Developing Talent in Luxury Hospitality

By |2017-11-08T12:04:26+00:00August 24th, 2017|

Meet Ashraf Adnan.

Ashraf is the Training Manager at Soneva Jani in the Noonu Attol in the Maldives.

He is also the youngest Training Manager in the Maldives and he is Maldivian.

That might not be a big surprise to many of you, but actually there are surprisingly few training professionals from the Maldives and many of the training roles in the hundreds of resorts are held by ex-pats.

So, what is Ashraf’s story and how did he make it to Training Manager in what is tipped to be the number one resort in one of the most desirable locations in the world?

I met Ashraf at Soneva Jani and asked him that question and others.

“I come from Guraidhoo in the Kaafu Atoll, after completing my education I got my first job at age 19 when my brother told me about a job opening at Olhuveli Beach and Spa resort as HR Administrator and Coordinator.

In truth I wasn’t learning much, it wasn’t a five star resort and I was ambitious, so I took a distance learning course which I funded myself and after two years I achieved a further qualification in HR Management.

That gave me the confidence to apply for a position at the 5 star ‘LUX Maldives’ resort in the South Ari Atoll as HR & Training coordinator. I was successful and spent the next 18 months in my role under the management of Mr Hussain Afeef who is the most successful learning & development professional in the Maldives in my opinion and is also Maldivian.

At this point the thought of standing up in front of people terrified me. I had no interest in doing that at all, but Mr Afeef inspired me with the way he delivered. I watched him at work in the training room and in time I got up the courage to try standing up and talking to people.

I wasn’t perfect from the start but with continued encouragement and coaching I built up my confidence and my skills and after a time I started to deliver some of the training myself.

Then one day I saw a job advertised as Assistant Training Manager at Soneva Fushi in the Baa Atoll. Soneva had a reputation as being one of the very best resorts in the Maldives and also for having a culture of responsibility for the environment and for protecting this beautiful country of ours. I heard that they also looked after local communities and were more ethical and sustainable than most luxury hospitality brands. I really wanted to work for them!

I was so happy to be offered the position and really worked hard at building my skills by practice, practice, practice and watching video’s online, reading about how to deliver great training and more practice! At this time, I did not have a manager to learn from and so I did my own self development.

Delivering became easier, but without a manager of my own to teach me I didn’t know whether I was doing a good job or not.”

It was at this point that I came to work for Soneva, as Ashraf’s manager. I have 20+ years in the Learning & Development industry and had come to work with Soneva as the Director of Talent Development and as an ex-pat.

The first time I saw Ashraf on his feet was in the Induction session for new starters. I was struck by his raw talent. He was absolutely bursting with energy and enthusiasm and spoke about Soneva with such passion that it was infectious. No one could fail to leave that Induction course without feeling incredibly proud to be part of the Soneva story.

There were areas that Ashraf needed help with, planning & organising his day, managing the administrative and reporting elements, all the things that had taken a back seat as he developed his capabilities as a trainer. His delivery skills and his creativity were true natural talents and needed to be nurtured, whilst his administrative and time management skills needed to be developed.

“When Sara joined as my manager I really started to learn about how to deliver leadership training and how to think about training in a different way. I learned how to plan and write and read training plans, how to present the information in the sessions, how to read the audience and handle them and deal with problems when they arose.

Sara gave me the opportunity to go to Thailand to work in our sister property Soneva Kiri for a month. This was great exposure and really helped me to understand how to work with different cultures and in different ways.

We did so much great stuff! Learning Olympics, a brand new Induction, lots of presentations skills, train the trainer and leadership training.”

Before I left the business to return to the UK I divided my time between Maldives and Thailand which meant that Ashraf was left to manage the training function in Soneva Fushi without me. This was great grounding for him and although it wasn’t always easy and he sometimes felt he needed more support, he got on with it.

He expressed an interest in one of his reviews for becoming a training manager and said that he would like to be the training manager for Soneva Jani, the new resort we were in the process of developing in the Noonu Atoll. So, we created a development plan for Ashraf with that goal in mind.

I left Soneva at the end of 2015 and Ashraf continued to develop himself and his skill set after that time. I am so proud of him for his recent promotion to Training Manager at Soneva Jani. He set a goal for himself and he achieved it!

I asked Ashraf who had been his greatest influencers in his career so far and he told me that they were Mr Hussain Afeef, his manager at LUX Maldives. Ron Kauffman, an award winning Customer Experience Consultant from whom Ashraf learnt lots from his videos on YouTube and he also named me – saying “The reason I am now a training manager is because I learnt from my leaders”

I asked Ashraf what his biggest help was in achieving his goals so far:

“Coming out of my comfort zone and taking a risk. Without trying you will never know! You ask ‘but what if I fail’ – I ask ‘what if I don’t?’ Try anyway. Also you must believe in yourself if you want others to believe in you. And self development, don’t expect others to do all the work for you – you have to take responsibility for your own learning.”

What about the biggest obstacles?

“People want experience, so breaking into the egg-shell can be hard if you have no contacts. Start somewhere, even if it’s not the job of your dreams and is a lower position, just to get a start. Then chase your dream!”

I asked Ashraf what the future holds?

“I am inspired by the people I have been working with here at Soneva. I look at my bosses’ jobs and I wonder what I can learn, how I can follow and then I will try to be them one day! I will be Director of Learning & Development one day and then Group Director of Learning & Development. I have a new manager now and I am looking forward to continuing my development with him. I have a clear view of my future and I am excited about the journey”

And finally, what does Ashraf like to do when he isn’t at work?

“I love to surf, play guitar and read, non-fiction – books which are inspirational and teach me something.”

Ashraf is a great example of tenacity, belief in self and knowing your own strengths.

Anyone out there who has a dream, a goal, an ambition – I hope Ashraf’s story inspires you to go for it!

NB – Since this article was published Ashraf has been recruited by Como resorts to manage their training team.. Continuing the success story!