#038 – Hospitality Meets Mark Kirby – The High Profile Multi-Property General Manager

What does it take to become one of a regions most prominent General Managers? We chatted to Mark Kirby, Regional General Manager of The Address Downtown, Dubai (www.addresshotels.com/en/hotels/address-downtown/) to find that out.

We got through so much including Dubai (Of course), Chesterfield, School, AICR, London, Harvey Nicholls, reciting your career backwards at interview, Meeting Mr Armani, The Armani Hotel, Translating your CV into Italian, creating the right noises, Sustainability, PR, Exercise and a whole lot more.

Mark talks with such energy and passion about what he does that it’s hard not to get captivated by it. Mark also has some hilarious stories which he’s shared with us.

Thanks so much Mark.


Show Transcription


hotel, people, Dubai, hospitality, business, stories, London, Chesterfield, GM, The Lanesborough, The Goring, running, terms, part, Grosvenor House, Armani, manager, year, career,


Mark Kirby, Phil Street

Phil Street 00:01

Welcome to hospitality meets with me Phil street where we take a light hearted look into the stories and individuals that make up the wonderful world of hospitality. Today’s guest is Mark Kirby, any general manager for the address downtown in Dubai. Coming up on today’s show… Mark identifies a problem with a hotel’s location.

Mark Kirby 00:22

Very dangerous being next to Harvey Nichols Not for good for the credit card I have to say.

Phil Street 00:26

Phil explains what it’s like being the opposite of a morning person. I had days where I woke up and just thought….. uuuurggghh And Mark tells us a story about averting disaster.

Mark Kirby 00:37

I turned, around to literally leg it back to the front of the hotel to pick the right guest up

Phil Street 00:43

All that and so much more as Mark talks us through His story and journey to date, as well as some exceptional content on PR and creating the right noises. In addition, Mark really does talk with incredible energy about his craft a massive thank you to him for that. Don’t forget, we launch a brand new episode each week telling the amazing and always amusing stories from hospitality. So make sure you hit that subscribe button and give us a like and share across your networks. Let’s share these stories as far as we can. Enjoy. Hello, and welcome to the next edition of hospitality meets with me, Phil St. Today, we once again cross the seas. This time we’re off to the Middle East. And I’m delighted to welcome to the show one of Dubai’s most prominent general managers who may or may not thank me for saying that, but having worked in a few of the region’s most prestigious hotels, including Le Royal Meridian Beach Resort and Spa, the Armani Hotel in Dubai and now Area GM of the address hotels downtown part of the Emaar Hospitality Group. I’m delighted to welcome to the show, Mark Kirby.

Mark Kirby 01:46

Thank you very much really, really, really nice to hear from you.

Phil Street 01:50

Brilliant. How are you doing?

Mark Kirby 01:51

Yeah, we’re not not too bad. Actually, as you know, we everyone’s been having an interesting time through this COVID. And getting used to the new norms, we’re starting to see a lot more positivity in the market, which is really great. The buyer opened up, opened its international borders on the seventh. So we’re just getting used to welcoming international travellers back into the city. And, you know, last weekend, we had 60% occupancy in one of our hotels. And that was quite exciting. Because, you know, we haven’t seen 60% occupancy since with pre a pre COVID, you know, normally 60% occupancy, I think you would be be twiddling your thumbs thinking, well, we’re not we should do a bit more. But we’re sort of celebrating that that sort of occupancy.

Phil Street 02:33

Yeah. Well, I mean, that’s why that’s the new normal, right.

Mark Kirby 02:39

We get excited about small victories, we should do you know, when you’ve got 1000 dirhams, and you’re happy that it’s going across the cost the cash register. So we’ll we’ll see how that moves as we move forward.

Phil Street 02:52

Yeah, and I suppose as well for you, it’s a double whammy at this time of year because it’s right in the heart of deepest, hottest summer, which I guess is not normally your your, your best trading period, in any case, but then I didn’t, the COVID situation on tops, and it’s you’re just getting battered from all angles.

Mark Kirby 03:13

Yeah, we were COVID actually started to hit us and really start to affect Dubai really, at the end of March. And that’s a key season. So we were we were trading very, very positively in January. In fact, in January, we did our best month ever for the address downtown hotel, which I’m sitting in today. And that was really great. And everybody was celebrating those achievements 91% which was pretty, pretty full on. And then by March we were sitting with you know, we were we were dropping right off below 30%. And that was obviously quite worrying at that time. So you lose your you lose that key period of the the beginning of the year. And then you hit sort of June, July, August, September when it’s traditionally our slightly lower season. Although having having such great things like the Dubai Mall, and all the facilities over that, whether it be kidzania whether it be things like the and the Dubai underwater zoo, and all the stuff that goes on in the in the world’s biggest mall, you know, it’s actually we actually do pretty well in the summertime because people don’t tend to be on the beach so much. And they come to the hotels that are more centrally located with the facilities attached.

Phil Street 04:21


Mark Kirby 04:21

Uh, yeah, it’s, it’s an interesting time of the year to for it all to come together.

Phil Street 04:27

Yeah, absolutely. Okay. Well, before we get on to, I suppose a bit more about you and who you are and what you do right now take us all the way back to the beginning of your career and kind of just give us a run through of of you and how did you get into this industry and just take us far from now?

Mark Kirby 04:46

No, gosh, they take me back a few years. Yeah. Yeah. Originally from the UK, born in Sheffield. I grew up in a market town of political Chesterfield, for those who know it in the Middle East.

Phil Street 04:59

Really I didn’t know that about you. But my wife’s also from Chesterfield. No way. Well, there we go.

Mark Kirby 05:06

I should have I should have a talk to your wife at some stage, then we can probably tell the secrets

Phil Street 05:10

Absolutely, you know the one thing I remember about the first time she took me to Chesterfield to meet her parents was, this was quite some time ago, no, neither of us could drive at the time. So we were 100% reliant on public transport. And we arrived and on the train, and we were going to get a taxi to her mom’s place. And she said, just bear in mind that the taxi driver will probably call me “me duck”. And I was like, whatever. And of course, as soon as we got in the taxi driver, he said, Where are you off to me Duck? And I was like, Okay, so that’s true, then

Mark Kirby 05:45

You were quite tuned into it. You’ve been given the inside info.

Phil Street 05:49

Yeah, absolutely. And of course, Chesterfield is famous for one thing only.

Mark Kirby 05:55

Well, one thing is the crooked Spire

Phil Street 05:56


Mark Kirby 05:58

Its famous for a lot of other things. But we won’t get into that

Phil Street 06:02

yeah, but Anyway, I digress. But you’ll get to see that that happens sometimes. But anyway.

Mark Kirby 06:09

So I grew up in I grew up in Chesterfield, my father was, my late father was a very successful businessman, security, electrical business. And I used to spend a lot of time actually going around with him when he used to go and meet hoteliers in London in the capital and all over obviously the UK, that sort of had a detriment to my school results. Because I actually left school I went to a grammar school in Chesterfield went in to do my GCSEs. And I left with some pretty poor results. So I remember, I remember one summer I was working with ads. My dad’s firm, he was paying me a very low wage. He was very tight like that.

Phil Street 06:47


Mark Kirby 06:47

He was paying me less than the less than the normal wage, I would have said, to do some work in his warehouses. And I always remember as I was very scared of my mom, actually. So my mum came into me. She said, Have you seen your results? And you know, me, me being a bit nervous of mother looked at her in horror. So she said, Well, I don’t know what you’re going to do your man because certainly you’re not going to you’re not going to be hanging around us. You need to sort yourself out. So she came to me actually. And she came with a there was a clipping in a newspaper. And this clipping in the newspaper I think, was the Derbyshire times and she said, Look, there’s a there’s a hospitality school up in Buxton. She said, I think that’s something that you would like to potentially go and have a look at it, you know, you can go and do what was called in those days a B tech first. And a B tech first was sort of a conversion into a B tech national. So it meant that, you know, if you if you flunked your GCSE results I was in there was one more chance. So, because I’ve always always been interested in hotels, and the reason why is interested in hotels, and that’s probably where you probably think wire wire was, was because as I as I used to go around with my father to, to the London hotels, I remember one time he was he was actually he went to see David Morgan here to The Goring. And he was fitting a security system there. And I remember my father used to say to me, you know, you sit in the lobby, don’t touch anything, keep quiet. They are you are. So I used to sit in the lobby of some of the five star hotels in London and literally watch life Go on, it was a lot more interesting. It was a lot more interesting in London and the five star hotel lobbies and it wasn’t just a bill, believe me much to the upset of my father because I think he wanted his son to join his business. So off I went to college, and I think he was still I think he was still under the impression that you know, I’d spent a couple of years at college and then I would probably join the family business. And I found that you know, through that beat tech first I really started to enjoy it and my you know, my grades were coming in pretty strong. And then I went into the national and I came out with one of the top students in the in the in the diversity in the college. So right after that, after that college, I then went off to Birmingham decided to go a little bit more South far enough away from home but close enough that I could you know, drive back if I needed some washing doing so off I went down to university in Birmingham and yeah, I did three first year to first year should have say. And it was a it was quite It was quite an intense course because it was a it was a it was a it was a partnership between the University of Birmingham and the Birmingham College of food, which was a very well known and very sought after hospitality school. So we used to do the hospitality part of it in the Birmingham College of food. And then the sort of the business, the strategic strategy and business studies with the University of Birmingham. So quite a tough course. And I had to go out in the third year and this was where my luck sort of started to gain and gain a little bit more. A bit seemed to pick up more. Because I went to there was two hotels I went to one was the Lanesborough and one was the The Goring. And both of them were interviewing me for sort of a management placement third year sandwich placement from university. But I always remember the lanes where the time said to me Well, we can put you in housekeeping for six months and we’ll put you in If you’re good enough in housekeeping, we’ll put you in the restaurant for six months in housekeeping, not sure about that so often went to the goring and, and this is where this is where I just fell in love with the hotel straightaway, they were really great. And they said, Look, what we’re going to do with you is we’re going to put you through a management training programme, you will spend time, everywhere, including the kitchens will will teach you some skills throughout. And then we’ll send you back to university. And they were the most friendly or most connecting hotels, you know, you’re going you don’t forget when you’re young, and you go down to the big city city hotels in London, they’re a bit scary. And I remember I met David at the time. Yeah, he’s an amazing chap larger than life as you know.


Phil Street 10:39



Mark Kirby 10:39

And, yeah, before I knew it, I was management trainee at the goring. And just before I went there, this was, this is where you should net you should always you know, as a young man, you should always keep your mouth closed and say nothing. So I looked at the schedule that they’d sent to me and it said, you know, you’re going to do two months here, you do a month here, you got a two months in the kitchen, I was thinking, Well, I’m not really interested in the kitchen. So I asked him whether I can do a month in the kitchen and then a bit more somewhere else. So I did. So instead of incentives instead of complying or, or following my wish, they actually put me ended up putting me in the kitchen for three months. That’s a lesson I think. So. I got another month on top of it. But I had an amazing time. And the hotel taught me a lot put a lot of trust into me, we used to go out to some of the top London restaurants where David used to have a management club dinner where he used to take a member, a member of each department out and sort of Teach them all about the restaurants in the Capital. So he was very, he was very much into food and beverage of those days. So we really got to really get to know the Capital and then I had to go back to boring all Birmingham for my final year which was, which was, which was a really tough tough year because not only had I left the goring left those fantastic restaurants but I had to go up to the you know, up to burning them back to you know, to put my head down, but my head down I did and came out to me with a two one and second in the class. So I always remember when it came to graduation there was there was my mother You know, I’m then in the robes and the hats and everything and that she’s she sat there crying. I think she’s crying more for a leaf rather than boyhood failed is GCSEs managed to get through to the sort of being the top two in the university. Yeah, I think it all goes to show that when you’re really enjoying something, you you’ve got your heart into it, it really, really makes you understand about, you know, I always say to people, and I say that to people in my team in the hotels now, you know, if you really enjoy it, you’ll you’ll Excel. If it’s not for you then don’t stay, you know, yeah, because it you’ll never do the same capacity.


Phil Street 12:40

I think that’s a great mantra for anyone. Really, if you’re doing it just for a job, but not from the heart, then it’s probably got a very limited lifespan.


Mark Kirby 12:51

Yeah, well, you know, as much as I do, and you’ve been, you know, this industry for years now, you know, the people who really get in and enjoy it. And it’s a, it’s a tough industry, you’ve got to enjoy to really and to really excel otherwise you won’t you won’t put up with the hours. And you won’t understand that, you know, when you’re working at Christmas time everyone else is off. Yeah, it can be quite tough. But actually, that’s the that’s the fun time of the year. That’s the time of the year that you have the most time Now is your time. So I left Birmingham, London is obviously the place to be for hotels, and I really want to go back to the Capital. So I joined as a receptionist at the Grosvenor house in London and it was just on the cusp of the trust house Forte era with Granada, literally just taking over the property in those days. You know, you’re


Phil Street 13:35

Your showing your age now


Mark Kirby 13:37

I am. That’s it. I shouldn’t tell you so many secrets Phil, So 586 bedrooms, a big, big hotel, it was great. And I really loved that fact, because the goring was great for me in terms of getting overall experience. I think that that gave me sort of the boutique hotel experience. And yeah, they’re really very luxurious, boutique hotel experience. And I really wanted a big hotel to sort of learn my trade. So I went into as a receptionist, and I always remember, you know, 400 arrivals, 400 departures, and a tough hotel it was, but it was so much great fun, and I absolutely loved it. It was biggest, you know, got the Grosvenor house, it was a big banqueting hotel. So yeah, November, December, this was a time of the year where they had all those awards ceremonies, and you would have, you know, say 400 guests check in for one or one event one day, and then they’d be checking out the next so it was, you know, the minute you got onto reception that you weren’t getting off that desk for at least 12 hours level, let alone a cup of coffee, but it was a great it was a hotel that taught me a lot. It was a hotel that taught me all about how to manage guests and manage volume and manage complaints pretty well because it was quite a tired product in those days before Marriott took over.


Phil Street 14:47

Right? Yeah, I mean, 400 people coming and going is wow, that’s relentless numbers, isn’t it? I mean,


Mark Kirby 14:54

yeah. And they were they were the peaks of the year. So they were the times where you know you had the hairdresser awards. For example. I always remember that one because you’d have everyone checking in and wanting a load of hair dryers and hairspray. And they’d be wanting, you know, the big ballroom and they’d have the that those big huge events that they had downstairs in the great room, which are really great. And it was just, it was just a hotel that really is a great hotel to start at. And, you know, there’s so many people have been through that hotel over the years, and have sort of it’s like, you know, most of the hotels I’ve actually worked out have been training schools. I’ve been very fortunate throughout my career. So Grosvenor house was one of those that really just taught me how to deal with those sort of challenges, which is great fun. I then when I was a receptionist, then I became supervisor. And then I was one of the three reception managers in that hotel. And I remember getting a call one day my CV had been passed on it was all you know, London and was very much word of mouth in those days. They were looking for reception manager, the landmark and I was asked to go and have a conversation with them. So I did and I light the landmark I focused you it was the hotel manager the time Magdi was front of house manager, and they were looking for someone and obviously with that connection of Grosvenor house, I think you know, I my obviously did pretty okay in the interview, because I got the job anyway. I went to you often wonder day, yeah, I joined there as a reception manager, the number one reception manager progressed up to front of house manager, and I was there for five years. And it was it was an amazing hotel, amazing Hotel in terms of, again, its banqueting facilities, in terms of its Middle East business, it was heavily occupied in the summertime by the GCC, like a lot of London hotels are, yeah. And really enjoyed being part of that hotel. And it was just having been a Grosvenor house and coming to the landmark and sort of running my own department and then take care of the front of house. That was great experiences. And I met a lot of people. And that’s, that’s when I joined the AICR, which is, you know, the front of house Association. It was a landmark days, and I then progressed up to being the president of that. And that’s when you really get to know a lot of people around the Capital. And it’s such a great, such a great organisation that we’re so passionate about today.


Phil Street 17:08

We’ve had the the grandfather, as he called it, of the AICR on the show, actually David Cowdery.


Mark Kirby 17:15

Absolutely. I listened to that podcast. It was great.


Phil Street 17:19

Yeah, he’s just a walking story that that man, I’m sure we didn’t even cover half of the stuff that he’s got up to in his career. But But anyway, that’s that’s for a different time


Mark Kirby 17:30

David’s a very, David is a very special friend is he’s amazing. And yeah, we’ve had, you know, the AICR is so great, because it does connect, you know, the legends in London as well as you know, people, new people coming onto the, onto the hospitality scene. And it’s, and London is particularly strong in terms of its membership. And, you know, there’s probably not one hotel that doesn’t have a member in that in that association. So it’s, it was really, really great to be sort of, you know, growing up through that, and then becoming, you know, as I started in the AICR as the events guy, then I looked after sponsorship, I was a bit of a shot, wasn’t it? When my you know, when I when I was really hopeless at maths at school, I managed to get myself through into a sponsorship position. And then I then I became president eventually. So that was, yeah, that obviously, obviously something went


Phil Street 18:16

right. But it’s I think it’s these, I suppose membership things I said, trying to figure out the word of what it is group


Mark Kirby 18:25

Association. Yeah


Phil Street 18:26

That that’ll do it, you know they’re incredibly important, I think, in terms of bringing people together, and kind of sharing information and sharing best practice best knowledge. And all of these things, I can imagine that that’s worth its weight in gold.


Mark Kirby 18:42

It is, it’s, you know, it’s amazing that you can actually reach out to a quite quite a large group of people, you know, London was, in my days, London was more than 100 hotels on that hundred or 100 hundred people from different hotels. And it was great, because when you wanted information on something, you could reach out and said, Look, I’m looking to do X, Y, and Zed, what are you doing your hotel. So to get that information firsthand, and you know, because we’re all the same like minded individuals, it’s great that you can actually just get that super fast. And that really helps you in your current role. So just information sharing is really valuable. You don’t realise that, but also the networking, getting to know you, when it comes to future opportunities as well. It’s great because people get to know you. And you know, the industry is so small that people always reach out and say, do you know, I’m looking for front of house manager I’m looking for you know, reset, I’m looking for a reception manager. And it’s those networks that help with that, you know, and that’s and to be honest, it was the AICR my my connections with the AICR network that got me connected with TSA to do the upselling at the landmark First of all, and then that got me connected and got me the opportunity to get an interview and the position after the lunch. Get the Sheraton pop tower. Right neck. And that came about because the, the general manager at the time and Scott, who’s a great friend of mine, she she reached out, she said, Look, I need someone, I need someone in the city who is pretty well connected. And he’s someone who knows about the city knows about what’s going on and has those networks. So you have to be part of an association, particularly London is super valuable.


Phil Street 20:24

Yeah, no, absolutely. Not just I suppose from your own career development, but just in terms of making the industry appear smaller, really. And, you know, everybody’s looking after each other as opposed to competing with each other.


Mark Kirby 20:40

Yeah, no, absolutely. I think that, you know, the AICR has been, you know, in and I’m with the AICR in Dubai now, and the AICR international comes together at congresses and praesidium throughout, you know, throughout the year. And it’s it’s amazing how you can reconnect after a year and you know, your people will always be looking out for you and looking after you. And it’s more of a friendship and it’s incredible how it how it spreads throughout the world and how people as we move internationally like all of us, do, we still keep connected and you know, I’m still a member of the AICR UK section as an honorary member because of being a president but I love to love to see what’s going on and I’d see the emails coming through and it just just keeps you connected more than anything.


Phil Street 21:20

Yeah, absolutely.


Mark Kirby 21:21

That’s what happens so after the Landmark, you know, through the car through that sort of word of mouth, I actually moved for us being a front of house manager the landmark into the park tower legendary Park tower, the round hotel next to Harvey Nichols very dangerous thing being next to Harvey Nichols, not good for the credit card. I have to say Harvey Nichols as your corner shop is a bit of a danger.


Phil Street 21:41

Yeah, Well, that fifth floor by God drop the the price of my house in that space with the products that are in there, phenomenal


Mark Kirby 21:52

Yeah, I know. But it was my local coffee shop and he wanted to get out of the hotel. So not a good thing. But I joined the I joined the park town I and there was a particular reason why I did that was because I’d done the boutique hotel with the goring I’d been in the landmark which was you know, quite a prestigious Hotel in Malabo decided to then join obviously, the park tower or the park tower was a Starwood international company. If I wanted to travel in the future that might that was sort of on my mind set at the time, not not that I would not that I thought I was going to be travelling with them. But you know, I thought international companies a good idea to join. And, you know, part of Starwood and part of the luxury collection, it was, you know, really super hotel. And again, it was very GCC centric, being Knightsbridge. And it was, you know, my first rooms division manager position, looking after all front of house and sort of the number two in the hotel, reporting into an and that was a really super hotel very, almost, you know, 200 odd rooms and quite boutique in a sense, but from, you know, because it because it had the other two Sheratons, it was, you know, you felt part of a bigger company as well. And then you’ve met that sort of the huge Starwood background behind it, it really helped me from a much larger international corporate company development to develop myself, you know, when you when you come to looking at budgets, and you come to doing, you know, you have all your KPIs and everything in life, you know, what a great opportunity to move from somewhere like that. I’m not to that hotel. It was Yeah, it was, it was a very successful Italian, I’ve always remember that some of the business was incredible.


Phil Street 23:21

Right? Well, and then I suppose, as well, because the landmarks part of I suppose a small independent group, you’re moving into a bigger group different kind of focus because of that, or is it? Yeah, well, the heart the sin?


Mark Kirby 23:34

Yes. Well, sort of similar in terms of its guests, there have always been in the hotels that have looked after the GCC guests. I grew up in London. Yeah, if you think about Grosvenor house, the land model, I suppose that’s why I’ve always been, I’ve been fortunate enough to actually take on those positions, and probably because of that background. You know, you look you look for people who have had experience in those markets, because they are, you know, particular client is you know, wanting, you know, but very, very personalised service and superfast. And, you know, you get used to dealing with that market. And I just think that, you know, the two hotels, one being independent, a little bit more flexible in terms of being able to make decisions quite quickly. And then you go into a corporate company. And that’s good, because it teaches you all about, you know, it was a Don’t forget style is American company. So it teaches you all about you know, it’s a bigger machine to drive, you know, and the procedures and policies and things you have in place are a lot different. Yeah. It was great in terms of being able to understand that and have a good, you know, and run with that and have a good understanding of how a larger and much more of a company that runs.


Phil Street 24:42

Yeah. And from there that was that was your last London role, I think, wasn’t it?


Mark Kirby 24:48

Yeah, it was. It was a cat… That was what catapulted me out here, actually. And you know, I did join it as potentially it could take me internationally if I ever wanted and I wasn’t looking for an international role, to be honest. At that time, London is beautiful city, you know, I’ve managed to buy my first house, I had that big mortgage, and I was pretty settled. And you know, you’ve got car and mortgage and you know, everything’s ticking along nicely. And the next position is potentially Operations Manager for bigger hotel or a GM of a smaller property or a hotel manager. That was sort of the next rule coming up. Yeah, what happened was I ended up along with one of the along with the one of the chaps in Starwood, who basically did Middle East sales, I went out with him as sort of a bit of experience relief on the first year to go around the GCC. And we spent about just over two weeks, twice a year, go into most of the the key cities, including Dubai, so Dubai was one and then you go to Jordan, which we had a particularly big accounting through to Qatar through to Saudi. So we used to do that hop onto a plane, go and see some of the key the key private clients and also some of the top agents. And then the second trip was with the Star Wars sort of a road show. And that really just got me knowing about the region a lot more and I and I always remember, I had friends in Dubai. So I remember, you know, so I always used to have Dubai planned on that last part of the trip before homebound for Blighty to buy for me in those days. And this was, you know, 2000 we’re talking 2006 and seven, June of 2006. Dubai was, you know, springing up the hotels were very, very five star they were, you know, there was a lot of bling in Divine those days and hotels were, you know, beautiful five star hotels, and you know, everybody spoke English out here. So that helped. And the fact that there was sunshine every morning for sure, for sure, you know, brighten up your day. So I sort of looked at Dubai a couple of times and thought, you know, good like, would this be a city that I could potentially come out to and it took it took another year, as I came on that sales trip, the second year round, I actually did the sales trip on my own because the sales guy had actually moved out. So I took that I took that manager and sort of did that along with my rooms, division managers role, which is great, because what I was doing is actually meeting the private clients in the region. And then I was there in the hotel to personally agreed to meet them when they were here. So there was a great connection. And that bill was a lot, a very strong report. But I remember being out here in 2007, early 2007 it was a march trip. And I really realised you know, what if I don’t do this international career now if I don’t make that jump, or at least try it, I probably will never do that. Because I was as I said, I was on that route. I was on a position where maybe my next position in London and I’ll be too comfortable, enjoying enjoying life in the Capitol. So I thought you know what, this is a time to pack up. So I planned for the July trip when I came out on the July check to come and visit a few hotels. And I got I got in touch with Guido, who’s you know, on the one of the very, very senior people out here looking at originally Starwood now with Marriott and Vito had a chat to me, and Scott had actually put me in touch with Pam will be at the Grosvenor house in the rule meridian. And it managed to get me a cup of coffee with with Pam, which was really great. And I always remember meeting Pam for the first time. And she was, you know, really very easy going, but you know, running two incredibly iconic hotels. And she was, you know, we both come from the UK, we both had a lot of people in the friends in common or people we knew, but from the industry. That’s how small the industry is. And, you know, I merely purely said to farm, you know, what, if something comes up at your two hotels, we let me know, I mean, I’d be interested if something comes up and your perm is amazing, because she’s strategic. So she looked, you know, she’s thinking of the future, how they and I didn’t know that at the time. So she said, you know, a couple of days later, I’m still staying at the hotel and she said, Would you come for a cup of tea? And I said, Sure, came for a cup of tea with her and she said, Look, I just the role I might have for you. And I was thinking that, you know, if you were interested in it, we could take it further. So I wrote roll meridian Grosvenor house are probably the two very polished hotels out here at the time. And they’re they’re amazing, iconic hotels today. And she basically said, Look, you know, I don’t have to think about it. I’m just taking some time off and let’s reconnect in a couple of weeks. Three months later, I was packing up the house in London and I was flying out here with you know, boxes and suitcases and landing in the desert that October so it was July to October the house was rented out boxes boxes were in the back of the plane and off I went


Phil Street 29:25

that’s a big upheaval to kind of logistically take care of. But then I suppose that there was a lot of people did that at the time because it was it was so up and coming to by the time I mean, there were they couldn’t build hotels quickly enough. back then. It was just


Mark Kirby 29:40

it was just it was a it was just the right time. It was a greatest opportunity. You know, it was an opportunity you couldn’t turn down it was a director of rooms operations across two hotels. So as a multi property role was that role there before? No it was created. And I now know that you know, Pam had potentially created that because she saw something in me and wanted to, you know, find an opportunity for the future that potentially could move me into one of the other senior management roles in the hotel. So this is why I says it says she says strategic because she’s thinking ahead all the time. You know what, you know, and she’s looking at people, she’s looking at the future, you know, she’s always really looking at her team. And that’s what makes you know, a great team and a great hotel. So, you know, people say to me, Oh, my gosh, she moved very quickly, July to October and yeah, but I, you know, everything’s possible in the end of the day, you know, and I, you know, the house was up and the house was on mortgage, it was fine. I rented it out, decorated it because in those days after you built after you bought your own first house, you know, it’s not perfect. So you have to quickly do some work on it to get it ready to rent out, rented it out and there was I landed in 2007 in November and and that was it the day by day started.


Phil Street 30:53

Not a bad start.


Mark Kirby 30:55

Well, two pretty cool hotels, I have to say and I ended up staying those two hotels, progressing over eight years. From the rectorate rooms of two hotels into Grosvenor houses Am I still am rooms, then progressed into hotel manager that hotel, and then after being in Grosvenor house for a couple of years and I really wanted to be have more experience in the resort side of the business. So Pam gave me the opportunity to be hotel manager the room meridian which was which was amazing. It’s you know, it’s a 500 bedroom Resort Hotel, beautiful gardens and a sea front to die for. So it’s Yeah, I was I was very, very lucky.


Phil Street 31:36

I think that that property and one and only royal Mirage are my two favourite beach fronted properties.


Mark Kirby 31:45

Yeah, well, they were the two there, whether they were the two original hotels on the beach there and, and they’re still those iconic hotels today. Nobody can ever beat those two hotels, you know, they’re unbelievable. And they’re run by they’re equally run by really amazing professionals who, you know, who are industry legends out here. Yeah. And then that day came and you know, we’ve come and I’ve been talking and you know, we were looking at my career generally she you know, she’s always very, you know, she was always a person I can go to and the opportunity came up when I got a call actually from Armani at the time, through email, it was more it was more a call for me, Mara, initially, from a Hospitality Group point of view. And Emaar, as you know, is a very, very large company out here. Property company, more so property and malls and entertainment and hospitality is part of the Division of it. And they call me up to come and have a chat. So I’m going to have a chat with a guy called Aseem. Super, super, super guy. Yep. And I always remember that interview I and I’ve always, I’ve never practised it since but he was he was a gentleman, he said to me, okay, tell me about your career. Tell me about your career backwards. Yeah, and you know how hard it is to tell someone about that crap backwards. Because nothing links, because you know, if you tell a story about your life, like we’re doing now, they’re thinking, the reason everything links, I met that right person, that person then connected me into the next person, and I got that roll back off the back or whatever. If you do that backwards, it’s a it’s a lot harder. And I suppose I suppose if you’re, if you’ve got anything that’s not correct on your CV, you’ll easily get caught out.

Phil Street 33:22

Yeah, well, you’ve just give me an idea for a new show.

Mark Kirby 33:26

Well, there we go. It was a stressful interview. But he was he was actually gentleman and he called me up and he said, Look, you know, do these psychometric tests, I’ve seen you, let’s have a look. And then he called me back a couple of weeks later and said, Look, we have a position in our money, and I want you to go and meet the general manager. And his name was a guy called Spencer, what armour American Korean gentlemen very, very tall, about twice the height of me. And we just hit it off from the minute we had a cup of coffee and we talked about life and experiences. We sort of you know, sank Yeah, backwards. Exactly. It was one of those connections that was just great. You know, when someone said, you know, why, why did you choose Anya and I was like, What do you mean, why did I choose money and money sort of chose me but you know, it was it was one of the hotels that hadn’t done so you know, you I’ve done the beach hotels, I’ve done city hotels, and you know, I’ve done international positions, and this was sort of a this was a branded concept hotel, a lifestyle hotel, something very, very different. And of course, it’s in the Burj Khalifa. So eventually for Armani lifestyle, hotel, twist, my arm and my gun, got a lot going for it. There we go. So it was the hotel manager’s role was up basically, it’s a boutique hotel, but it’s a very, very busy building. Let me tell you, you know, 160 hotel rooms but incredibly busy property from from the banqueting point of view. Yeah, event point of view. So I joined this hotel manager, and that was where that was where life was, you know, changing again, and it was, you know, had some great experiences in there. And then the time came Spencer Spencer land. And I never I never in a million years thought the potential of Bobby thought as for GM position of their money hotel and you know, my, my current boss at the time and my current boss, so my current boss, Chris Newman, who’s the CEO of EMA Hospitality Group, incredible guy, he basically said, Look, there is an opportunity here. I believe he, he very much believes in stretching people and giving them stretch roles. So I had to go up for it was quite crazy time. Actually, I had to go off for a half a day assessment, you know, in a, in a very tough environment. So I went and did that came back alive seems to be okay. So I thought, okay, I might be in for the running of this. But I’m still a bit nervous thinking about the GM of money being in that position. I was thinking something else. And then I got a call to say, look, you know, you have to fly to Milan, the the guy who behind Armani, in terms of the hotel division, a guy called Fabrice, he wants to see you and meet you, which is which is customary because we have to send the GM out. So no problem to love. I went in my money suit. And I ended up on the just before I flew out to Dubai, the day before I’m getting a call to say Listen, Mr. Armani wants to meet you. And I was like, I got speechless. Oh, and by the way, can you also translate your CV into Italian before you go on? Number one I’ve always had I’m almost blacked out because I’ve got to meet Mr. Armani. But now I’ve got to get my CV into Italian. Yeah. So we did it. We did it fast. Luckily, I had a lot of Italians work in the hotel. So they translate to the CV put me on a plane.


Phil Street 36:34

Needed to trust…


Mark Kirby 36:36

a say, again


Phil Street 36:37

I was just gonna say just make sure that the level of trust was good. And the they weren’t just making up your CV to.


Mark Kirby 36:45

Well, I did get a couple of people to check it off. Just in case he puts on be interested in this. Yeah. So then I went to Milan data, the Amani Hotel in Milan, which is also beautiful. And then the time came when I had to go meet Mr. Armani. And he’s an incredible gentleman. I very respected was I I was nervous before I met him. But strangely enough, not at all when I was with him very business focused, or pushed my CV to after after spent all that time on that CV and pushed it to one side of the table and wanted to talk to me about business and life in the hotel room. That’s because that was the interview and it was all being translated, you know, English, Italian, English, Italian. And most people have about five minutes with him. Usually I had about 30 so I thought, well, that’s a good sign.


Phil Street 37:26



Mark Kirby 37:27

And then yeah, came back, everything had gone well, and they gave me the chance to be GM GM of Armani and that was unbelievable. The day that the day the news came, I was pretty shocked, actually. And to become GM over money. And, you know, that’s the first GM position was, was pretty well, you know, I remember calling my mum saying you see, you didn’t didn’t believe in me.


Phil Street 37:49

Yeah. And then she said, there’s a position opened up in your dad’s company, do you fancy it? No


Mark Kirby 37:54

She’s back in Chesterfield, you know.


Phil Street 37:56

Yeah (Laughs)


Mark Kirby 37:58

So then four years with our money really just incredible. I learned so much from you know, he’s got some pretty iconic food and beverage restaurant, factory and beverage outlets, it’s got a huge events, all room and pavilion area outside that is, you know, the outdoor events, looking at the Burj Khalifa, the fountains, so it was incredibly busy hotel, but it really taught me about you know, business and I remember the day that I went from being hotel manager to GM, the pressure really comes on and you know, you sit there as a hotel manager and think that you know, you’re you’re you’re you’re busy and you’re running the hotel, but it’s not until you become GM, you realise that the the responsibility lies with you. And that was my probably one of my biggest learnings actually, you know, that suddenly No One No One to go and run to it. So yeah, apart from the sport for the corporate office, you’ve got your eyes, it’s on your shoulders bit type of thing. Yeah. So that made me grow up very, very quickly. And then over, you know, we had some very, very successful years. I was there for years at Armani, and then Chris had actually said to me, Look, you know, I am looking at opportunities within the company for you, I’m not sure how this and we talked, we talked about opportunities in the future because you know, what couldn’t be at Armani forever. And then the opportunity came up with with the fact that we you know, we’re continuing to build a number of very amazing hotels here in the city and also have a number of properties within the same area. The opportunity came up to put area positions in and I ended up moving across to address downtown which is the flagship address for the address, hotels and resorts division, and then taking over looking after address fountain views, which is a new multi mil multi building complex with retail, residential components and, and hotel, which is really cool that I opened up that along with a second hotel, which was the address sky view, about three months later. So two hotels within two brand new hotels opening up within the space of about three months, so that’s pretty daunting, huh? The Palace Hotel, which is one of our arabesque original hotels, which is just a beautiful hotel overlooking the fountain. So I look after four hotels in a residential building as well called Villa residences. So I jumped into the area general manager position quite quickly. And it was, yeah, it was a very daunting day that I sort of took that role because I’m thinking one hotel and now five buildings, it says, you sort of sit there and think, or what have I done?


Phil Street 40:19

Yeah. Well, something something you’re very right or very wrong.


Mark Kirby 40:23

Well, I think you think wow, this Yeah, he can he can, he can go two ways, you know?


Phil Street 40:29



Mark Kirby 40:29

And, you know, 16, 17 months later, I have obviously done I’ve done something relatively okay, because I’m still here.


Phil Street 40:37

Yeah, I know. I mean, obviously, I was jesting. The my experience of you dates back to when you were hotel manager at Armani basically, I have to say the way that you handle yourself is always with exceptional professionalism. So I’d be very, very surprised if that’s not what you take to your day to day job.


Mark Kirby 40:57

Your too kind Phil,


Phil Street 40:59

yeah, well, that’s, that’s my job. I’m just I’ve got I’ve got a I’ve got to make people feel special.


Mark Kirby 41:05

 That’s a new and you should do No, no, it was your it was you that got me into this. So I know if I I couldn’t do let you down number one. And number two, you know, it was a great, it was a great break, and amazing break. But all of the opportunities out in Dubai have and I have to be honest, you know, all of them have been by chance, all of my career moves actually been by chance. I’ve never apart from the job on Grosvenor house, when I came out to university, I’ve never applied for a job. It’s all been through really hard. But now thin people reaching out to me. So I’ve been very privileged in that sense.


Phil Street 41:36

But that just demonstrates that you’re creating the right waves in the in the industry, people are aware of you and people, you know, I’d certainly anybody that I would speak to about you as only got positive things to say. So, you know, that can’t help but build intrigue around you. And it also if somebody is looking to start something that on the face of it seems to fit you. Then of course, they’re just going to reach out and say, What do you think?


Mark Kirby 42:05

Being nice again, Phil


Phil Street 42:06

Yeah, yeah. Well, I’m just this is a little late. But no, but what struck me because I actually caught up with you. The last time we caught actually was when you’d not long taken the GM position at at the Armani we caught up face to face and in the lobby. And what struck me about that hotel was it basically what you were seeing was it’s a really busy hotel, the the hubbub around the entrance to the hotel, and I was there in April, it was Arabian travel market season. So Dubai was busy but there was just a really wonderful energy about the place


Mark Kirby 42:46

Oh, so you know, I think the fact that it’s inside the Burj Khalifa nestled inside the sort of the bottom part of the tower, I think you know, just everything that everybody wants to come to the hotel because of Burj Khalifa for sure it has a you know, I can’t imagine any other hotel that was sitting inside there and have the set the really the right fit. And I think it’s amazing in that sense, right? It was always busy, you know, and people used to say, you know, people said before I went on Monday, people said, you know, what is 160 bedrooms, it’s going to be such a dream for you, it’s gonna be so easy. I have to say that it was tough. Because it’s not a normal Hotel in the daytime, it’s a normal hotel check in check out and a little bit of lunch and a few coffees. But it’s a hotel, it’s a nightlife hotel, I say he opens up in the evenings, he there’s four or four restaurants open up in the evening. atmosphere is included as part of it in the sense and in terms of the building inside. And the huge event events, part of the business. So it was it never stopped. It was always something going on. So he know you had to be there in the daytime for you know, the regular part of the hotel. But then you needed to be there in the night time because that was when the business was really rocking. Huh. Absolutely.


Phil Street 43:55

What what floors, the bedrooms occupy


Mark Kirby 43:59

ground to the ground to 39.


Phil Street 44:01

Really right. So high enough.


Mark Kirby 44:04

Yeah. Oh my god, amazing views from there and the Dubai Suite that sits on the 39th floor that looks across to the Arabian Arabian Gulf. The ocean is beautiful. I really, you know, really, really amazing views from there. And then the Burj Khalifa itself as well. It’s just just an iconic tower. It’s you know, it’s still remains so magical when you even when I go and stand underneath it again now and I go back to Armani, you look up and you just think what what an what an incredible structure made by man. And you know, it’s just even today it still has that magic.


Phil Street 44:34

Yeah, you can’t help but be in awe of the vision of people to come up with things like that.


Mark Kirby 44:40



Phil Street 44:40

Yeah. And then to put a luxury hotel in there and then a restaurant on the very top floor.


Mark Kirby 44:45

As I said, I often wonder, you know what other hotel would fit inside there? What are the hotel companies? I can’t I can’t think of anything else that would have that. That fit. But maybe that’s because I’m very loyal to it. I’m not sure that You know, I just think of you know, can you imagine the Four Seasons or something else and I don’t see it as I can’t see it as being the right fit inside. I think Amani with it, it was so Amani in terms of its star was so forward thinking at the time, you know, when it first came to the region, it was very, probably a bit bit too modern, probably a bit too clean in terms of its fine lines and you know, sort of the architectural, the look and feel. But it’s become an NEA certainly during my time, it was becoming very, very fashionable. And, you know, people’s tastes are changing over the years. And the fact that you know, we did a full refurbishment during my time when I was there. And it was a full refurbishment were completely the same look again, but it was even more relevant during during today’s time than it was when it first opened. So that’s, that’s how amazing mister mister money’s vision. My guess was, you know, do you think it’s an Armani suit and Armani suit lasts you for forever? If it’s done correctly?


Phil Street 45:56

Right, I didn’t know that.


Mark Kirby 45:58

Yeah, we go.


Phil Street 45:59

There we go. That’s, that’s where I’m going for my next suits. If I ever earn money again. I mentioned at the beginning that you, well, from the outside looking in, certainly, you’re a very prominent GM in the in the space open in Dubai. Do you think that’s fair? Have I been ever been to full on with that


Mark Kirby 46:17

You’re been very kind again


Phil Street 46:20

Well, that I came to that conclusion purely on my own because the I googled you as part of my research beyond what I already know about you. And I mean, there’s videos everywhere, there’s articles everywhere about you, you know, so you, you do very well at keeping yourself in the press for all the right reasons, I have to say, do you do you go looking for that? Or does that kind of stuff come and come to you?


Mark Kirby 46:46

No, I think because I listen, I’ve had amazing opportunities out here and I and the Middle East has really catapulted my career for sure. I think it’s a city that if you really run, and it’s a it’s a, it’s a very tough city to come work in. And you know, you’re expected as long hours, it’s you know, is incredibly fast and innovative. So you literally when you have to jump on everything very, very, very quickly. And if you do that, and you enjoy and do what you’re doing, and like I said, I love hospitality is my life, and it always has been. So if you enjoy what you’re doing, and then you run with it and take the opportunities that you know, there will, you know, I’ve been very lucky with those roles I’ve had because of that. And I think that you know, when you work in iconic hotels like Armani people do come and ask you, you know, we’d like to interview we’d like to find out what you’re up to and what you’re doing. And, you know, we did a lot, I had a great team. And I still have a great team now I think teams are so important to have around you. And we just continue to do the new thing. What’s next. And you know, we did a huge piece on sustainability Imani. And for me, sustainability was was gaining pace, I really wanted it to be a hotel inside the Burj Khalifa not the easiest thing to be sustainable, you know, you you’ve got a huge tower in on you wanting to try and drive that. So a lot of a lot of the interviews for me came around sustainability at the time. And you know, they you probably seen the video I had with BBC World on sustainability. And that was just phenomenal because we put so much work into everything from combusting to, to food ways to lighting systems to really working on making that hotel very sustainable. And we got you know, we got the award in Dubai for being the most sustainable Hotel by the local one of the local authority bodies. And that was a real recognition as the team at all come together to work on that and it was you know, really looking at the systems we put in place to do that. I think that on the back of if you’re innovative and creative and you’ve got the energy and you keep bringing your team in to do those things, you know, and it’s anything you can do it doesn’t have to be about things that sustainability or huge things it can be just creating the light for when I came to address downtown it was I remember says the team look we’ve got to we’ve got to really start talking about this hotel we need to start talking about the FMB so I need to get some traction. And we built that year as it was just it was just over a year ago it was coming up to Easter and I said look we need to we need to create the biggest Easter egg that you can find in Dubai and we have to build one ourselves and I got the chef’s behind it I got the team behind it I got the marketing team behind it I said look you know we have to we have to talk about this we have to really get talking about the hotel because then you know people people want to hear about us people you know people love digital was a big part of our lives social media was incredibly important in Dubai and also radio so I said look let’s go and let’s go and create this biggest hag ask people to count the number of flowers on the egg and you know these are the stories we got to get ourselves out there and you know having been connected with Arabian Radio Network over the years I said to them, look you know I want to come in. Let’s see Let’s let’s talk on a food show about what’s happening in the hotels this Easter weekend and those sort of creative things on getting online and getting you getting the hotel coverage is so so important. And it costs you absolutely nothing, you know, they, they’re very happy out here to have you on the radio, they want to hear about what you’re up to a couple of competitions and off you go. And that sort of then starts breeding more and more opportunities where people do want to hear from you. And then when it comes to things like, you know, colleges, LaRoche comes out here a lot. So you know, I found it was important to me, having come from hotel school, having been in the UK to sort of really support those visits when they came out here. So we did a lot of stuff with the Russia as well. And they, they obviously, invite you to do things, and I think it’s just, it’s when you’re so passionate about the industry, and you and you really, really love it, and you really want to drive your businesses and it’s about and it’s all about driving business, you know, the more we can talk about it positively, the more it helps, you know, build awareness to our own businesses, then that will help drive the the commercial side of it. So, you know, being being out there and having come up with ideas is all part of it, I suppose. Yeah, people see those things. And then once you get a few articles and a few press things out there, then more and more people want to come and talk to you so that you know you have to balance it, you have to decide which ones we do and which ones we don’t. Yeah, and I got a you know, a really great marketing team that you know, that support.


Phil Street 51:09

Yeah, no, absolutely. It’s um, yeah, well, I mean, you’ve so far I mean, I suppose it in some realms. You’re You’re only just getting started. You’re still quite young man. But so far thing.


Mark Kirby 51:22

You earlier you said ohh, and we were talking about the Grosvenor house days and they’re Trust House Forte you were making me feel old and now you’re taking that back


Phil Street 51:31

It’s a typical recruiter, isn’t it? They just, they tell you what you want to hear. Yes, so you must have from your career so far. Some interesting stories. Have you got any any funny stories that you could share with us?


Mark Kirby 51:47

I knew you would have asked me that one. Yeah. You know, there’s loads of funny stories, but I’m not sure I can actually tell them all of them anyway. They could get me into a lot of trouble so I’ll keep those the ones that might get me fired out of the out of this story. But there was one that was I remember at the time, I was both scared and and laughing to the point where I you know, you know, when you start to laugh, and you can’t stop yourself. Yep. So I was at one particular hotel, I won’t mention the name of the hotel but as one particular hotel and you know, this family had been visiting the hotel over the years and then their son come out and he was now quite a bit older and wanted to propose to his fiancé, his girlfriend, fiancé to be and basically we’d set up with arrange with him Look, you know, what we’ll do is we’ll decorate the room, you’ll hide in the room because she we know he was out here already on on a little bit of business. He’d invited his girlfriend to come out from the UK. So we arranged for him you know, she was expecting him to go to the airport and pick her up so he made that call to her when she landed to say look, I’m still out with my mates. I can’t go and pick you up and somebody a few beers if you hope you don’t mind going to the hotel and I’ll meet you later. So she’s at this point fuming and he set it out like that so off they went I hope he doesn’t his story actually because he doesn’t know the story behind this. I’m good friends with him now. So there he was. He was standing on the balcony in his room all the room was full of petals and candles and it was all set and you know I was downstairs waiting for for his girlfriend to arrive in the hotel car from the airport and all of our hotel cars were the same. And one car pulled up and I’ve been told me I checked with a doorman the doorman said yeah, this is such and such you got confirmation from the airport is the right car so offering a step forward Good evening and welcome and Mrs. Such and such and I said the name checked in and the lady replied back to me yes and maybe as to getting out of the car you’re not putting them not really listening to what’s going on it’s all a bit of a dream. So we started I started walking with this lady and she she pretty pretty lucky lady and she was walking through the lobby with me and I remember saying the same to you know, starting down a little bit of a chitchat on the walk through to to where the lifts were, and it was luckily it was a larger hotel. So it was it was a good walk. Yeah, um, so I started talking to her and she then said, you know, I’m not I’m just I’m just coming from Paris. I’m thinking Hang on a minute this lady’s coming from Paris and she’s meant to come in from the UK This is a bit of a worry. So I started to ask a couple more questions and it just wasn’t ringing the bell so I said Well, can I borrow your passport? I just need to scan it I took the passport other hand does some walking and talking and I realised it was the wrong lady. And we were walking this lady walking this lady you know up to potentially up to this room to be proposed to


Phil Street 54:35

my life.


Mark Kirby 54:36

So me I literally had to her literally had to lose this lady I had to find a member of the team and said can you take this lady Can you take her off to be checked in just arrived offline now checking in here’s the passport look after I turned around to literally leg it back to the front of the hotel. Get the right guests who came in about a minute behind any identical hotel. This is a problem when you’re in Dubai, you have lots of these flashcards, and they’re all the same, you know? Yeah. And most of the international flights all arrive at once. So I reject the second time it was the correct person. But to this day, sort of it gives me the chills Actually, my hands have gone a bit a bit bit cold here. Because if I think about it, you know, at the time, I was laughing a lot, but you know, had I hadn’t taken this idea number one would have posed the wrong lady. Secondly, the other lady was so close behind that maybe the first lady was still in the room when the Second Lady arrived. So you can just imagine


Phil Street 55:33

Ohhh, she was already in a bad mood.


Mark Kirby 55:35

Oh, yeah, exactly. Can you imagine?


Phil Street 55:39

Oh, goodness. And I remember talking to my reception manager at the time. We couldn’t stop laughing. Honestly, it’s one of those hysterical, hysterically nervous laughs that we sort of felt we got away with that one. But yeah, not these things happen in hotels. But that could have been a really, that could have been a really good story to tell, would have been trouble. Well the thing is, is that there as well, however long you do, this role it introduces you to new things all the time, right? New disasters, new moments of wonderment. It’s just, it’s a constantly evolution, evolutionary process in this business.


Mark Kirby 56:19



Phil Street 56:19

And you’re so just when you think you’ve seen it all, something else will come along and blow your mind or, or take you out your depth or, or whatever.


Mark Kirby 56:28

Anybody in the hospitality knows, it’s just such a magical industry, you know, there’s so much happens and you, you get to see the good, the bad, the ugly, and more. And it’s just, you know, you’re part of a life experience, you’re, you’re part of people’s life experiences, and you’re there, you know, you’re there to look after them, you’re there to make them happy, you’re there to take care of them. You know, it’s it’s a job that has no boundaries, really. And it’s just, you know, I don’t think people outside the industry never understand it really, until you actually come and work in hotels. And they really, they really get it and understand why, you know, when you when you join hotels and you a love it, they understand why you love it so much.


Phil Street 57:06

Yeah, it’s one of the reasons why I wanted to start this podcast was just to start telling some of the interesting stories, not withstanding people’s individual career stories, but but actually the the little moments of the little gems that happen within that. And there are always too many to mention. But the The great thing about that is, is that with every conversation I have, it’s always completely different. You don’t get the same story twice. People’s scenarios are very different. So even if you if you got the two people involved in, in the same story, they would tell it very differently. You know, that’s true. You know, it’s just, it’s an endlessly fascinating part of this business for me.


Mark Kirby 57:47

Yeah, My only regret is that I never made it made a notebook not not that I’d ever published that book. But you know, you know, sometimes when you just want to think back on stories, it’s, you know, it’s just your own humour. I wish it I wish when I started the industry, I’d had a little book and just written in the small examples of things that, you know, made this industry so special. Yeah,


Phil Street 58:10

yeah. Get out a pen name, the secret hotelier or something like that. And yeah, there’s I mean, there’s generally there’s an awful lot of stories come out when it’s it’s usually with people who are quite high profile, your that you’ve had to deal with something to do with them. But of course, part of the reason why the high profile people want to spend time in hotels and and the Lakers to have some peace and quiet. Not everybody craves the camera all the time. So I’ve always felt that, that it’s not really my place to share any stories of people when they’re kind of in the relaxation zone, regardless of how funny they may be,


Mark Kirby 58:52

but we have a we have a duty to to look after people and give them the privacy and protect privacy as well. And I think that’s incredibly important.


Phil Street 59:02

Yeah, absolutely. Ever had a situation where you’ve been monumentally out of your depth, or terrified of where you found yourself?


Mark Kirby 59:12

Not Not too much in the past? I think that this could I honestly thinking about it? And I think that that’s a good question. I think this COVID situation has really taken the floor out of most people’s comfort zones, in a sense, you know, I think that, you know, I remember sitting, you know, like I said at the beginning of the podcast, January, we were having an absolutely bumper month and it was just unbelievable and in the hotel line up before 91%. And it was just, you know, we really thought we were on to a good start for the year and by March it dropped out and the scary thing and all the hoteliers will, will associate with this but to not know because as hoteliers, we tend to be quite control freaks. We tend to know what to do. For me. I tend to freak out at the small things in life and The large things like you know, an incident or a ceiling falling in or something not working, I can deal with, with, with precision, I know exactly what to do. And running, running hotels over the years, you sort of find a way around things, you you sort of sit down and you put an action plan together. But COVID for, you know, certainly out here in the Middle East, you know, and having, you know, I was looking after five properties, you see each of that property to those properties, when you know that you’re gonna have to potentially close the hotels up and reconsider and consolidate rooms into one or one of the properties. And we fortunately, we were able to keep address downtown open, which is great, for two reasons, one, keeping the sort of flag flying for the group, the only hotel we had open in the group throughout COVID. Secondly, we’re able to learn from that. And we were able to implement some of the some of the top, say, safety protocols in the city. And we got, we got the Rolls Royce in the bells and whistles and everything from thermal cameras to, you know, to look all the things that that help us create a very safe and consistent guest experience. You notice a lot of types of controls, but also because we have quite a large residential compound in this hotel. So 400, we had 400 residences, staying and being staying inside during that lockdown period, out of 600 units. So it’s a it’s a high, high concentration of people to look after. So we were able to, you know, maintain 111 building at least, and that was really that was good in that sense. But the scariest thing for us was just not knowing what the future was. And you can you see a lot of the images online where you see that crystal ball where it’s completely covered? You don’t know. And nobody can nobody can predict how long what is going to look like and you start to hear of you know, predictions of business won’t return to 2023 and beyond. And you start to think, wow, this is really, this is a talk about unprecedented, they talk about new norms. But you know that that is scary, that is scary for anybody. And to have those five hotels really start to close up in the streets got very quiet here in Dubai and driving, I was one of the fortunate ones that actually were only locked down overnight. And at weekends when I was able to, I had a special pass to drive between home and literally work. Because we were running this operation this building. So we you know, I had that opportunity to move around a little bit more. But that was, you know, to go on Sheikh Zayed Road, which is the key artery to the city to be able to go between home and work in about 10 minutes with about three or four cars on the road, was it it was eerie. Yeah, it was a good thing, because the government had taken such great control early on, and said, Look, this is what we have to do. Let’s follow it in. I think the government you know, we’re very much we’re, we’re a country that we very much, you know, respect and love our our government, our ruling family. And I think that we all just, you know, quickly fell into line and did what we needed to do as a city together, which was which was phenomenal. And we were doing sterilisation every single day, so we had to be in we had to be back home by eight o’clock during the non non official lockdown. It was eight o’clock at night time curfew. And you know, people were standing on their balconies cheering and then the first thing in the morning that we were able to go out, but it was, yeah, it was for me. And so hotel to where you used to control when you’re used to being an analyst at least make some decisions you couldn’t. And it was our member. It was funny actually, because I’ve always been I’ve always been very upbeat. I’ve always been quite positive. But I remember there was right in the heart of it in the middle of it. One weekend, I was feeling particularly actually particularly low, and I was young became a time where you play scared. And I remember when I actually one of my friends called me up from the States and said to me, you’re okay. And I said, you know, why do you Why do you think I’m okay? He said, Well, you’re you’re extremely quiet. And it’s unlike you. And I really looked myself in the mirror and said, Yeah, actually, um, this current time, I’m probably feeling a little bit like I’m getting deep water. And I’m not sure what to do and, and that sort of snapped me out of it. And off we went again. But it was that time that that was probably the time that To be honest, it’s probably the most terrifying thing that I think any of us are going through. But it was very real, wasn’t it?


Phil Street 1:04:10

No doubt, I think everyone has fought a battle with so in some form, however big or small, and I think that I like you, I’m quite an upbeat person. Normally, I tend to definitely see the glass half full most of the time. But even with this, I had days where I woke up and just thought I’d really do. I don’t know what to do.


Mark Kirby 1:04:32

I think it was that time when we were in probably the first couple of weeks into it. And it was really everything was starting You can’t do this can’t do that. He can’t do that. You have to be away from each other and everyone was getting you know, there’s a lot of media going out there on COVID situation. And I think everybody just obviously that that connects people a little bit and you really don’t know how to handle it. And I think you know, you’re you’re starting to get involved and I was involved in many groups to do with, you know, crisis with commercial futures and to do communication So we really looked at a number of elements there in terms of, you know, how we how we start to move forward. But that I think it was for all of us, I think we all just couldn’t do any of the things that a we like doing personally in life, but also be that we, that you do so well at work, you know, and, you know, I do, I’m very consistent with my staff engagement that I do throughout the hotels, because you know, that there are gems that, you know, make our hotel so successful. So you can’t do a birthday cake, you can’t cut a cake to celebrate anything. So it became a big bit of a bit of a challenge. And it was only when you started. And this is a network again, this is me being connected as hoteliers, only when you start to see what other hotels are starting to do, and you start to get inspired by that, then you sort of say, okay, there is a there is a way here, and you start to climb up that ladder to get out of it. And I think that that was a big learning, I think that’s when I started, I said, Look, you know, everything we do, I don’t want to stop doing everything that we’re doing. Yes, we have to be smart in terms of, you know, managing constraints. But there’s a way around everything. And we have to find a way to do it. And then we started doing social distance birthday cakes. And I think that was the first thing we started to do. And then really just looking out and getting getting online and doing, you know, doing our staff, step staff sessions online, and it was just, it just then started to flourish. But it was that that was that medium point between everything going going into lockdown and not knowing what to do that that was the that deep moment where everybody’s sitting there thinking, Okay, is this the end of the world type of thing? Yeah, well, I do, I suppose to try and end on our on a more positive note where it does feel like we’re coming through the other side, I think I completely agree with you, none of us really yet know, when we can expect a return to the old normal, if we’re about to hit the new normal, just in terms of business levels, I think you just got to keep incrementally, like normal, I suppose just trying to improve in each day. And whether that’s financially or, you know, in terms of policies, procedures, engagement with team, whatever, that’s really all you can do in this period, I guess, I’ve given up trying to plan. I have mentioned this before, I’m just I’m very happy to admit that I am currently very reactive to, to the world situation, because you’re you write a plan, and two weeks later, you have to rip it up. Because things have changed. There’s a new procedure in play, and so on and so forth. So you’ve just got to, you’ve got to be adaptive, I think and, and, and remain upbeat. And there will be another side to this. There will be there will be and I think that this is this is a really good test for people to sort of, you know, to come be creative to, you know, this sort of change the way you do things. And I think that, you know, people who do do keep up bait people who find a way around things will always find a way to make the best out of the situation for sure. Yeah, for sure. And, you know, we, you know, we were doing our business reviews, originally once a month, but we were down to doing them once a week because as you said, everything changed by by the minute everything was changing. So we were adapting everything that we did and it was you know, at and you know, and I do certainly I you know, wouldn’t to be in Dubai right now to be in the EU, I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t want to be in any other place. I think that it’s an incredible country that’s really got control of the situation. You know, we’ve we’ve reopened practically all of them not only just international borders on the seventh, but we’ve got the malls open, the pores, the gyms bars are all open, always, you know, always always safety protocols in place, and with a lot more education of people living out here. And really understanding what what we can and can’t do. And I think that, you know, we’ve really pushed to continue to try and bring ourselves to back to back into business or be very, very, very, very different and very, very safe. But it’s, you know, you see that you’ve seen that business is starting to come now. Is that consistent? Not at the moment is very up and down. So we’ll see how it goes. But it’s certainly it’s certainly I feel very privileged to be out here.


Phil Street 1:09:07

Brilliant. Yeah, well, and I think another thing that you do that I’m sure must help you get your mind in the right place. So I know you’re a bit of a gym freak.


Mark Kirby 1:09:19

gym, running, diving, swimming, anything, anything. And I think that that’s for me that’s been about it’s kept the stress levels under control. It’s getting being healthy and having that sort of go to stress relief has always been is always been part of the job. You know, I think that had not been so active. I don’t think I would have had such an enjoyable time when in Korea I can see the benefits of of that, you know, only this morning we were out running this morning. We’re very, very hot and humid out here. We’ve got a very small group of people who go out and do a social distancing run as part of a we’ve done a campaign for all of our ambassadors already. Our staff who are working or either working or not working and their combinations, and we’ve, we’ve bought a working corporate social wellness programme into place. And that has a number of pillars from, from exercise to diet, to learning to mindfulness, and we’ve sort of run with this. And it’s been, it’s been phenomenal the traction, we’re getting on it. So I take a small group of people out, you know, we’ll fully masked and off we go running and we’re running on the palm this morning at six o’clock in the morning. So sun’s coming up a little bit hot and humid. But, you know, we got some great, you know, you come out of that run afterwards and you’re like, wow, you know, I’m feeling ready for the day ahead. And it and it really, you know, I’m very, very positive after I’ve done morning exercise, so it helps me It helps me with these long hours and the and the, and the inevitable amount of stress that we go through.


Phil Street 1:10:49

Yeah, I think it’s just it’s necessary for me as a as a part of life’s balance. I think exercise for me always just gives you even gives you headspace as well as the the physiological feeling that you have afterwards that makes you can.


Mark Kirby 1:11:04

100% I bought Actually, I bought a spinning bike. Just as we went to COVID I knew we were going to be locked down the gyms were going and I bought a spinning bike. It was a it was a second hand one taken from a local sports retailer here, it was a reconditioned bike, actually from one of the hotels. So it’s like brand new anyway. And I think it cost me about two and a half thousand dirhams. I used that bike about three times inside during the during the whole month. It was very useful for hanging clothes on but


Phil Street 1:11:33



Mark Kirby 1:11:36

I’m not an indoor spinning cycling type of person. So I you know, complete waste of time. Luckily, I managed to sell it quite quickly after we’ve managed to open up the gym. So yeah, that was probably the most silly amount of spending I’ve ever done.


Phil Street 1:11:50

Right Yeah. Well, I think exercise is exactly like your career, you’ve got to find what works for you.


Mark Kirby 1:11:56

No, you’re right. Yeah, you do.


Phil Street 1:11:59

And on that note, I will wrap this up very, very shortly. But what would you say to somebody who is considering a career in hospitality?


Mark Kirby 1:12:09

Oh, good question. Be prepared for the unexpected. For sure. Like I said earlier, you know, it’s an incredible industry, if you’re going to go into it, you have to be sure that it is for you. Because if you do then it becomes almost like a hobby, it’s part of life, be ready for long hours for sure. And particularly working working internationally, we work very long hours in this city. So it depends on where where you travel to in the world. You know, I it’s a job that the diary changes. So my diary is all planned out for the week ahead, but it never happens the way it should do. There’s no such thing as a fixed schedule. And, you know, my level work colleagues, the work colleagues become your extended family. So they are part of you. Yeah, I spend so much time in my work colleagues more time than I will do my normal family. So I, you know, in summary to that, I’d probably say, you know, be sure it’s for you, you know, give it a trial. If you if you love it, then you’re going to you’re going to fall in love with it. And you’re going to make sure it does really well. But be prepared for long hours. And, you know, I like I said to you earlier, you know, you we are here when people are enjoying themselves. So those holiday periods like Christmas, like Easter, when everybody else stops enjoying you’re going to be you’re going to be here doing it. And looking after them. Which is not a bad thing. Actually, you know, when I was hotel manager, I didn’t used to work. I used to work weekends, to have the time off in the week, you know, in Dubai, the beaches would be a lot quieter in the week than they would be the weekend. And, you know, it’s almost like a blessing to do that. So they say so it’s for me, it’s Yeah, just just make sure you love it. That’s all.


Phil Street 1:13:43

Yeah, no, absolutely great stuff. So if people want who are listening, who want to get in touch to learn a little bit more about you and your brands, what’s the best method for them to do that reach out to me or find me on LinkedIn, that’s probably the best forum to get hold of me. on LinkedIn, you’re also very active on there. I’ve seen lots and lots of postings of all the good work that you do, both internally and externally. There’s lots of good stuff for engagement there. So I’d suggest just following Mark anyway, for for some really interesting content. Thank you very much. You’re gonna give me some more followers. Thank you, Phil. Yeah. Did you not want them? Great. Great stuff. Well, look, thanks very much for spending some time with us today marks it’s been really good to learn about about you and your career. I wish you all the very best through the next phase of life, whatever that may look like. And well, I’m sure you and I will talk again soon. Anyway.


Mark Kirby 1:14:42

You are gentlemen. Thank you. And you made it very easy on me and you were very complimentary. So appreciate that. You know, there was no there was nothing I was expecting a curveball question from you Phil. So you didn’t give it to me. So I’m feeling pretty happy now.


Phil Street 1:14:56

Next time next time. Take care.

Mark Kirby 1:15:00

All right

Phil Street 1:15:01

Cheers And there we have it. What a phenomenal career Mark is carving out for himself in the Middle East, demonstrating that it’s always good to stretch yourself. Don’t forget, we launch a brand new episode each week. So hit that subscribe button and give us a like and share where you can. In addition, we’d love it if you could leave us a written review on your favourite podcast app. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

Recorded on 15th July 2020 via Zoom.