Breaking new ground: Emaar's first female Emirati GM

Emaar Hospitality Group’s first female general manager, Sharihan Al Mashary is determined to lead the change for both women and the new generation of Emiratis.

Mashary is also working alongside Emaar Hospitality Group CEO Olivier Harnisch and others within the leadership to design Women in Leadership programme where the team is actively inspecting the different aspects of women working in the hospitality.
Mashary is also working alongside Emaar Hospitality Group CEO Olivier Harnisch and others within the leadership to design Women in Leadership programme where the team is actively inspecting the different aspects of women working in the hospitality.

Emaar Hospitality Group broke new ground a couple of months ago when it appointed the first female Emirati general manager to lead its four-star Arabesque property, Manzil Downtown in Dubai, a boutique hotel under the Vida Hotels & Resorts brand.

Sharihan Al Mashary will be taking the helm of the 197-key property from her predecessor Ahmed Elnawawy who was in the role for only a span of six months. Mashary was previously serving in an operational role at Manzil and knew that she was being primed to take on the general manager role.

However, the decision to appoint her as general manager came sooner than expected. Her first reaction or thought, she tells Hotelier was, “about time!” Mashary laughingly admits.

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With under two months as a general manager under her belt, Mashary is full of ideas for her new role but is especially interested in highlighting Emiratisation, youth development and shifting the focus to sustainability. But one thing is quite apparent, Mashary is completely aware of the responsibility she holds through her newly-appointed position not just for herself but for all Emiratis as well as women everywhere. Merit, Mashary says, has been the basis for success.

“To be the first female Emirati general manager, it is exciting and as a matter of fact, it’s a big job. My country has a lot of talent and I think it is about time we explore different industries and lead in those industries, too,” Mashary explains.

“It is extremely interesting to see not that many hoteliers being Emirati and especially being a female, too. Studying in this field, I knew there were few Emiratis – both male and female. And I think I was about the only one who went fully into operations and went into all the roles that I went into,” she adds.

But her path up the hotelier ladder has been anything but conventional. A daughter of an Emirati father who was in the construction business and a Persian mother, Mashary grew up around diverse cultural influences and construction sites littered with bricks, wires, and cables. Used to functioning in a male-dominated workplace, Mashary didn’t want to hold back professionally and wanted to aim for the skies, literally.

“I wanted to join the Air Force that’s all I knew and that’s all I wanted to be. So I went to get an engineering degree in aeronautical mechanics and aviation management,” Mashary reveals.

When the college she was attending in Dubai closed down after a year, Abu Dhabi Men’s college opened up their doors for her and she became the first female to attend the all-men’s college.

While hospitality was nowhere near the horizon, her sister’s decision to study hospitality enticed her to switch her career path.

“My sister started studying hospitality management and I used hear the interesting side of my sister’s life and so I started to wonder if it’s too late to start in the career path that my sister has started in. I had two days to apply and start the courses at Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management (EAHM) and that’s how my hospitality journey began — this was back in 2007,” Mashary relays.

10 years on, quite a lot has changed professionally for Mashary who opted to start on the culinary side in the kitchens when she enrolled at EAHM.

“In terms of the personality required and the strength of character, I found some similarity with my previous degree and this led me to the culinary side in the kitchen. It is intense, it is tough and it’s a male dominating environment. But you learn so much about who you are, what you can stand and who you will become,” Mashary asserts. She credits her culinary success to Michael Kitts, EAHM’s culinary director and her “lifelong mentor” for recognising her talent and pushing to test the boundaries.

“I thought I wanted to be a world-class chef – one of the only Emirati chefs not only on the national level but on the international level. So I started competing and won – that came as a surprise. That definitely built up my confidence.”

Using her background in kitchens, Mashary moved on food & beverage   before making the shift to the operational route within hotels. She earned her first stripe as a hotelier by being part of the opening team for Palazzo Versace Hotel in Dubai before joining Emaar Hospitality Group for the opening of Address Boulevard in Downtown Dubai. The transition, Mashary, was smooth but took a few years.

“Coming out of being a chef to then being a restaurateur, then moving into operations management role – looking after the banqueting and events, and then management was a learning experience. Additionally, I also supported a lot of marketing as well – I was asked to do task-force management within different departments,” she explains.

“As you grow in the management role, it moves more into the operations, then the overall operations of the hotel which led me into the two openings that I’ve done. They are two very different hotels. They are both luxury, both five-star, one is a resort and the other is a lifestyle city resort,” she recounts.

Now, as the general manager of Manzil Downtown Dubai, Mashary, who will be in charge of 155 staff members, is gearing up to introduce changes and initiatives starting with an Emiratisation Graduate Programme. The hotel will welcome 40 Emirati students who will receive year-long training to be the “next generation of leaders within the hospitality industry”.

“We are expecting them to join in November 2018. It’s a one-year accelerated management programme. So they will start with a shock of a journey but it will be filled with intensive values, work ethic and lots of learning. It will be intense, but the ones we have chosen from the thousands that applied are up to mark for it,” she reveals.

Besides Emiratis, Mashary is also working alongside Emaar Hospitality Group CEO Olivier Harnisch and others within the leadership to design ‘Women in Leadership’ programme where the team is actively inspecting the different aspects of women working in the hospitality.

“Women who have been in the industry but left to take on motherhood and later want to come back – how do we make that happen? It’s easy for them to transition, so why not give them the opportunity to come back and re-enter the industry?” Mashary questions.

“As for women in hospitality in top level jobs, we as an industry are slow, maybe even behind. So we need to look at the big picture and why and that there could be part of the solution.”

In terms of short-term vision for the hotel, Mashary says it’s inevitably about the bottom line. “The vision for Manzil is what every hotel wants, is the capital P – profit. The second capital P is people. That third P that we need to capitalise on is the planet,” she tells Hotelier Middle East.

Mashary plans to put her background in food & beverage to use and make some changes to the dining outlets to reflect the Emirati culture and the hotel’s tagline: ‘When Home is Arabic’.

“I’m planning to introduce some changes to the F&B outlets while also encouraging more Emirati concepts. This hasn’t been seen often in other hotels whether it’s through food or ambiance.

It has [Manzil Downtown] always been an Arabesque hotel but not an Emirati hotel. Menus often have Levant dishes but not Emirati. So by starting to introduce a few Emirati touches, we will make the place special and homier. Manzil, after all, means home,” she points out.

For Mashary, sustainability is priority, too. She has been focusing on building the skills of youth for the industry and has diligently supported the community and government initiatives to achieving the UN Sustainability Development Goals by 2030.

“I think starting [sustainability] in hospitality, bringing in the right practices and the right balance moving forward is a good idea as it is one of the fastest growing industries. It is the key to tackle the change and encourage these possibilities here because you can be part of the solution here and worldwide,” she points out.

When asked what is in store in the near and long-term future, Mashary is quick to add that rigid plans are always unreliable.

“In my short time in the school of life, I’ve learnt that nothing ever goes according to plan. So I don’t plan anymore. But working towards a goal and a path is crucial. Today, it’s Manzil Downtown, the next step is heading a five-star resort but what comes after that? I haven’t planned that yet.” Mashary concludes.

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