Aly Shariff, CEO, CityMax on his role with the hospitality firm, and what makes a good leader
Tell us a bit about yourself and what brought you to Citymax?
I was born and brought up in the UK, in a relatively small family, my mum and dad and a younger brother. I went to school and university there, studying hotel management and completed a Master’s Degree in Human Resource Management. Having a large extended family in North America and East Africa, I was always interested in travel and exploring the world. In terms of what brought me to Citymax, I had a long and successful career with Whitbread, UK’s leading hospitality company for over 17 years with over a decade of being in international markets including India, Southeast Asia and the Middle East.
The Citymax opportunity was a perfect storm, they were looking for somebody to head up the business into its second phase focusing on rebranding, doubling the room inventory by opening several new properties, as well as early steps into asset light management contracts. The business had been running for just under a decade and there was a lot of potential for growth. I felt like all the things I’d been doing for the past 12 years could be useful and was a good match with what I had in my tool kit.
What is it about your role that makes you get out of bed each day?
Hospitality is a “people business” and at Citymax we have the most amazing team. We describe our brand as ‘vibrant simplicity’, that’s our personality. It’s a personality that I’m really proud of and you will see it in 99 percent of our team members. We are bold, passionate, ‘out there’ and engaging. I have to come to the office and deal with the corporate machinery of running a business and governance, but the heart of the business is with our team members and for me, engaging with our team, asking them ‘how they think we’re doing’, ‘how they think we can improve the business’ and ‘how we can make it better for our guests’ as well as watching them engage with guests. Getting the opportunity to engage with guests personally gets me out of bed and I love it.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
I think everybody wants to be part of something that’s hugely successful and success drives a feeling of happiness, engagement and the ability to conquer anything. It’s no secret that in the Middle East region, particularly in Dubai, we’re going through a really challenging time. The supply of rooms is outstripping the demand for rooms. We are seeing a shrinkage in average room rates and also there’s fairly disappointing and rudimentary behaviour around revenue management within the industry. I find it really challenging because I look at not just the Citymax business, but at all the other hotel brands and think, if as an industry we looked at what was really happening then we could make it a win-win situation for our teams and guests.
What, in your opinion, are the most important details within your industry that make for satisfied customers?
The wants of people are quite individual and personal, to the extent that they are specific to that moment in time. I think what’s really important is that you have to drive through not necessarily what everybody “wants” but to have a very good understanding of what it is that people “need” and we need to whittle it down to those items. I say to my people, “Imagine Citymax Hotels as the best place you can be if you can’t be at home”. Me and the team focus very much on everyday experiences and how to make them exceptional.
What inspires you to be a good leader?
Two things inspire me to be a good leader, one, you have to have a slightly augmented view of yourself, which is that people are actually looking to you and when they look to you they see your behaviour, your words, the way you treat people and the way you treat your guests; they see that as your permission to act in the same way, therefore for me the importance of being a good leader is that as long as I can demonstrate that this is how our guests, teams and to some degree our investors and shareholders should be treated, I would hope and do rely on the fact that it will flow through, that people will pick that up in our system and behave in a similar fashion. For me being a good leader is an extension of being a good person.