Interview: Training future general managers

by Dina Maaty | Published 6 months ago

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Marriott International’s Tahseen programme was created to develop Arab talent with a very specific long-term goal, but what really goes into training future leaders? We speak to David Leman, chief human resources officer, Middle East and Africa at Marriott International.

Tell us more about the Tahseen programme, when and why was it first launched?

Tahseen is a unique hospitality leadership training programme that was created to train Arab talent, with the long-term goal of becoming future general managers. Created in partnership with Cornell University, Tahseen initially launched in Saudi Arabia, and was focused on fast-tracking the next generation of hospitality leaders by providing them with operational experience as well as Ivy League hospitality and business education from the higher education institution.

The programme was then rolled out in Egypt, Bahrain and most recently the UAE. In total, we have grown from the initial 30 students to 170 Tahseen students across the region and are looking to continue growing the programme, ideally doubling in numbers by 2020.

Is Tahseen specific to the MENA market, and are there similar programmes supporting local talent in other markets too?

Tahseen is currently specific to the MENA market. As Marriott International is one of the leading hospitality brands in the region, we want to foster home-grown talent across the communities in which we operate. At present, Marriott International has more than 250 hotels and over 58,000 rooms across 29 countries in the Middle East and Africa portfolio.

We’re currently looking at the opportunity to further expand the programme into our African market as we have a need for localised leadership teams and general managers in the Sub-Saharan African region, and to further grow into other MENA countries. Tahseen can even be delivered in local languages where practical.

Talk us through the application process: who can apply and how, and what’s the full rollout of the programme?

The programme was developed to focus on Arab nationals and is designed with that in mind, thus Tahseen is open to our internal associates as well as external candidates. As long as you have a passion for the hospitality industry, you can be a part of Tahseen, even if you belong to an entirely different sector.

Hospitality is very diverse and we’re looking at talent across all departments. The first part of the programme focuses on rotations through all departments to ensure our future leaders understand and appreciate the business as a whole. They then pick their department of choice to specialise in while always being supported with hospitality education through the Cornell partnership.

We’ve seen trainees choose some rather interesting career paths. For example, one of our candidates studied Medicine and is now an assistant wedding manager, while another used to be a fighter jet pilot and is now a front office manager.

Does Tahseen guarantee permanent jobs to its graduates?

The goal for every Tahseen graduate is to go on to full-time leadership roles within Marriott International hotels in the Middle East in the short-term and on the long-run, fueling our pipeline for future local general managers. Our first batch in Saudi Arabia produced full-time roles and initial promotions for 94 percent of all graduates. Additionally, another 10 percent of graduates received another promotion within the last six months. That’s a great start.

Why is local talent in this region within hospitality limited, and how’s the industry changing that?

The UAE has been focusing on harvesting its local talent across all industries. However, there’s a focus on the hospitality industry, as it’s a significant contributor to the UAE’s economy, as a well as a major employer.

Tahseen taps into the local market and aims to change the perception of the industry by showcasing the diverse and exciting opportunities that hospitality has to offer. Thus, we’re able to attract local talent through a clearly defined development programme coupled with a great educational partnership.

What’s the ratio of women to men who have enrolled in the Tahseen UAE programme?

The inaugural UAE Tahseen programme was 80 percent female. Now more than ever, the UAE is determined, through a series of public and private sector initiatives, for women to grow, which is aligned with Tahseen’s mission.

How can the industry benefit from more local talent, and what new additions will they bring to the roles?

We foresee an upward trend in those wishing to pursue careers in hospitality in 2019. It’s truly an honour for us to work in the UAE with some of the most eligible candidates who will lead the future of the industry.

We believe that there’s huge demand from Emirati nationals to be a part of and excel in the hospitality industry. Tahseen is dedicated to finding and training the next generation of hospitality leaders by providing them with first-hand hospitality experience and an opportunity to take on leadership roles within the industry.

In addition, Tahseen falls under Marriott International’s Sustainability and Social Impact Platform, Serve 360: Doing Good in Every Direction, which sets the guidelines for how the company makes a positive and sustainable impact wherever it does business. From empowerment opportunities to sustainable hotel development, the platform is designed to foster business growth while balancing the needs of associates, customers, owners, the environment and communities.

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