episode #1

The Unstoppable Hospitality Maverick - Naim Maadad

Naim Maadad, Chief Executive and Founder of Gates Hospitality replays his international career in the hospitality industry. In this podcast, he talks about finding success, key lessons learned, and his take on Michelin recognition.


Listen to this episode now


Ashish is a serial entrepreneur and serves as the CEO & Founder of Restroworks. 

He is one of the entrepreneurs who has mastered the art of bootstrapping startups to scale. Ashish is a prolific angel investor and mentors budding entrepreneurs and startups in Silicon Valley and India.


Naim Maadad

Close to four decades in the hospitality industry, Naim Maadad has extensive experience working across food and beverage, spa, and hotels spanning Australia, Asia, and the Middle East. Naim has launched and operated some of the world’s best hotels, resorts, spas, and lifestyle F&B concepts.


Episode #1

Naim’s pioneering work in the hospitality industry, especially that in Dubai, has contributed immensely in shaping F&B concepts, and thereby adding value to the region’s development.

Naim joins Ashish Tulsian in this episode of Restrocast providing insights into how the restaurant industry has evolved over the time, how to thrive, why building relationships is important, what it takes to get a Michelin recognition and much more.


Also check out:

Naim Maadad on LinkedIn
Gates Hospitality
UAE Restaurants Group

Ashish: Hey, welcome to Restrocast today. I’m with Naim Maadad, founder of Gates Hospitality, a founding member at Dubai Restaurant Group, which now is UAE Restaurant Group. He is someone whose experience is not only rich in number of years, but extremely rich in the number of geographies that he has worked in and delivered.

I enjoyed my conversation with Naim because what I saw was that how Naim across his career picked up so many, right things, so many good relationships, including some of the languages, as wild as, Japanese, to only make sure that he’s able to deliver the right quality in his work while in Japan. And this is just one part of it. I think, as an entrepreneur, I saw what Naim did, and what he has been doing is extremely fulfilling, and enriching for him. I love the fact that he’s been able to create so much and there’s so much to learn from him. I came out of this conversation extremely enriched. I’m sure you’re gonna enjoy it as well.

Naim welcome to the podcast. Thank you for doing this. Thank you for agreeing to be on the chat. 

Naim: Thanks for having me. I’m excited. I’m always excited to tell my story for multiple reasons. One is I hope to be an aspiration to a lot of industry colleagues. Two, I genuinely believe my story line is very unique and you’ll hear a lot more as we go along.

Ashish: Awesome. So, why not start with that? I want to know if we can make like a small intro about what you do today? Or maybe why don’t we jump into from where it all started?

Naim: Where it started, I think is very interesting. Actually, as a matter of fact, I was in my second year of economics. I was in the theater at Flinders University. 

This is not a word of a lie. I got up and I had exactly 12 months left. I packed up and I left and I said to myself I love politics but I don’t wanna be a politician. Big statement. Politics is still within me. I love it, I follow politics. I follow what happens globally and so forth, but I’m not a politician. And the reason that I say that is I can’t help myself but to say the way it is. And that’s not a politician. Packed up, left and went home. Not a word of lie again. My mother didn’t speak to me for about a month. She fed me every day but she didn’t speak to me because she thought I was making the wrong decision.

Ashish: That’s how mothers are. 

Naim: Intuition (smiles). Saying all of this, my uncle had a chain of restaurants. This is all back in Adelaide. I was working in those restaurants typically on a Tuesday night, Friday and Saturday nights. I was helping the family but I genuinely thought that the hospitality industry is not for me.

That’s not what I wanted to do. It’s,it’s demanding. It’s really over the top. Whenever my friends are out partying, I’m working on the weekends, Christmas, New Year’s – all of that. I was literally having to work for the family.  And, sure enough, being a family member, when someone doesn’t turn up to work, the easiest phone call to make was Naim can you come in for a couple of hours? And, sure enough, I did. Much to my mother’s surprise, I said I would like to go back to Cordon Bleu and finish school, which I did. In the meantime, I landed my first job at the Hilton hotel, which was literally across one of our venues in Adelaide. And, yeah, this is how I started the career in hotels. I was in the front office. 

Ashish: This is back in which year? 

Naim: This is. You wanna give my age away, don’t you. (laughs). I know exactly where you’re going with this. (laughs)

This is back in 92.  Going back in the years, the hotel world was extremely exciting for me. And that’s when I realized from that particular role that I had in life that the hotel world is really where I’d like to be spending my career for multiple reasons. One is if you take the industry it really encompasses lifestyle. It encompasses food, it encompasses luxury travel. So it’s really one of those industries that talks about multiple facets rather than a daily routine. And that’s why I jumped into that. I did dive deep into the industry. 

Ashish: But what changed between not, you know, willing to continue your hotel education and then, you know, partly hating the fact or recognizing that, you know, as a restaurateur or if you’re working in the restaurant, you actually are supposed to help people party? And that’s why you can’t party. You may not have a social life if you are going to be in the restaurant space to going back to the school, and loving and going all in like what changed?

Naim: Many things. Family business is family business. So at the end of the day, whilst you are accountable, you’re still family. So even the way your colleagues treat you at work, you are family. Maturity also had changed and, and last not, but not least. Restaurant is one of the sectors of hospitality. It’s not the hospitality, it’s one of the silos. And I was truly focusing on the entire business spectrum rather than a silo in the business.

So if you analyze the differences of all of the silos and, and you look at the wide spectrum of what hospitality, what a hotel career entails, then it’s a different framework rather than food preparation, procurement, service of a meal period and so forth. So a lot has changed in that time. And also, the industry offering the consumer behavior had also changed in the meantime as well. There was a shift in behavior, eating up, became part of part of the week. People ate out a lot more because it was affordable. And it was.

Ashish: You’re talking back in the day, like when you were starting?

Naim: Absolutely, when I was starting. So I saw a massive shift in the industry and I guess it helped me say to myself really that’s really what I’d like to do. Hotelier is really what I’d like to become. And, I drove that hard. From Adelaide, without going into a lot of details, from Adelaide I moved up north Queensland and I was fortunate enough to work with a company called Hayman Island Resort, it’s a very luxurious resort up north. Used to be owned by Ansett airlines, one of the local airlines in Australia. And really every celebrity that would come to Australia, every celebrity within Australia would stay in the resort. And again, that took me to the next level of excitement of the industry, of hotel, living, and the way that we conduct business. Away from home for the first time as well. So it really changed my take on life in general. 

Ashish: What were you taking care of there?

Naim:  So when I joined, I was focusing on food and beverage as well. Again, back to my roots, it has always been food and beverage. When I started, as I mentioned earlier, I was front office. Did a lot of sales and marketing. Also in between that – finance. And I’ve felt the true impact of customer service is food and beverage.

Cause really, if you think about it, once you check in into a hotel room, the engagement, the encounter that you have with a person behind the counter is literally a matter of minutes. They give you the keys and then you’re on your own. 

Whereas in the food and beverage service, the experience, be it breakfast, be it lunch, be it dinner, be it room service, or whatever it may be. There’s a longer period. And believe it or not, the service encounters can shape your stay positive or negative. Whereas anything else within a hotel hygiene, you can call someone, they would clean your room, housekeeping, engineering, finance, but the biggest impact,the biggest, chapter of fulfillment, if done well, that is, is the food and beverage. 

So Hayman,from Hayman, I came back to the mainland and I was working with Conrad. That’s where my Conrad 11 years started. Again, Conrad food and beverage started with one unit and then by the time I left four years later, I was the assistant F&B Director. So again, grew fairly rapid at a very young age. 

Traveled quite extensively in the meantime as well. And, being part of a hotel world, you get a lot of perks when you travel with the hotels, you get preferred rates and so forth, which encourages you to see the globe. And I took advantage of that to enhance my knowledge. In the meantime I was doing my Master’s at Oxford as well. So I kept my educational level moving forward. 

Ashish: How did that work?

Naim: Right. Like believe or not. It was actually Conrad who put me forward. They saw the potential and they chose out of I think at the time 1200 employees, they chose four of us and I was fortunate enough to be put forward for that. And I specialized in TQM (Total Quality Management), again, all about service component.

And, I majored in lifetime employment because I wanted to see the difference that the globe has, because I had a lot of interest in Japan as a country and their work ethic. 

Ashish: Yeah. 

Naim: So, I majored in that and I thought, let me see, how does TQM and lifetime employment, how do they go and where is it all going?

Ashish: And what do you mean by lifetime employment? 

Naim: A typical Japanese person would have one job in their life. 

Ashish: Wow!

Naim:  One job. So they join a bank and they retire from the same bank. 

Ashish: Wow! 

Naim: That has changed obviously with generations. But typically, and until the 1990s, what they call themselves is “a salary man has one job in their entire career.”

Ashish: No, I love the, when you said, work ethic. I think, you know, as at, at Posist I think one of my, I mean, business bucket list is to actually, you know, you know, do something in Japan. Because, you know, the way I look at that market also is that, you know, they love quality. The loyalty amongst your vendors, amongst your customer base is absolutely, you know, mind boggling.

Naim: Wait, wait, I’m about to tell you more. So I was fortunate enough. From Queensland – the Gold Coast, four and a half years Conrad Jupiters.  I was fortunate enough to have landed a job in Japan based on my interest in the country. I was in Bali. Very randomly, I met an individual that we were talking, and he was actually a Japanese chef.

Who’s about to open the Sheraton Grand in Yokohama, which is a secondary city, but fairly large. And we stayed in touch over the years. And one fine day, I got an email from him saying we have an opening, “Would you be interested to come and do the opening with us?” 

Now, Grand Sheraton in Yokohama at the time was a phenomenal opening – really luxurious property. I went in as the F&B Director. Now my entire team would’ve been double my age which is extremely difficult because again, I’m entering a new country, I’m entering a new culture, and, and a very specific culture, if I may say. 

At a very young age. So all the spotlights were on me to see why has this individual been selected, chosen to lead this,this opening? It was an amazing, amazing experience in Japan. And, back to your point about quality and interest. I think what Japan has embedded in me is not only quality, but appreciation for life, appreciation for nature, appreciation for humankind and, and equally as important, understanding of what’s behind the surface.

They really like to dig deep. So, to give you an example, we would start our Christmas planning in June. June,we would start our Christmas planning. 

Ashish: Wow! 

Naim: Six months out.  So, the planning process for any event for any activity is very lengthy and is very detailed in order to make sure that they cover every single step.

Ashish: Wow! In June, right? So you, you really are embodying Japanese documentation in planning. Huh? 

Naim: It’s, it’s very, very rewarding. Because you’re not pressed for time. And you’re planning correctly based on the event and what the event deserves and what the event should deliver. So you have sufficient time to explore every option out there and make sure you come up with the best option for the business model. 

Ashish: You see. I have a, I have a question on this and this really, you know, bugs me at times and especially running a tech company, you know, at times with your aspirations, you wanna figure out like how companies are, you know, probably planning meticulous moves three years out? My question is that – does it kill agility? Right? For example, you said you’re planning Christmas in June. That’s six, seven months out. How do you, you know, how do you remain agile? Where, you know, probably in October you discover something which is brilliant and you’re like, oh wow, we should actually do this and not what we planned. Does it happen to you or does it kill serendipity and agility fully?

Naim: In today’s world, it would kill. It is an obstacle but back in the day if you weren’t doing what we did you weren’t perceived, you weren’t taken as a serious individual because technology wasn’t part of our life. 

So, the world has shifted drastically, dramatically. We have, So agility, today we see it as short, fast, nimble, right? Agility in the past was planning and having Plan A, Plan B, Plan C in place. So to answer your question, I think today, and I’m sure, Japanese mindset – the Japanese business model has shifted also based on technology and based on the services and the technologies that we have at our fingertips. But back in the day, that was it. 

Ashish: No, but, but when you said that you, you know, for your own, oh! Do you mean that you used to plan Christmas in June? Or did you mean that you are doing it right now? 

Naim: We used to (smiles) 

Ashish: Alright. Oh, I thought that you were saying that even today you guys,

Naim: Nowadays, everything that we would plan would become obsolete (laughs) if we did start in June.

Ashish: Absolutely! That’s that’s, I mean I thought that you were saying that even today in your company you plan Christmas in June.

Naim: No, no, no. Look, what has become very obvious for me is that planning is essential and planning doesn’t mean you have to go from 1 to 10 every time. 

Ashish: Sure. 

Naim: As long as you plant the seed. 

Ashish: Yeah. 

Naim: And as long as you have that plan marked somewhere in your calendar, in your mind, in your to-do list then it’s okay. 

Ashish: Yeah. Also, phase wise. Like for example, I am like a creative guy, right! So I, you know, I look at everything in like phases, right. So if I need to plan something, I’ll immediately chop it down in phase one, phase two, phase three. You know, it helps me think, helps me, you know, not have the FOMO against agility. 

I mean, I would like, I would like to, you know, remain that agile. That in case at the last moment we feel that we can do something better let’s take a shot but let’s, let’s make this better. Like only for better, not because of lack of planning. I mean if something has no variables then of course, you know, plan it as early as possible, but there are variables. Why not? 

Naim: Sure! Look, just us having this conversation. It makes me realize how much we as humans in our lifetime have had to adhere to change. And I think the next generation will not have that. And I think past generations, previous generations never had that because there was a lot of stability. Whereas our life today, there is very little stability in everything we do in the way we behave, we conduct ourselves. If we are not fast and leading the pack, we get, we get left behind. 

Ashish: Yeah. People born between seventies and nineties are, are the ones who are continuously struggling.

Naim: Yes. We,we,we’re trying to adjust. And really, if you take technology, as specifically. 

Ashish: Yeah. 

Naim: Again, I have two children today, right! And the way they handle technology, the way they deal with technology is a lot faster than I will ever be able to grasp. It is a lot more natural. Whereas me sometimes, I’m thinking – should I? should I not? Is it, what if? So I think our generation had to face,

Ashish:  I think their speed also is about they’re more intuitive about it. I think their speed comes from not the skill. Our adaptability I think that the speed comes from that they’re intuitive about it. They were like born on it. So, so for them like the right swipe left swipe, like is the normal thing. If it doesn’t work like that 

Naim: I agree. Yeah. I fully agree fully. 

Ashish: So it’s a muscle memory. They like, they’re born with the muscle memory of, you know, how to interact with these devices. 

Naim: It’s part of the existence – a hundred percent. Whereas we had to learn it, uh, halfway through our lives. 

Ashish: Absolutely. So Japan, right? So how, how many years did you work there? 

Naim: So I did two years with the, with the Sheraton. And then, I went back to Hilton ,Conrad Hilton. Came back to the UAE for the first time actually. Did the opening of Hilton Jumeirah.

Ashish: That was year?

Naim: (thinking) ‘99. I was here for the millennium and that’s how I remember. So, came back, and again, back to comfort. Conrad was really where I learned the industry, where I entered. So it was very comfortable. The Middle East, as a region, was new to me. However, it was a lot less hard to adjust to than Japan. 

It was a very active market at the time; it was an up and coming city. There was a lot of cranes; there was a lot of development. There was a lot of aspirations in the marketplace. I opened the Hilton. And I also got transferred to Saudi, which was my first entry to Saudi with the world of Astoria and the Hilton. In Saudi, in Jeddah, the city of Jedi, again, another amazing experience. And, two years in Saudi, I was asked if I’d like to go back to Japan with Conrad Hilton. And definitely, my hands, I had them up both at the same time for a long period, so nobody missed my interest. And I was back at, in Tokyo city and my hotel at the time had 800 rooms. 

Ashish: Wow! 

Naim: So Hilton Shinjuku was one of the largest hotels and we did. So I started as operations director. So I was number two, but there was no GM at the time in the hotel. So I was reporting directly to the VP Ops, who didn’t actually sit in the hotel. So I was running the hotel at a very young age. And again, going back to my earlier point of, my F&B director, would’ve been the age of my father. Everybody else would’ve been 10, 20, 30 years older than me at the time. And that, that was really pushing every single ambition in my body. Every bone in my body was really pushed to the maximum limit in order to make a success of this building; to make a success of this business, because this was going to shape my entry to that difficult market. 

As a flagship property, like I said, 800 rooms, we used to do a million F&B covers per year. On a Saturday, we would have,

Ashish: A million F&B covers per? 

Naim: Per year, per year.

Ashish: Wow!

Naim: It’s a massive business. 

Ashish: Yeah. 

Naim: It was really an incredible business and to be trusted with that responsibility in a foreign country. I took up Japanese speak because I thought it’s unlike here. You’re dealing with 85-90% Japanese every meeting I went to I had my PA who was translating to me and whilst she did an amazing job, I always wondered in the back of my mind – am I missing the punchline? 

Ashish: Yeah. 

Naim: Is she being too soft? Is she being too? Is she shaping the discussion in a way that I’m not wanting to go through?

Ashish: Yeah. About what’s lost in translation?

Naim: Absolutely. Absolutely. So hence, I started taking classes and, you know, proudly, before leaving Japan another two years, I would’ve been a 6 and a half out of 10 speaking, not reading and writing, but speaking, which for me gained me a lot of respect within the team. I think they knew that I was serious about being there. They knew I was serious about comprehending what’s happening around the place. 

A simple example in Japan – they celebrate the cherry blossom, right? 

Ashish: Yeah.

Naim: So, and it tells you how serious they take life and how different they view life. We walk under the trees, you know, in Australia when they are blossoming. And yes, every now and then you may look up and say, “Great! Looks good. I’ll take a picture.” Whereas, back in Japan, they actually, they’ll have a picnic under those trees and they’ll celebrate and that’s a fundamental of appreciations of life.

And that for me, has really embedded a very strong, powerful, strong, and very emotional part in my life that – don’t take things for granted. The way they celebrate Mount Fuji, the way they celebrate all of the simple stuff. That, again, elsewhere in the world, we take them for granted has given me that edge of “Yes, let’s enjoy” but let’s also be respectful and protect for generations to come.

So, you know, when we talk about sustainability and traceability and the likes, these are, they don’t, you don’t learn them overnight. You, you grow up with them. They’re part of a culture. They’re part of your daily behavior. And if they are part of daily behavior, we don’t have a problem in the world because everything’s well treated. You don’t abuse. 

Ashish: Absolutely.

Naim: You don’t need a car. We as humans, not every one of us, not every household needs full cars, three cars. There’s public transport that’s okay. And the system, the way the system has been built is to service that economy, to service that mindset, to service the culture in a way that everybody wins.

Ashish: I think it also, I think respecting nature and respecting, you know, such things which are, which are happening to you or given to you with like, no effort of yours. You know, they also help develop empathy and that’s probably what you’re pointing towards as well. Right. Empathy towards others. 

Naim: So, yeah, it’s empathy but at a very deep level. It is not empathy because you’re feeling sorry for someone you’re feeling. No, it’s empathy at an appreciation level which I think for me is you can’t teach that you have to be born with that and you have to be nurtured that as you develop as a human in order to appreciate it. And, I mean, the way they celebrate food is incredible. It’s for me, look my four and a half years in Japan, as I genuinely believe, have made me a better person.

Ashish: Brilliant! And that actually gives me some aspirations and pushes me, you know, to kind of look forward to,

Naim: More of a reason for you to be on a plane ASAP. Absolutely! 

Ashish: Got it! And, what after that? 

Naim: After that, after Japan, I came back to the UAE. Again with Hilton. Kept kind of rotating around Hilton – the network that I’ve built within the senior leadership of Hilton. I kept coming back. 

So moved from Hilton, Tokyo back into the UAE and from the UAE, I was given my first hotel in a secondary city in the UAE, which I’ve said no to based on, you know, coming out of Japan. I thought I’m not going from a very sexy city into a secondary city. And that’s when I left the company, I was working with the ruling Saudi family for a while in Saudi. One of their private assets, which again, another experience that is very rich, very luxurious, but in a very different shape, way, and form that gave me a different perspective on life. Only did 12 months. 

Ashish: What is that like? What do you like to speak about that? 

Naim: Again, it was looking after one of the assets, um, that was bleeding badly. Bleeding in a sense that it was operating as a hobby rather than a business. My objective was to break the, make sure the business breaks even within 12 months. 

And I did that and it was no magical approaches that I took. It was just fundamentally analyzing the business, analyzing the P&L, dissecting every entry that goes into that, and making sure that whatever is being booked into that business model belongs to that business. There was people on the payroll that haven’t been working for years, that haven’t been working that business for years and to the knowledge of the ownership, but it was always booked into that business. So my argument was – No problems. You wanna pay them? I respect that. I appreciate that, but that should be booked into another business model. So it’s not impact. This particular business from a performance point of view from there. 

Ashish: But was this your first, you know, business or like brush with the business or managing or running the P&L? Like turning around a business?

Naim: Definitely not. Japan is all about performance. I mean, Japan for me was really moving from operations into a financial mindset. Japan, we have the best price policy in the rooms. Our pricing strategy changes literally by the minute, by the hour. 

Ashish: Wow! How?

Naim: Again, technology was very advanced in those days. Looking so people in Japan, until recently 4G, 3G, 5G, wasn’t actually available in Japan, until recently. And I’m talking about five, eight years, maybe maximum. Since that, I mean, Japan, you landed in Japan, you had to buy a Japanese Docomo phone right to be online. 

So they had a lot of these search engines on their own. Systems and we were very well connected. And people would, because they’re missing the train just because you miss the train you have to get a hotel room. Because the next train is so we have to be very agile. 

Ashish: So, wow! 

Naim: At 11:30 in the evening our price was one point but we knew at 10 to 12, if you’re not catching the train you need a fix; you needed a room.

Ashish: Oh, wow! So this was demand and supply. 

Naim: Like real time by the minute, by the minute. And we had the best rate guaranteed as well. So we had to make sure that we don’t compete with our tour operators. Travel agents are fairly tricky. 

So to answer your question, you know, the real financial understanding depth that the P&L ownership was from a very young age, but luckily I’m good with numbers. I can easily dissect numbers fast and I like numbers. 

And again, don’t forget politics in two years in union politics. A lot of it is actually understanding businesses, understanding mindset, understanding the way you handle businesses as well. So I was fortunate in that sense.

Ashish: Brilliant! 

Naim: So, 12 months in Saudi, and again, I was saying to myself, you know, what’s next? Where is, where is life? You know, Saudi was a very closed market. 99.9% of my business was dealing with Saudis in Saudi, and really looking after the family rather than looking after a business other than my commercial accountability. So, I was lucky enough, I received a phone call from my colleagues in Six Senses. 

And, they said there was a Middle East general manager role for the region if I would be interested. Long story short after a few interviews, too many for my liking. Anyway, I was appointed and group GM for the Six Senses. Now again, by doing all of this, my career kept moving in the right circles. If you ask me at least, meaning the luxury component stayed there, the international exposure stayed there, the brand positioning also stayed there, and last but not least for me, whilst I was growing in my career, I was growing in a way that is stable and efficient.

So I wasn’t moving from a GM into an MD. Now, I moved from GM to group GM and every step that I took was calculated in order to make sure that I don’t tumble. I made sure that I enter an organization that I respect and vice versa. 

Ashish: That’s a big one. I think very few people can say what you just said. And that’s commendable.

Naim: I mean, thank you. Look it’s again, not a lot of it is, I’m not gonna take credit. A lot of it came to me and it happened. A lot of people read situations and a lot of people misread situations, and I was fortunate enough to be able to read the situation. And I was in no rush as I was very confident. 

So look, joining successes for me wasn’t a (inaudible) decision, but also I did my own. I always have my tables of pros and cons and where I am in life without really speaking about them allowed, but it’s, it’s all here. 

And what I’ve been able to do is I looked at my career and I looked at my experiences in life and Asia Pacific – done, Middle East – done, Japan – done. So I’m thinking there aren’t many professionals in my career that have been able to see all of these countries, operate in these countries at a level of luxury that I’ve been able to to see and be part of and lead. And last but not least from a fundamental commercial, sustainable, and changing hospitality. Hence I decided to join Six Senses. 

Six Senses for me, as a brand, was a bit of a risk for me to jump, you know, from an institution of Conrad Hilton – decades of presence leading the market into a brand that’s entering the market. But I thought, no, it’s right for two reasons. And you know, these two reasons are still fundamental in my life today. 

One is the whole changing the experience because no matter who you are today in the world, no matter how well off you are, if you live in the middle of London, if you live in the middle of New York, Sydney, wherever you live there is always two constraints. Space, no matter where you are, you have space limitations. Two, is you have, you long for experiences that we can’t actually have access to unless we are on holiday. 

And these for me stood out in the Six Senses ethos, mentalities, and fundamentals. So, the first opening we did at Six Senses is Zighy Bay, which is in Oman. Literally the main feeder market for Six Senses Zighy Bay is the UAE because it’s only two hours via road whereas it is four and a half hours from Muscat city. But the location is great. 

84 pool villas, entry level is 80 square meters. And every one of those villas has a private pool. So principally what you’re doing, you moved from the hotel, thinking of a room into a villa. Yeah. You moved from 35 square meters into 80 square meters. You moved into a private swimming pool. You moved into a butler service, you moved into experiences management, you moved into an outdoor shower. And that for me was a shift. 

Ashish: Yeah, that was a full orbital shift. Like it’s not, it’s not increment, 

Naim: Hundred percent. Hundred percent. It wasn’t a shift in my career. It was a shift in behavior. There was a shift in market demand and consumer demand, which luckily for me, I was there at the right time with the right organization in order to say – that’s what we do. 

We opened Six Senses Zighy Bay in 2008. Again, it’s an incredible location. The position of the resort it’s 1.7 kilometers on the beach front. It’s literally nestled behind (inaudible) mountains. So in order to access the resort we needed to cut the road, over the mountain which took us a year and a bit itself – just cutting the road up. And, you know, the whole paragliding arrival experience, water experience, arrival all by road gave us a story from day one that the media was what’s this resort, where are they going? What are the endeavors? From day one. And, here we are, 13 years later, 14 years later, the resort is still the darling of media. It does extremely well. And it talks about those experiences that people long for in the travel. 

It talks about grounded experiences. Meaning no matter what the brand is if the brand is born in Asia, in the US and in Australia – that’s not the issue. The issue is it delivers local experiences and that’s what we’ve excelled at doing. Because I think the today’s travelers is really what they’re looking for is – if I’m traveling to Japan I want the Japanese experience. 

Ashish: Yeah.

Naim: I want Japanese food. I want to mix and mingle with Japanese individuals in order to get a firsthand feel of what the culture is about, what the country offers and that’s what we’ve excelled at doing in our mining and continue on excelling on delivering. 

Ashish: Airbnb built a full business on that.

Naim: Hundred percent, a hundred percent. 

Ashish: I mean I believe that, you know, while the world believes and believe that Airbnb was about people letting a part of their house out and people trying to find a cheaper accommodation. I don’t think so. I think they always have been like competitive rates to hotels. I think Airbnb experiences are really about, you know, being able to live in a residential area in that city, amongst, you know, the natives of the city. You actually start feeling exactly how the neighborhoods, you know, feel like. I mean, at least for me, Airbnb experiences have been largely about that because then you can choose the neighborhood.

You can actually, you know, have a normal, real native experience, in your surroundings. 

Naim: I agree. I agree. It started as a right entry to the market. 

Ashish: Yeah. 

Naim: But I think as it evolved as that particular segment of the market evolved, now, they’ve like us in hotels. We’re trying to say what’s, what’s the next trend. And the trend is about that neighborhood experience. It is I don’t wanna be in a high rise in the city where the concierge service, I wanna turn up to a driveway, have a real key in my hand, open the door and walk into a, a living room rather than, you know, bathroom on my left and the mini bar on my right.

Ashish: Yeah. It’s yeah. I mean, my own, my own travels, how many of them actually, I end up in, you know, independent houses, whereas, you know, wherever I can find them, and how much I have started hating those high rise, trade single hotel building, no matter how sexy it looks from outside, I’m like, you know what, I’m not, I’m not getting housed on one of these windows. You know, can you save me from that? Right. So, and that’s amazing! That’s really a behavioral shift, which happened inside me as a consumer. And when it happened, I don’t even know, like it just happened.

Naim: Sure, sure. But that’s the market drive. That’s, that’s really given us those opportunities. It wasn’t available in the past. You couldn’t turn up to someone’s house and stay in their house. It was a taboo, as a matter of fact, and the same with pool – carpooling. It’s exactly the same. Yeah. All, all of these experiences that really, I think as humans, we are trying to find alternatives that are all about practicality and convenience.

Nothing. Nothing else. So Six Senses look honestly, Six Senses for me, like I said, it entailed three silos. One was the focus on, of course, providing luxury accommodation. Two was about providing the wellness experience, and understanding what, what does wellness mean? It’s really because people look at a spa and they think, okay, it’s a 60 minute or 90 minute. I walk in, I have an amazing treatment. I feel good. And then I’ll leave. 

This is not about that. It’s about wellness is – how do I treat this vehicle? How do I treat my body? What do I eat? How do I sleep? And, and so forth, understanding how do we operate? Because even at school, if you really analyze it, we are not taught enough about our systems, how we function as humans. And I think that’s changing, that’s shifting and that’s the world of wellness for me is very important. 

And I did since joining Six Senses, I heavily focused on that, to the level of, you know, 12 months after joining Six Senses, I moved from group GM into group GM Ops, Development and Holistic Wellness. So they kept throwing stuff at me not because I was bored but because I was able to deliver. And the brand was in a situation where it was receiving a lot of inquiries based on the successful opening that we have done. 

Ashish: So how long did you operate that? 

Naim: With Six Senses, I did three and a half years in total. And again, in a very formal event, I happened to be sitting next to a gentleman who was leading the Human Capital for Bill, for Minor International. And we got talking and a couple of days later, I was given an assignment to join them as an MD for an Anantara. And again, for me, Anantara was, so Six Sense is all about the experience really from a branding. 

It’s about the experiences that I think very few brands today in the marketplace can match or even deliver. Anantara for me was aspirational on that experience. It wasn’t quite there, but what I knew about Anantara was the commercial engine of Anantara. The number crunching was at the heart of everything. And that’s really my strength. That’s my, that’s what I do naturally. Well, I, so I have been able to do the, the experiences I’ve enjoyed that I have excelled at doing that. I have made a lot of connections in the marketplace and when that opportunity came saying, you know, we would like to continue on delivering experiences and take it a notch up. But fundamentally we would like to still go to owners of hotels and say we will give you amazing returns. And this is where I thought, yeah, there is a, 

Ashish: So Anantara. Just to, you know, the assignment was in Thailand or was here? 

Naim: Here. So Anantara was Middle East, China. Middle east, and China was my playground. And this is where, this is where the pipeline was really growing. So I was based in Bangkok, but flying around quite extensively. As a matter of fact, those years when I was with Anantara, I was up to, I was doing up to 42 flights a year. Literally, every seven days I was on a plane somewhere for a meeting with a potential owner for a spa, resort, or an existing operations.

Ashish: And was it like largely like running the properties or were you also expanding the market opening new properties? What was the assignment like?

Naim: Okay! So look when you’re wearing an MD hat, the boundaries are where you draw them. And the boundaries are depending on the size of the business itself. Meaning, if a region has four or five hotels, typically what you do have is a VP level of Operations. So all of the GMs will report into that and that VP will report into an MD role. So it depends on the size of the market and the size of side operations and active operations. It differs. So my role there was depends on the size of the region, either GM directly reporting into me and or a VP reporting into me with the three hats of holistic wellness, development, operations. 

Look honestly, you can’t draw a line and you can’t say yes or no without consulting with ownership, of course, without consulting with the leadership. 

Ashish: Sure, sure. 

Naim: But at the end of the day, the buck stops with you. You need to make a decision. You need to make a call based on your experience based on your intuition and knowledge. So for me, Anantara was an incredible experience. But the issue that became very tiring was the travel. And as silly as it sounds, you know, a lot of people look at travel as – how could you ever get tired of traveling? When you’re traveling on holidays vs. when you’re traveling on business – very different. 

Ashish: Yeah. 

Naim: When you’re traveling single, when you’re traveling, leaving your family behind – very different. And you reach a particular milestone in your career, in your life, you reach an age where you say to yourself, I don’t need this anymore – I’m good. I’ve done it. I’ve ticked all of those boxes multiple times. I’m good now. 

Ashish: Yeah. 

Naim: And that’s when I have, you know, that’s when I have decided to join a small company called Rixos. Rixos was again, another one of those organizations that is, Rixos Turkey. Oh, entering this market. So Rixos was, I only did 12 months with Rixos, which is the shortest stint in my entire career. For multiple reasons. The organization was going through a massive shift, from playing in Turkey, operating in Turkey into a global foray of operations. And that shift is demanding at, you know, to say the least.

A lot of people can’t adjust. A lot of people find it unreal. A lot of people find it very difficult in order to make that shift. And, not speaking Turkish made it a lot harder as well because that company was centered into Turkey. Like I said, it’s operated its entire life cycle in Turkey. Every silo in that business was run and operated by a Turkish national. I’m not suggesting that’s wrong at any level at all. I’m saying,

Ashish: But what made you jump to that? That’s, that’s a little crazy, right? Because, you know, from Bangkok and straight to Turkey? 

Naim: You know, so the position was supposed to be based in the UAE. We were about to sign, as a matter of fact, the Jumeirah property today on the Palm was a resource that was supposed to be a Rixos. And that was going to be the flagship opening. 

Ashish: And that okay. 

Naim: Unfortunately, that fell through literally eight months before the opening. And that also was my first assignment was to open that hotel. And I did recruit the entire team. Everybody was on board and then there was a bit of a legal battle which I choose not to go into. And the brand lost that particular hotel at six months into my tenure in the organization. 

Ashish: Oh, wow! 

Naim: And I felt a little bit shaky, admittedly. And I felt I’m out of it. I don’t really belong to that sphere. So that’s when I thought to myself, I think it’s enough to be doing what I’m doing for others. I think it’s time for me to start up my own and do a smaller business model where I can be ultimately in charge of whatever I choose to be rather than what the assignment dictates. And this is when Gates was developed. 

Ashish: And this is which year? 

Naim: This 20, is the end of 2010. Gates was established, registered as, as an organization. It took us two years before we did anything. But again, there was still of a lot of assignments that I was still completing. And again, despite the fact that I wasn’t wearing a hotel hat or a brand hat, I was still continuing on doing a lot of stuff. So ever since I have left Six Senses Zighy Bay, even though I was flying different flags and wearing different hats, I continued on supporting ownership of that hotel in certain financials, legal representations, advisory roles. 

Why? Because what we do in the hotels, you build relationships with individuals. That become a lot stronger than any business model. And if that relationship is healthy and strong, then the business becomes secondary because the trust that you actually shoulder is phenomenal. 

Ashish: Yeah. And I think, I mean compounding these relationships over decades is it’s a (inaudible) in itself. You can’t do that overnight. Like a compounding of a decade, a long relationship needs another decade. 

Naim: Absolutely. Absolutely. 

Ashish: Everybody else has to do it. They have to go through a decade. 

Naim: Absolutely. And believe it or not people watch people, people watch careers, people watch success stories, failures, mistakes, and gains. And if you continue on delivering, if you continue on being honest to who you are, and what you are, people are always behind you, people back you up. I have had people with me for 22 years working and every time I have jumped ship, they have jumped ship with me. 

Now that’s not because I pay over what the market does. It’s because I know their kids’ names, their birthdays. I know challenging times, happy times that they go through and we don’t necessarily talk about it – only if they choose to. But ultimately it’s being human. It’s making sure that we connect to them at their level and vice versa. And, they have clarity in definition of what the expectation from their roles is and so forth.

So building relationships for me has been a massive pillar of mine. And I look, I guess nobody to thank other than my family. That’s the way that they have raised me. That’s the way that we as a family, we’re being structured is – respect. If you dish it up, you get it back. If you don’t, you get nothing. But what you dishing up? That’s a very fundamental grain that’s been embedded into us as a family from day one. And as rich and meaningful this discussion is, a lot of people will listen to these podcasts and they say we can relate to those.

A lot of young ones will probably relate to them in years to come. 

Ashish: Yeah.

Naim: But life is nothing but multitudes of experiences all assembled together that define who we are. And for me, that’s very important. 

Ashish: I think being present in those experiences is also very important. Right. I think in your journey, whenever you are talking about each of the stint what I’m listening is that these specific things that you’re appreciating, what that stint taught you or what you experienced there or what it, you know, what it gave you or what you gave back to it. Right! 

If that experience is not nuanced, you know, in that, at that level, then it’s a waste. Then if you know, when you’re, when you’re doing jobs or when you’re building a career to jump the ship, eventually, you know, it doesn’t work, you know. Another form, like another big one for me is that, you know, what I would like to double click on is what you said. You know, there was a steady rise in the career. You did not, you know, jump from being a GM to an MD and then back to something else. And you know, you had patience. You saw that through and you like to spend time in doing justice to the role. You know, you said something which was extremely underrated, but you know, way deep, you said I was not in a hurry and I wanted to solidify each level before I go to the next, which is I think, for anybody watching this, I think it that’s gold. And it’s, easier said than done, right? I mean that takes a lot of hard work, a lot of persistence, but it pays off.

Naim: Ofcourse, looking at CVs today. A couple of things that really draw my attention is, and this is all based on experience, nothing else, because it takes me literally two minutes to say, yes, I would like to meet or no, I don’t like to meet this person. And that’s how powerful a CV is. And, and the things that I look at is of course, where are you working? What are you doing? But I look at stability. Yeah. I look at duration. I look at the growth factor from role into role, and I look at the stability of the individual through their moves in their career. And for me, that’s very important. And I say it often and often to my team is – we can teach people anything, but we can’t teach them manners and we can’t teach them gratitude and attitude. (laughs)

Ashish: Absolutely, absolutely. I mean, I totally relate. I can’t relate lesser. You know, I think, you know, team here will also, you know, relate to exactly this, right? When we look at people’s tenure, I think my problem is with people jumping in like every year, I’m like, you know, that’s the honeymoon, right? You know, anybody who has spent three plus years in a business tells me that no matter what you were delivering at least minimum of what was required of you – for you to sustain in that business, in that position for three years. 

Because year one, business is expecting their minimum from you. Year two, they really want you to up your game. Year three, you better be delivering consistently. Otherwise, you know, business has no, you know, business having you. And that actually is true for the companies. 

You know, I actually apply it, you know, for us as vendors, right. When I look at Posist’s health, right. I look at it in renewal of the contracts that we had with our customers because when we sign up a customer, I mean, we can pass six months just by saying, “Sorry, we’ll fix it.” We’ll probably reach a year worth, you know, time, you know, doing some gimmicks, but what happens after that? Right? So when we, every time we renew a three year contract with a customer, you know, I actually, you know, say that, okay, this is exactly our CV. You know, nobody will care. How many restaurants did we power? How many customers did we work with? But everybody’s gonna care about – for how many years? What is the quality of work that we have put in that? We have organizations who are working with us which are as old as our tenure, you know, for our existence. So I think that tenure in CVs is such a clear glass from persistence and delivery perspective. Not, not the brand, not the designation, not what is written there. 

Naim: So I call it the three year cycle. One year, one is engineering. You need to engineer what you’re about to do. You need to put mechanics into place. You need to design the device. Year two, applied – make sure it’s fully engaged, fully applied and really put to the test. Year three, you have got to also enjoy what you have designed and applied. So year one, year two is about making sure it’s all there and year three, enjoy it and leave with a legacy saying that’s what we’ve done. 

Ashish: Yeah. 

Naim: Otherwise, if you come in for 12 months, really by the time the business is learning about you, you’re learning about the business you leave before anyone has any impact on either or yeah. So for me, it is quite important. Duration is quite important. And of course, quality of output rather than just duration. It’s not about being dormant on the three years but quality of output. 

So Gates was born with three business silos based on my latter 8 years of Anantara and Six Senses. Meaning food and beverage is one major cycle. Hotels and resorts is a second and holistic wellnesses is the third. And we thought, let’s keep this very, very broad rather than say we are operators, we are investors. Let’s just meet for every request that we have and assess if we can service a five year cycle, five years. 

So we did. So today, as it stands from 2010, until 2020 to 12 years into it. We have all of these silos operational. We have under these three silos, we have invested. So we have our own investment in certain businesses. We have our advisory role where we are advisors to principles and owners of businesses. We have operations. So again, where we operate someone else’s business on all of these fronts and the beauty of Gates today is that it doesn’t talk to one particular market segment. So we have the luxury as a ownership of the product they operate, we asset manage. 

On the same hand, we have some very entry level QSR restaurants where we see a vacuum and we try and find a plug for that vacuum. So it’s not about us saying we only do luxury. No, we are business guys. I’m in the mindset that if you find, if you identify a vacuum and you know that there is a solution that is viable for the five year cycle, let’s play. Let’s find a solution and we have, we have been able to do that.

Ashish: Do you characterize Gates as like, you know, consulting and managed services in hospitality? Like how do you?

Naim: I have a big problem with the word consultants, right? Because again, in our industry, anyone that loses a job, they consult whilst they’re looking for a job. 

Ashish: Yeah. 

Naim: So we are not into consulting, we’re into advisory. And before we did advisory, the first five years, we did absolutely zero advisory by choice. For the simple reason that I said to everybody, I said, “I’m playing with my own money. We’re playing. We investing. And we have proven for the last five years. So, we know how it’s done. So, we’re not gonna play with your money.” We’re not advising or consulting at your expense. No, we’re doing what we do. And we can mirror that in your business with your money. So advisory. 

So today Gates is an organization that is specializing in hospitality services with other investments. If we see a vacuum in that particular marketplace and sustainable marketplace from political, safety and accessibility to ourselves. The same with the holistic wellness advisory role, we’re doing a lot of those and again, on the advisory, people say, what is that exactly? So we do a lot of work with a lot of spa companies, large spa companies that we do all of their policies and procedures, all of their Ps and piece. 

We do all of the SOPs standard operating procedures. We do a lot of recruitment. We do a lot of brand representation. So you have a brand, you come to me saying, I would like to be in this marketplace if anyone’s looking for an operator. So we do that kind of matchmaking between ownership and brands as well. So that’s, that’s what we do on the advisory role. And again, we try and do a minimum period of three years where we do the engineering, applying, and enjoyment of the cycle. So again, we are in for the long term, we’re not in and out. That’s not the intent. 

Ashish: And that makes sense. And you’re operating your own restaurants?

Naim: And we have our own investment. Like I said, resorts of course Six Senses, Zighy Bay assets owned, restaurants – assets owned. So this is where you sit in front of third party individuals and say, “We do this for living, we do it with our own money.”

Luckily again, the way that we’re looking at the market recently in recent years. Today, Gates Hospitality in this market, I don’t think there is any hospitality meetings that take place without Gates being one of the brands or one of the players in the market that made that is referenced, which for me, I made the, I made the comment about Bill exactly the same what I’m trying to do. This is my life cycle. This is not inheritance. This is not a brand that I bought that I’m trying to have continuity. This is a brand that I have brought to life, nurtured, and today it is what it is. We have an agreement with our colleagues in Ascot hotels that, any new built, we will do their F&B for them in there. 

Ashish: Wow! 

Naim: So we’ve signed Nigeria recently. So, we’re entering that African market with four restaurants and a spa and any new part,

Ashish: Congratulations! 

Naim: Thank you!

Ashish: No, that’s great. In fact, I, you know, want to you know, there are two, two things that I, you know, really, really wanna know from you. I think I’ll pick the first one, the Michelin experience, right? So for, you know, you got, you know, one of your restaurants in the Michelin guide, and what I know is that, you know, there is a full process around Michelin. There are Michelin inspectors and you know, you go through all the, the entire drill. How was that, like, what is that experience? And was this your, was this the first one? Like what, I mean, I just wanna know what went behind that? 

Yeah. So how was you know, what’s the Michelin, you know, guide experience like, because you know what I know is it’s. I mean, it sounds really challenging for the right reasons, because you know, there are Michelin inspectors who have this global perspective on cuisines, on ingredients, on cooking processes, you know, your chefs, your brand, your, you know, everything has to speak and have like a lot of things have to come together right for a Michelin inspector you kind of give you, you know, a thumbs up, you know, be like. And can you also demystify the bibs and the stars? And what is your experience? Like, what is your, and your team’s experience? Like just, you know. 

Naim: Look before I answer your question. I think what I would like to highlight is this achievement – the Michelin is a success story for the city. I think it’s very important to highlight because the Michelin has been very selective which cities they enter and how they enter and the presence they contribute towards the success of any business, any institution, any restaurant, whatever you want to call it. So, first and foremost, I think this is an amazing experience for Dubai as a city. That it’s a huge milestone because what it tells me as an individual, as a business owner, as a business industry business, a leader, if I may, that Dubai is on the international radar today. So it’s no longer an up and coming city. It’s a city that is making waves. It’s a city that’s trying to attract attention. It’s a city that’s making a change in everyone’s life. It’s an aspirational city. And for me, that’s already a success story. And that takes time. 

We have been after Michelin for years. We have been wondering how and when and it is here. So it’s a great success story for the city. The cycle that you go through in order to achieve a bib and or a 1, 2, 3 is incredible. Because again, the nature of Michelin has always been obscure by design, which I respect it’s their business, it’s their business model. And the way they measure the way they assess any business is entirely secretive. But again, I think what I keep saying to my guys, we don’t do it for Michelin. We do it for ourselves and if Michelin approves what we’re doing based on their standards and our standards, then we are winners, if not we’re still winners in our own ways. But what we are getting from them is that little acknowledgement, I shouldn’t say little – big acknowledgement of their recognition of what we are doing. So it’s a cycle that is very much, it’s disturbing at very fundamental levels. It’s disturbing for many people. It’s also very challenging for a lot of chefs because if you don’t qualify, I think the mental implications that it could have on a business is quite drastic. Yeah. So that, 

Ashish: Yeah. So that means like the entire experience is intense.

Naim: Very much so, very much so. It’s intense, it’s rewarding. And the business does change when you pick up one of those acknowledgements, be it a bib, or be it a star. And for us, the success at Folly has been always about the food as hero. Whatever we do is food centric, food centric, unlike other venues in the UAE where they talk about experience, food, beverage. Now we talk about food as a hero and then everything else has to be around the hero. And hence, when we are recognized whether it be the only independent outside of a hotel venue as well, which I like to, you know, highlight. 

Ashish: Wow! 

Naim: It’s a massive reward for the team. And frankly not getting a star itself, just getting a bib for us it is already a massive achievement for the team. 

Ashish: Absolutely. I think, yeah, I’m sure. I mean, because you, you’re still going through the same, the same process, like the same drill. 

Naim: Back to a point you made earlier, it is not about just getting three stars at once. It’s the process. And I’ll say to the guys let’s enjoy the process. Let’s go through the be let’s go through the one star. Let’s go through the two, let’s go through the process. And the more we get involved, the more that industry, platform matures, the more we understand. And whether we choose to donate more of their wishlist or contribute or align ourselves, it’s up to us. But as a business, we are grateful. And I think it makes a lot of difference to the business. And I think what’s very important, like I said, it’s about putting the city on the map and this year. We have seen 50 best entering the marketplace. We have seen Gulf and Milo entering the marketplace and Michelin.

And that for me is “Bravo Dubai! Bravo UAE”. As a city, as a country, in a very short span of time, we’ve managed to, to be saying to the big boys who have been operating for years and years, make space for us. We are on the same table as you are. 

Ashish: Yeah. Absolutely. I think that’s incredible. I think, you know, my own ignorance was so much that when last year I got to know that Michelin and, you know, coming to Dubai, I was like, “Oh! They weren’t there already?” And I never, I mean, like, because so many Michelin star restaurants, you know, had their, you know, outlets opened here over the years, popups chefs being, you know, attracted to this market, you know, I never knew what I never felt that, you know, Michelin list was guide wasn’t there. So, so absolutely incredible.

I mean, in fact, honestly, I felt the gravity of that even more, then I was like, “Oh wow! Like it’s coming to Dubai now!” Like while in my head, it’s, 

Naim: Again, for us as owners of businesses now, really what it does, it’s pushing the envelope to the next level. So the entire city, the entire country benefits from these platforms. Because everybody has an interest, everybody’s trying to up the ante on delivery on the experience. 

Ashish: Yeah. 

Naim: Sustainable, whatever it takes in order to say we’re trying, and that. I think shouldn’t be underestimated in any marketplace based on expectation and the delivery. I think it will also give the kitchen life. If I may, a little bit more rewards for those who win for those who are aspiring, it gives some more hope in order to push harder. So I think for the industry, it’s nothing short of a success story. 

Ashish: So when you, when you, you know, just from the process and, you know, the change in, you know, in a business, I think, I think especially with private businesses, you know, the businesses which are smaller outfits as organizations or their legacy. When you signed up to be evaluated or, you know, when you, when you took that, you know, challenge up?

Naim: Have to interrupt you. You don’t get, you don’t get to sign up. You go through the process of far visits without even recognizing that you’re being measured. 

Ashish: Wow! Yeah. That’s, that’s exactly what I am trying to ask. That’s blind process. Oh, so you mean it’s, it’s totally anonymous?

Naim: Totally blind approach. We, we, we don’t know who they were, when they came, when they left, what they ate. And for me,

Ashish: It’s not like Linguini, you know, losing it in Ratatouille?

Naim: Definitely not. It’s it. And this for me is what makes it, what it is. 

Ashish: Wow!

Naim: It’s as powerful as that. 

Ashish: Like, sorry, like just excuse my, you know, naivety here. I, so what is it like, like you, like, they tell you that, okay, you, you are being evaluated because we did these five visits and, you know, you, you made it to, let’s say the next level of evaluation or you are saying the entire process is blind?

Naim: So when they finish this cycle of assessment, as they call it, you are being invited to an event where you are told where you are in their cycle of assessment. So you have absolutely no input. You have inspectors who come into your business and do what they do best in their own timeframe, in their own discretion without your knowledge. Now, of course, some market businesses who have been exposed to the cycle, like anything else, you start being able on identifying the questions that are asked the cycle that they go through, but we haven’t had that in this market. So very few people in this market have seen it elsewhere in the world where they’ve related to it. But not knowing that Michelin was coming to the city. It was. 

Ashish: And, and what basis are they making? Like the first list for assessment? Like. I mean example like Dubai is like full of great restaurants and, you know, new ones keep coming every day. There are celebrity chefs who, you know, want to have like a, you know, sub something here in this market. Now let’s say there are 500 restaurants. So, so what’s, that is Michelin. Like, I mean, they’re, they’re choosing those  a hundred, 200, 500 as well themselves, or is there like a level, like you had an expectation that okay, you know, probably I’m I’m I may be evaluated? 

Naim: I started by saying that they are an obscure obscure organization. Right. And this is exactly how they approach it. So they have inspectors living in the country. They have inspectors who are coming in and out of the country and their selection criteria is not known to anybody. But of course, I mean it’s, if, if you take market analysis, right. If you have people based in the market, you have a, a very good idea on performance, on continuity, on who’s legible to be shortlisted, not shortlisted who should be measured and who should be paid a visit in order to make sure that they are qualifying or not qualifying.

So a lot of it is about market understanding, market maturity and playing in the marketplace. And a lot of it is  about sustainability from performance. So you don’t just open 12 months later, you have a mission. It doesn’t work that way. 

Ashish: So you get to know when you get invited to that event?

Naim: Well, you get to know that you’re invited. You don’t know if you, if you’ve just been visited, but maybe didn’t qualify, but you’re still invited because I want you to see, but not every invitee is a winner. 

Ashish: Got it. Right. But, but when you get invited, that’s exactly when you know that you qualified, at least you have had inspection. Yes. You, inspection happened, right? Yes. And, and then what’s what, what happens there in the event? Like what’s, what’s the process from there? Like, do they interview the chefs, your team. Like what 

Naim: What’s happening there? So there are one on ones, but it’s, it’s a public announcement. And in the case of Dubai, uh, obviously DET (Department of Economy and Tourism) is, is supporting the event, which I think is extremely intelligent in, in order to put the whole economy, the whole sector on, on the map was also introducing along with the Michelin representatives the winners and announcing them and calling them up on stage for a moment of, of media attention and a moment of recognition and awarding them with the plaque or the certificate that, that they have. 

And, look, honestly, it’s, it’s, it’s one of those. And I think year one or the entry to any market is always very. People don’t know what to expect, right! Unless you’ve been operating in other markets where you’ve gone through the entire process and understand the, the rewards, the tension, the successes. 

Ashish: Yeah. 

Naim: The nightmares that come with it with such a platform, you don’t know what to expect. So I think this year has been extremely well handled. The, the fact that it’s powered by DET is, is very, assuring for many and, and last but not least, I think the selection process today, if you see all of the winners, and if you are in the, in the industry, if you are a consumer and if you are a diner, you see the selected list and you say, “Yeah, I agree.” And that for me is an endorsement. 

Ashish: I think this should, you know, I, I, you know, do, do you think that like a, I don’t know if a, you know, an aspiring Michelin guide or star restaurateur but even like a restaurateur who’s aspiring to like, do a great restaurant. Is there anything that you believe like, which you learned from this exercise experience? That they should do, you know, in their business in general, they should make changes in their business, in structure, in processes, in, you know, ingredient quality or anything like one or two things that they should do, which would ideally lead them to an automagic path that one day they get in invitation. 

Naim: I love the question. I, you’re not gonna like my answer, but anybody that enters into any industry to win an award shouldn’t enter. You should enter a business for knowing your value, for knowing your quality, for knowing your authenticity, and make sure that you have solutions to enter that business.

Ashish: Mm-hmm 

Naim: And that’s when you will gain rewards and you will pick up all these recognitions. But if you enter a business to become a celebrity, you might as well go to Hollywood. 

Ashish: Yeah, that’s, that’s brutal and true. (laughs) That’s, that’s perfect. 

And, you know, so, so that brings me to my, you know, another, you know, something that I really wanna know you started DRG (Dubai Restaurant Group), like you laid the foundation of that. And, you know, I think I, I saw, I saw that happening, like through the pandemic. We, you know, we engaged first time in early, early 20, uh, you know, when, when the onset of pandemic. And, and I saw, you know, how different appointments happened at DRG, how you guys structured, you, you know, got the right kind of, you know, representations from probably like all directions, you know? So from my, like a distant view, but like having, having at least some, you know, from our vantage point, we could clearly see that, okay, this is, this is great. Like the way representation is being, you know, designed from literally like all sides of the industry from vendors to restaurateurs to, you know, that is, that is super, and then it becomes UAERG it becomes a federal entity. And that also probably brings us to your, you know, the politics side of, you know, of, of the things, what happened here? 

Naim: What happened? A lot of things have happened. And again, I think this is another success story for the UAE. It’s, it’s not about us. It’s about the, the country’s vision and how we play a role in delivering that vision. We, we merely fulfilling our roles in that big frame of vision. DRG was born in order to support an industry that is a main economy driver. You know, we have, we employ our, employment is a double percent. Great contributor to the economy, positioning the city. Now we’re talking about Michelin two minutes ago and, and how important that sector is,

Ashish: Mm-hmm

Naim: So this, DRG was born, through the chamber of commerce in, in Dubai to, to become the advocate voice of the industry. 

Ashish: Yeah. 

Naim: To become representing the industry at every level of the industry, be it a fine dining, be it a QSR, be it a little kiosk, but it’s making sure that everyone’s voice is heard for the benefit of the industry in alignment with the UAE vision, Dubai vision at the time of where we are going. So our, our chairman, Mubarak Bin Fahad has, has really been able to identify every board member who adds their weight into the equation. It’s, it’s like the puzzle and we all come from similar walks of life, yet different responsibilities, different backgrounds. I bring the hotel background with my experience. I bring the investment with my experience. I, so we all have all 10 of us have their own weight that they add to the equation. And with, with Mubarak at the helm we, we’ve been very able to work in a way that is fast, yet efficient. Nonprofit yet contributing, giving back. And, and last but not least making sure that we bring the industry in a way that it’s collaborating rather than competing. And I think again, through efforts as such other Emirates have have said, okay, look, we have similar needs in our own Emirates. So why is this not shared across every other location? 

Ashish: Yeah. Why is it only the Dubai restaurant group? 

Naim: That’s right. That’s right. So, early in the year or couple of months ago, again, we’ve, we’ve become on, on a federal level there. And again, I hope you get the opportunity to speak to Mubarak, our chairman, who, who will tell you a lot more about,

Ashish: Yeah. I would love to,

Naim: He’s, he’s contribution on, on this, which was, really very powerful in, in order to make it happen. And, I see it moving forward. I’ll see it as a unity. I’ll see it as also learning from city to city. I’ll see it as maturity. And last but not least, I’ll see it as a main voice of the industry in decision making processes. Making sure that we are neutral and equally as important representing every silo of the industry due to the contribution that it does to the economy overall.

Ashish: I mean, I don’t know if, if, if this is, this is something that you, you know, would like to answer in the same tune or tone or not. I don’t know if, if the question will land exactly the way intended. But generally restaurant groups like such associations, such bodies, you know, they stay outside the government and they, you know, do lobbying, you know, for the greater good or for, you know, interests of at least, you know, a large percentage, the critical mass. But they’re generally lobbying against let’s say, or I would, I would not really say against, but you’re, you know, you more often than you would appreciate you find yourself at the loggerheads, with the authority, with the government, with at least some per, you know, some policy that you want to change, or you wanna influence. When you actually join, you know, the forces with the authorities or with the, you know, how do you still carry the greater good? Like, how do you still do that? And I’m not saying that government is, you know, against any business, but at times, you know, policies and regulations that come into play, where any government in any country, when they intervene, you know, it may not. I mean, nobody, I mean, there is a chance that something that is good for consumers may not be good for the businesses, and vice versa. So how does it, does it, how does it work? Like those dynamics are, are you? 

Naim: Yeah. Good, good question. And, and again, I’ve, this is my humble opinion. This is my own, read on, on the matter. And I think this is intelligence of the leadership it’s rather than forming unions, let’s really get in here and jump in and become a support system, define that playground for the operators in order to support the economy. And again, this is about leadership authorities working with investors, unlike any other parts of the world where you have the unions and authorities, right? This is not, this is going exactly the other way, which is very clever if you ask me. Because it’s listening to the industry and trying to find solutions to make investment, to make operations prosper and grow in line with the country’s vision. So for me, it’s one step ahead of every other country where it’s unity, it’s about advocacy, it’s about making sure the support is in place. That doesn’t mean that everything’s going to be approved. This is, this is a, a free open economy as well at the end of the day. So we need to make sure we balance the equation. But our role in, in all of this is to make sure that we vet out all the positives, make sure these are bundled in a way that makes perfect sense for the economy, continuity, sustainability, business owners, because ultimately we want these business owners to succeed. We want them to be here. We want them to invest here. Yeah. We want them to stay. So it’s in everyone’s interest for them to be well nurtured, looked after in a well defined manner. 

Ashish: But does it, you know, on the other side, does it also constrain your voice, like in general as a body, because you know, when you are an independent, like as DRG right Naim can have, or any of the board member can have like, you know, an opinion and, and they can talk about that in the media, or they can just say something not irresponsible, but let’s say like their opinion, which they believe in at least. And, and, you know, I mean, people can, everybody will take it with a pinch of salt because you know, that is probably one man’s or one body’s or ten people’s opinion. Now, when you become like a federal entity, does it also kind of constrain, you know, what goes out has to be well thought and owned? And you can’t just have opinions out? Is that, is that what it?

Naim: I’m gonna ask you a question in an indirect way, but I’m gonna go back to the way the board has been formed. It’s been formed based on experience. It’s been formed based on maturity, on involvement, and all of us on the board have equity and entities of F&B. So we get impacted by those decisions. So it’s not about lip service. We are part of the consumer yet. We are part of the decision making process. So in, in a way it’s been very cleverly done that, whatever we say, we, we, we, we, we will feel is as well. So it’s not lip service. So what we say makes sense to the business makes sense to our colleagues, because again, we are investors operators and equally as emerged in the business cycle as our membership. 

Ashish: No, but that’s, that’s phenomenal though. I, I agree with you. I’m just, you know, I think, I think I have not seen. And, and, you know, we, we, we work with a lot of, you know, we work directly in a lot of countries and we, you know, see a lot of associations and most, more often than, you know, I mean, we don’t really see most of the associations, you know, being able to do service more than lobbying or, you know, kind of going against a certain policy or trying to, you know change that in their favor. Not for the good, I mean, not for the bad reasons. Sure. That’s how the business is. Right. But, but we have not seen any other such endorsement of a body. So I think that speaks, you know, volumes, you know, about what, what you guys have created and kudos to you. I think, I think thank you are trailblazing there. 

You know, we’d love to jump to, you know, some, some other aspects of life, you know, we would like to know, are you into reading books, podcasts? You know, what do you, what do you do to nurture yourself? And I think, you know, as, as a leader, you know, when you’re running your own, you’re running your own business everybody’s looking up to you, your business is failure, success. I mean, success, a lot of people will get credit. Failure is completely yours.

So as a leader, you need to, you know, continuously make sure that you have a process to nurture yourself, you know, you know, learn, get exposed, think what are your tools, you know, to do that. 

Naim: Again, I think leadership is having the ability to push oneself because you don’t have a boss. Yeah. I don’t have someone who’s gonna say, where were you at nine o’clock. What did you do today? You’ve got to do that on your own in order to measure your own success, you’ve gotta drive yourself and push yourself. I sit on seven other boards other than new UAERG. And for me, these are all enriching experiences for the simple fact. Every board, uh, members, right? Everybody has a role in life and everybody adds value. So our, our general discussions, our general, chatters or matters or whatever you wanna call them add value because there’s a learning. 

I sit on the board of Australian business council. So again, I still have connectivity to my native land. So, I know what’s happening on that front. I’ll sit on a board of a lifestyle company that actually sells experiences. So again, and these are all enriching experiences to the soul. Some of them are more defining, some are more at leisure, but I think for us, it’s also about finding the balance. It’s finding what makes me tick. So the balance doesn’t have to be 50-50 or 80-20. The balance is about, I need to have something that is measurable, something that’s enjoyable, something that is fulfilling and so forth. And that’s the balance for me. 

I love reading, and I I’m reading an amazing book at the moment. All right. And it’s, it’s called ‘Never Eat Alone’. 

Ashish: Hmm.

Naim: The author is Keith Ferrazzi, right. And, and I’m reading the book the second time to be honest. 

Ashish: Oh, wow!

Naim: Right. The second time. Not because I didn’t understand it the first time. It’s because, (laughs) I had to make that point clear. It’s actually a very simple book. And, but the, the, the reason that I’m reading it again is in every chapter. And, this is very, very true to my, to my character. In every chapter, there are more than one or two points that are actually talking about me as an individual. And that, 

Ashish: Wow!

Naim: For me, it’s very fulfilling because it’s, it’s reinvigorating a certain aspect of what I do well, and this book is about really it’s it’s, it’s a feel good book. Let’s, let’s, it’s it’s not an educational book with all due respect to my colleague, Keith. Right? It’s, it’s, it’s one of those feel good books, but I think feeling good is important because again, it’s lonely at the top. 

Ashish: Oh! Just to clarify, you know, this book is talking about you as mean you or are you are saying that you are identifying with learners. 

Naim: I am identifying. Not me. Not me. He doesn’t know me from a virus. Yeah. Okay. and I’m glad to clarified that. But it it’s, it’s important that we are looking at stuff that  give us that feel good vibe, because at the end of the day, as you rightly mentioned, when we walk into our hotels, excuse me, our businesses. Everyone’s assessing and measuring how we do things and what we do. And I think that’s very important. 

Ashish: Yeah. 

Naim: So that’s one of the books, the second book. Yeah. 

Ashish: You know, before you go to the second. I think, when was the first time you read that book? And like how long after you were reading it second time? 

Naim: Literally, I’ve started reading it the minute that I’ve finished the last year.

Ashish: Oh! Back to back. Wow! That, that, that, 

Naim: I made the mistake. I, I typically have a marker when I’m reading a book, but the truthfully is the truth is, is I’ve promised this book to somebody and I didn’t want to market. So now I’m having to go through again, rather.  

Ashish: So you’re the marker kind. I, I, I, I, you know, I, I don’t have a better word for this. I hate it. When, when somebody is actually coloring the book, I’m like, oh man, don’t do that. But, uh, when my wife?

Naim: Why is that? 

Ashish: I don’t know. You know, my wife is, is, is the marker one, right? So she’s the one who will, you know, who will actually have a pen, pencil, even her highlighter. And she’ll like, she’ll make the book her own. And I, for some reason I feel that books are, I mean, I wanna keep them exactly that way. I’m not even giving it away. I’m not, I’m not trying to do anything else with that. Right. But I want to keep it, you know, I don’t know, mentally, I, I don’t want to color it. 

Naim: I see, I see value in the books to be enjoyed. And for me to be, to be able to pick up a book on my way to, to meeting you today, right. I would’ve picked up that book if it had few things highlighted and just read the highlighted stuff because it would’ve made me feel good. 

Ashish: Yep. 

Naim: Where did we leave? 

Ashish: So, yeah. So the, the, you were talking about the second book.

Naim: There are three books. Yeah. I’m not into podcasts before we, before I forget, I enjoy reading, because I can control my mind rather than being control listening. Second book is by an author lady who comes from my hometown, actually Adelaide. And she is a lady by the name of Nan Witcomb and she writes poetry principally.

Right now you may think, poetry is, is something of the past and it’s dead, but for me, poetry is important. You do so good. God good, good, good. So she, she, she writes,, stories or, or poets poems about life, very deep and meaningful. So you don’t, it’s not a book where you read the beginning to the end. It’s every now and then you pick it, you read a, a poem and it takes me a week to dwell over it, dissect it, understand what it is. She goes by the name of The Thoughts of Nanushka. That’s her business, label so to speak. 

Ashish: Thoughts of Nanushka. 

Naim: Yeah. Thoughts of Nanushka. And, I have actually managed to buy most of her books and again. 

Ashish: Wow! 

Naim: Extremely deep and meaningful. It’s, it’s one of those things. 

Ashish: Yeah. I can’t disagree with that because, we disagree with, you know, poems, you know, maybe a way of. Because my wife, she’s also my co-founder in my business. She’s the one who runs the revenue. You know at Posist and she writes poetry and her poetry is actually that it’s, these are like small. 

Naim: Do yourself a favor – buy her a book if she, if she, if she enjoys that kind of reading, that kind of. 

Ashish: Yeah, she writes, she writes actually, you know, quite dense, deep, short, you know, poetry. And, uh, you know, so I, 

Naim: Nan Witcomb is the, the lady’s name. The Thoughts of Nanushka and, yeah, very amazing books, very, very. Hardcover they’re small. So they’re easy to carry for me. It’s important when I’m traveling that I. 

Ashish: Yeah, I’m, I’m, I’m getting, I’m getting one and gifting her. 

Naim: There you go. There you go. And then the third one that I’m reading and that’s quite interesting. It’s principally a biography of Mohamed Al-Fayed. So I’m reading his life story. Now, you, you may ask me why do I read biographies or why do I read personal lives? Right. I think a person like Al-Fayed has had an incredibly colorful life. Colorful is not positive by the way nor negative. Let me just make that clear. But it’s incredible,

Ashish: Eventful?

Naim: Very, very eventful. And, it’s, it’s one of it’s, it’s a monster book. It’s written without his approval, so I’d like to think, oh, a lot of it is a is factual. But it’s also very, very awakening to, to, to learn the behaviors and the output of it’s very philosophical. If I may, because he he’s cheated a lot of people in his life to be where he is today and with all of his doings. And again, I’m basing everything about on, on the book rather than my personal experiences here. His, his main objective is to, to obtain a British nationality, which he hasn’t been able to do, despite the fact that he’s been at, you know, one of the top business guys around the globe, the richest business guys around the world. Obviously lost his son to a very tragic story as well. And his main objective still is kind of nationality because he’s been denied that request on multiple occasions. And it’s quite interesting how he keeps pursuing that objective. Buying Harrods was one of his ways in, he thought, and that didn’t work. 

But, so look, why, why do I, um, why do I read these kind of books? For, for me, like I said, the business one is, is, is motivational it’s it’s, it’s, it’s my own way of saying to myself, “am I pushing myself sufficiently?” Because it’s very easy to go flat. 

Ashish: Hmm. Yeah. 

Naim: Second one. It’s it’s what I like. It’s I admire those, those stories and it’s, it’s easy work. It’s not hard work. It’s, it’s a, it’s a, a paragraph of, of poetry that you read that stays with you for two weeks and you keep trying and, and, and digest all of that. And the third one it’s, it’s, it’s fascinating. Someone’s life and what they’ve gone through. I mean, the gentleman travels with, with the kilo of lemons every time, because he would wash his hands with lemons after touching anything and anyone. 

Ashish: Oh! It’s like a germophobe who also,

Naim: Has hundred percent, a hundred percent. So it makes you, makes you, you learn a lot by reading these books. And can, can I do anything with that information, but can I learn about behavioral,, patterns and psyches? 

Ashish: Absolutely. You know, one thing and I mean, you know, as somebody leading the organization and I also find myself consciously questioning this is that, you know, we all running our own business we have gained this power that we can choose who to work with. You know, I mean, mostly 80% of our times, right? Colleagues, partners, even customers in, in case you have the privilege, or you, you wanna, you, you exercise the privilege. But I think that also creates an eco chamber, right? Because we start liking people who also have our worldview while you continuously need that challenge or some contrarian view, not from random people, like from people who you also respect, right. So, that you can carry that contrarian view in your head and you can keep mulling over it and thinking that, okay, what did this guy just say? I mean, I, I disagree with it, but can I look at it again? How do you, like, do you keep some contrarian? Like how do you, how do you keep challenging, if you do?

Naim: I’m not sure if I keep them or they keep me, that’s. Let’s be honest, it’s life throws a lot of things at you. And I think the, the success is how do you deal with, what’s being thrown at you? It’s, it’s no matter how high you are, or you don’t control everything that happens, particularly when you have a, a public business, public business is you have people. And when you have people, they have their opinions. When they have their opinions, you need to make sure they are aligned with your business opinions in order to execute a business model. But that’s not always the case because ultimately, 80% of the people have their own agendas. They have their own path that they’d like to nurture, pursue, and, and get to at the end of the day. And a lot of the times that’s not aligned with the business objectives. So, rather than me keeping them, it’s, it’s them keeping me. It’s for me, what’s important is for me to identify what’s again, what’s the contribution of their efforts into my business? 

Ashish: No, I, I think my, my, question is a little different. I’m sorry, what I’m, what I’m saying is as a leader, how do you create a sounding board for yourself and not bored in like the official terms. But I’m saying like, how do you keep yourself challenged on the notions? You know, which also, you know, have been built over years with your experiences, right? Last 10 years, let’s say you had certain experiences and you created like certain rules and principles and you go by them, right.

You also add your gut feel to that. But then there are times when you really need to reset some of them and say, “hey, you know what, I feel this way, but let me take a shot, right?” What are those, you know, can you cite like some, some stories, some anecdotes. 

Naim: Two years of politics haven’t gone to waste, right? I still have a very strong following. I watch BBC two hours every day. Just about in the morning, the minute that I wake up, my BBC’s on. Not because I believe what they say. It’s because I’d like to know what’s happening around the globe and then I’ll form an opinion. If you take and again, I often remind myself not to talk about politics and religion, but in order to answer your question, I’m afraid I have to, if you look around the globe, what’s happening today. If you take the leadership of the UK, if you take the leadership of the US, if you take the leadership of Palestine, if you take the leadership of Australia, right? I think the world’s in a very, very dark place today, and who’s going to pay the price. We as individuals will have to face all of those consequences. 

Ashish: Mm. 

Naim: The last 24 hours what’s happening in Palestine, Israel, it’s not normal. 

Ashish: Mm. 

Naim: The same thing is happening in Ukraine and Russia, but the coverage is not balanced. And for me, I’m often asking myself if I was in those situations. If I was to have completed that third year and got myself into a government gig role into politics, how would I be representing those incidents, those actions, and what is my contribution to the world?

And I think, sadly, I, I am disagreeing with a lot that’s happening around me and it’s making me stronger. It’s making my opinions stronger. However, my voice is not out there by choice. So I feed on what’s happening around me on the world by having intelligence that I form in my own way. And challenge the decisions that governments are making, individuals are making that are impacting populations for years.

Ashish: Hmm. So that’s your, so politics is also while nurturing, you know, you your own 

Naim: Look, I’m not sure if it’s, I’m not sure if the headline is politics, but their actions impact everybody. So if we don’t have a say, we don’t have a. Look what’s happening in Sri Lanka today. Really? Yeah. Phenomenal. 

Ashish: Absolutely! 

Naim: Phenomenal. 

Ashish: Yeah. 

Naim: It’s unjust at every level. 

Ashish: Yeah. In 2022!

Naim: In 21st century, we democracy ruling. We, we, we, the world look at, look at the shooting at schools in the US. It’s not normal. Yeah. Yeah. These, these actions should be confronted to the authorities, but sadly, there aren’t enough voices out there, United voices, because all that the leadership is worried about is votes, voices, commercialism. Nothing else. They’re worrying about two years. They’re not worried about bluff and that’s, for me, that’s very, very concerning. So I’m not sure if it’s politics, I think it’s existence. And how do we defend our existence for the better humane world? 

Ashish: Naim I, I, I wanna make a, make an observation, right? Can I? 

Naim: Get right ahead? 

Ashish: I, I think, you know, speaking to you, I can, I can continuously see that the plane, the orbit in which Naim is continuously watching the word thinking, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s each time it’s a zoomed out broad view and then zoom in with context and then zoom out, you know, again, and, you know, I see, I see, that’s phenomenal. I think, I think I’m sure it, it you know, your leadership style, this, this may reflect in that, but does it help you think much longer term? Like, are you, does it help you play a 10 year game instead of a one year game? Even in a business like restaurants, hospitality, wellness, et cetera, where the life of the asset, you know, is three years before you kind of rejig it, do something about it. Market is changing, et cetera. Does this help you do a 10 or 10 plus sort of view? Or how do you, how does this side of you or your personality reflect in your business, which is very instantaneous in its, in its character? 

Naim: Yeah. Look, I think if you can identify that the business is very rapidly changing you, you are already on a winning track, as long as you make sure that the defining mechanism of a business is clear. And you know that in five years as a person, as an organization, right. And I can’t separate myself from Gates, right. That’s where we endeavor on being now, how do we execute our style needs to be relevant to the market. Now the market is moving rapidly that I can’t plan like I used to. So our agility, our nimble approach is what makes us strong.

Our, I did mention earlier I attend every meeting without having an agenda, because I’ll think I’ll define the agenda. Once we finish the meeting. Once I have sufficient intelligence about the topic, about the endeavor, about the scope, I’ll define the calendar, whether we need a calendar or not. So my ability to view life long term is very strong. I know exactly where I’d like to be in five years, 10 years as a, as a human, but as a business, I don’t even have that endeavor to define it because I can’t control it. 

Ashish: Beautiful. 

Naim: My control over it is to be agile, nimble, and to make sure I’m relevant to that time. That’s it. 

Ashish: Awesome! Quick one. What are your favorite restaurants? One, two or three.

Naim: Look, my, my favorite restaurants, I, I, uh, often get asked the question and I always refuse to answer the question because restaurants for me shouldn’t be about what are they it’s, what is the purpose of that meal? Period. Is if I’m going with my wife, there’s a need. If I’m going with my colleagues is a, is a space and a time.

Ashish: No. So I think, I, I think I’m not, I’m not asking, you know, you to actually name those restaurants as, you know, a star for them. You know, let’s say you’re going out with family, you know, what’s, what’s a restaurant that you love. Like you, you love going purely your personal opinion. 

Naim: Look in, again, family, family is a bit tricky. You’ve, you’ve hit me with a tricky one because it’s, it’s about pleasing the family rather than eating. If you know what I’m saying. So making sure that the family is content and then we, we okay. My, my girls, my, my girls are 15 and 17. So they’re going through an age now where, you know, dining for the 17 year old is becoming very important. 15 is it’s a meal. So it’s about making sure for me, it’s, it’s a table that gets us together as a family unit where we can talk about anything and everything. Reform for me as a, as a venue, as a brand has always done that because there’s multiple, there’s multiple facets in that business that talks to anybody. So the kids can go out. If they choose to the kids can be engaged, watching TV. If they choose to, they could be engaging in our discussion if they want to. And it set multi-facets of a business where, you know, you’re getting good food in a vibrant environment, pleasing everybody around the table. Nice.

Ashish: Awesome! And, and one, you know, I don’t know, peer colleague, or maybe somebody in the world that you admire in the business of hospitality. I’m not talking about like somebody who’s, you know, who’s absolutely, you know, I mean, I’m not talking about the legends, I’m talking about the legends in making, who you identify and I, and who you feel that, you know, you, you, you, you feel inspired when you see them, meet them, talk to them or see their work in case you don’t have the opportunity to meet them.

Naim: There, there are multiple. I was, um, I was born three weeks after my father passed away. Okay. So never, never really had a, a father figure in the house, which is, and I had three sisters older, of course. And so mom, three girls, myself, and, my uncle, one of my uncles was my model if I may and who happens to be in hospitality as well. And until this very stage, until this very moment, he’s still a figure that I would often ask myself, what would Richard have done in this situation? Or how would he have answered this question or tackle this?

Ashish: Is this the one whose restaurants you were working in?

Naim: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. And look, he was extremely tough. He was extremely disciplined as a, as an individual fairy disciplined. And I think it made me the way I am today. It’s it’s about having that balance of discipline, and objectives in, in one, in one kind of limelight. So he’s, he’s one, in my, in my career as well. In, in Hilton, it was, a mentor of mine is, is a gentleman one, the name Qays/Qais Hardaker, who was my GM early in, in the, in the years, again, extremely disciplined, but, extremely determined as well.

And I admired the fact that he knew where he wanted the business to go and who played, what role in the business and equally as important, my learning from him is he nurtured individuals and I was one of them that stood out from the crowd. So these guys are always in my life, as in what would they do? How would they react and what would they say 

Ashish: Awesome, Naim! I think that is, that is, that was a super chat. And, you know, I am, I am actually going out from this conversation enriched and a lot of respect, you know, you know, for you and a lot of gratitude for, you know, for this conversation. Thank you. You know, all the best for Gates. Congratulations again, for the Michelin guide. For both, you know, your restaurant as well as for Dubai, for UAE. 

Naim: Thank you! Thank you very much. Look on, on a closing note, I have omitted from saying one, one very important, objective in, in my life and my business, right? And these are the four business pillars, right? So we have – innovate, enrich, engage , and belong. These are the four things that if you work with Naim you’ll hear them endlessly. And, and if you really think about these four pillars, right? We don’t talk about commercials. We don’t talk about anything to do other than experimental experiences, human led, enrichment, innovation leading from the front. And for me, these are extremely important and decisive in every business decision that we make in every life decision that I make. Why? Because they control the business outcome; commercials will come if you have those things. And I think, to allude to a question that you’ve raised earlier. It’s about making sure you define yourself. You define your business parameters extremely well, so you can service those requirements. And these four pillars for me are, the foundations of everything we do and everything we embark upon in order to make sure that we have clarity, relevance, continuity, and, and giving back. 

Ashish: So innovate, enrich, engage, and belong. Perfect. And that actually, that actually ties back into your, you know, the year one, two and three. 

Naim: Yes, it’s a cycle. Here’s a cycle. 

Ashish: Thanks again. Thank you. Thanks a lot. It was a great chat. Thank you very much.


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