparency and accountability. In previous roles the implementation of ISO9001 (2008), and Sarbanes Oxley protocols have been conducted. The corporate governance expertise is a key attribute required in the Sydney Zoo start up role. Strong transparent reporting from board to business unit level is a key focus.

Suzanne has managed and implemented many projects over her 30-year professional career. These include payroll, rostering systems for 1200+ staff, financial accounting systems, rental hire systems, point of sale, inventory control systems and construction management systems.

Chris Rivett – Head of Marketing

Chris Rivett – Head of Marketing

Chris is an accomplished and award-winning cross-channel marketer with over 20 years’ experience in both B2B and B2C. Throughout his career Chris has specialised in the leisure and tourism sector and has held Executive positions in both the public and private sector.

Chris previously held the position of Head of Marketing for HotelsCombined where he managed an operational budget exceeding $22m and annual revenue exceeding $200m. He was appointed to this role to re-establish the brand and reverse three years declining revenue. Chris led the development of the marketing strategy and established the team to execute the plan. During the 2017 calendar year, Chris delivered 48% growth in brand awareness for HotelsCombined which resulted in 30% growth in bookings and 32% in revenue.

Whilst in the role of Executive Manager – Digital at Destination NSW, Chris led the successful development of the digital roadmap for Vivid Sydney, the world’s largest festival of light, music and ideas which lured visitors from near and far, driving the NSW State’s economy and cementing Sydney as the creative services hub of the Asia-Pacific region.

Chris is well respected within the industry and known for his tenacious approach to ensuring results and targets are met. A thought leader with a detailed knowledge of how the media and communications can deliver outcomes for businesses. His key area of expertise is delivering a customer-centric approach using data analysis to achieve objectives for businesses.

Chris’s core competencies include Marketing Strategy, Media Planning, Digital Media, Contract Negotiation, Fiscal Management, Agency Selection and Appointments, Multi-touch Attribution, Partnership and Relationship Management.


Paula Coleman – Head of Retail

Paula Coleman – Head of Retail

Paula brings to the Sydney Zoo Management Team a tool kit of 20 plus years in Tourism and Leisure Retail Management, Branded Product Development, and Project Management at a State Government Contract level. Paula has worked with high profile tourism retail sites as varied as Sydney Tower, Sydney Aquarium and Sydney Wildlife World, delivering branded ranges to reflect the visitor experience.

Many of the retail projects Paula has undertaken have revolved around the logistics of repositioning and rebuilding retail business or adding to an existing retail portfolio by building new original concepted retail sites. With resulting experience across themed retail photography sites at Sydney Aquarium, high volume exit retail outlets, and boutique outlets such as a tourism focused jewellery outlet.

Paula has worked many years with businesses as diverse as Wilderness Shops, Sydney Aquarium, Sydney Attractions Group and Village Roadshow. With a 5-year stint in the renewables industry, at State level management, overcoming the logistics and bottleneck issues that crippled many other firms. Paula is delighted to join the Sydney Zoo Team to contribute to the build of a major addition of Social and Commercial Capital in the Western Sydney Basin.


Paul Baines – Head of Food & Beverage

Paul Baines – Head of Food & Beverage

Paul has extensive experience running food and beverage both internationally and domestically. Paul previously was head of public catering at the International Convention Centre (ICC) Sydney where he established the Retail Food and Beverage facilities. Paul was responsible for all aspects of public catering from client relations, planning, ordering, delivery and financial. Paul left the ICC with a 96% client feedback score.

Paul has extensive previous experience as Head of Public Catering including Oval Cricket Ground London where he was responsible for delivering the catering for 23,500 spectators with an annual revenue budget of $21m. Paul also held the position of Head of Catering at Excel Exhibition Centre London with 90,000 square metres of floor space and up to 5 exhibitions running concurrently.

Paul is experienced in the catering needs of Zoo facilities, after spending two years as the Public Catering Manager at Taronga Zoo. This role included the operations of Restaurants, Cafes, Mobile outlets, Twilight Concert Series and NYE celebrations.

Paul brings a real passion for people, food and beverage to Sydney Zoo and the skills to develop world class catering facilities.