GM Interview: Great Scott

W Dubai The Palm’s GM Anne Scott talks to Claudia de Brito about breaking barriers, performance and fostering talent irrespective of gender

Anne Scott
Anne Scott

An Edinburgh native, Anne Scott caught the hospitality bug at an early age. She says: “I was eight years old. Our family got taken out for lunch by another family and I was the youngest person at the table. I remember looking at the beautiful curtains and the good looking waiters with their nice jackets and ties. I remember saying ‘Oh yeah, I'm gonna do this. This is where I'm going to work.’ I remember that moment. My mom just remembered that I never wanted to do anything else.”

Scott realised her wish, getting her start in F&B in banqueting and restaurants. Stints in training and HR followed before moving back into operations as hotel manager. For the past 15 years Scott has held the position of general manager at several properties.

Talking about the challenges she’s faced as a female leader, Scott says: “If it was an issue, I don't remember coming up against it. The things that I see now are things that I experienced then. But it's funny, they're not endemic cultural issues. They are much more about people.

“I remember once I had to attend a big meeting in Brussels. I'd really spent time doing this killer deck and I was the only woman there. As they started to present, I realised that nobody else was presenting, everybody was just sitting and talking. And I remember thinking, that I shouldn’t do the presentation. But the colleague I was sitting next to could see that I had a presentation and he said 'No, you need to get up and do it.' And he grabbed my laptop and plugged it into the projector, which forced me to stand up and say, 'Well, I prepared a few slides. I'm now going to share this data with you.' And that day changed my career.

“My 20-minute slot became a 40-minute slot. And I had everybody's attention. I would not have done it if my male colleague in the male room had not said, 'Come on, do it.' And I see still today, female leaders. Not taking the limelight. Not prepared to stand out and stand up. Not prepared to show up and show stop. I still see female leaders lean back when they really should be saying, 'Okay, let me tell you what I've done. I want to show you what I've done.'  That was true 20 years ago, and I think it's still true today.”

Scott notes that, at times, the humility shown by female leaders can be a hindrance.  She explains: “It’s seen as a much more attractive quality and one that is fitting for the female gender. But of course, in a commercial organisational sense, if we don't speak up for ourselves and put ourselves forward, then how will we ever get the recognition for good work that's being done?”

Speaking about her management style she says: “I think I'm a general manager who says, ‘Okay, what can we do with this thing? What can we do differently with that?’ In October, we had a music festival on the beach. The residential building next door is not completed yet, so I have 400-metre-long stretch of beach that we’re not using. I think it's about saying, well, there's an opportunity so let's do it.

Above: King bedroom

“It becomes very contagious. Last week, the team confirmed a dinner for 750 people on that piece of beach that we don't use and they said yes, before I even got involved. I love that my team said yes. It’s amazing how much revenue and opportunity you can create in the market if you're prepared to say 'Why don't we try that?'"

Further explaining her approach to leadership she says: “I think I'm a successful GM because people like working in an environment where creativity is valued, where intuition and initiative is rewarded. I think that's very much in the style of this millennial working environment that we're in now. People don't want to be told anymore. So if we hire the right people with the right talent, and the right, creative energy, you can give them that environment. It can be great.”

Now Scott and her Marriott colleagues are trying to clear the path for future female leaders to join their ranks. Speaking about the initiative that was recently launched, she explains that the idea for the Female Leadership Initiative (FLI) was sparked on International Women's Day two years ago. Scott and Anne-Marie Hannan (vice president human resources, Middle East & Africa at Marriott International) had been at a Q&A session but they wanted to do more. Finally, when they both had enough time, they had a brainstorm and put a team together.

Scott says: “We have a Female Leadership Initiative that covers mentoring, networking and leadership skills, and then the coaching and communication skills that supports it. It all comes back to the notion that you have to be part of your own rescue. You can't be the person sitting in the boardroom thinking ‘I'm not going to present. I'm not going to put myself forward.’ You will never lead a group from the back of the room.”

When asked about the setting of quotas and KPIs for women in leadership positions, Scott says: “I know it's not a popular opinion but I don't ever want to be turned down for a job because I'm a woman and neither do I ever want a job because I'm a woman. I think we live in a world where competency and skills should always win out. It's maybe not the fastest way there, but at the end of the day, if that meant that you put somebody less qualified into a job, and they were less successful, does that help the overall cause? It's much better that we equip women with confidence and skills and ability and then move forward.”

Above: Wet Deck

Scott showed off her skills with a successful pre-opening and first year of operation. Speaking about performance she says: “I am so proud.

We opened on February 1 2019 we were 92% full on February 4. It was unbelievable. I mean February, March and April are a complete blur. We made a GOP in the first month, I don't think many hotels get to say that. And we made a GOP in our first year. And I don't think many hotels get to say that either. Now we continue to never rest on our laurels because there's always more. But I feel from a commercial and revenue profitability point of view, I'm super proud. I think this hotel knocked it out of the park.

“Obviously, we have some external factors affecting not only travel, but hospitality. I can see already the there's an impact on the room rate and bookings. We had a group that we'd confirmed in March that have now moved to November. So they're still coming but they've changed their plans while they're waiting to see what happens with world travel. Those are good decisions. I feel really blessed in this hotel because we have other places to go if rooms and groups don't come in. We have incredible food and beverage space and two incredible signature restaurants. Food and beverage in this hotel makes up 55% of our revenue.

 “So if rooms and groups aren't going to come in we have other places to go. To be honest, one of the things that I learned within a month of being here is that this beach and the incredible Wet Deck venue are as profitable and as commercially viable as any other piece of rooms real estate. Some of our action plans will be ‘Right okay, let's tighten the belt’ but some of them are still about ‘Okay, we have to go and fish in other ponds. We need to go make business in other places.’ So we changed our action plans. It’s less about high-rated room business and more about how we create guest experiences on food and beverage."

Above: Torno Subito

For Scott, it all comes back to the experience. She says: “Even in a declining market or a market that has some tentative revenue opportunities, you still have to give the greatest guest experience. And it's not just on price. If your only competitive edge is the cheapest package, or you get a three-hour drinks package, then I think you missed the point about being in the hotel business. It has to be about creating incredible guest experiences.

“I always say, if you spend time with customers, they will very quickly tell you what they want. Let the customers tell you what they want and, as long as you're there to notice it and see it, that's the opportunity.”

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