Getting involved in the tourism scene was never his plan—it turned out to be his fate and good fortune. Due to certain circumstances, Ibrahim Inaz had to start a career all over again. The career path he took—the hospitality industry—raised him to great heights and immense success. Today he is responsible for the operations and human resources of Huvafen Fushi Maldives, and continues to inspire and motivate everyone around him every day.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself
I come from a very humble and simply family from Thaa Atoll Hirilandhoo. My mother is a traditional medicine practitioner, and my father is a fisherman. Being part of a family of six, it was hard for my parents to raise everyone with full access to the best schools. So just like others, I had to try for my luck in all possible ways.
My passion to learn new skills helped me develop myself professionally and personally, over time
Besides being active in sports, I also enhanced on Photoshop, video-editing, quality assurance, and public speaking and facilitation over the last decade. I am currently building my experience in Sales& Marketing as well as Engineering, which I believe is very crucial to succeed in my role and for the future growth.
2. How was growing up and studies for you?
When I completed school from my island, I got the opportunity to come to Malé —my very first step out from my home island. I am very passionate about learning and development. Due to financial challenges I became a tutor from door-to-door, until I got the chance to be a teacher at a Tuition Centre and earn an income.
I was a young teen who had to face and go through all these challenging experiences. I take it as my strength—it gave me courage to take my steps ahead. I was fortunate that my teaching skills had inspired many students and became the most preferred Commerce and Economics teacher back then. This gave me financial support to survive in Malé—as my parents has to look after my other siblings.
After my A Levels, I commenced my career at a state-owned enterprise, and also enrolled into a Business Administration Diploma program in Malé—paying course fees from my monthly paycheck. After completion of the program, I was impatient for further opportunities and studies. Despite application for every scholarship opportunities, I was not lucky.
I took a risk of going to Sri Lanka to pursue higher studies (CIMA) on paid leave of USD 220. At the beginning I could not afford to stay in Colombo—I lived on a shared accommodation with a friend, and take over three buses and 1.5 hours to go to college. In 2012 after the change in administration, I got a letter that said my paid leave was cancelled and asked me to return back to duty. This was during my last year of studies.
I had no other option or financial support. With no further time to think and no immediate options, I returned back to Maldives.
3. We know you have come a long way in the industry. How did your career begin?
It all started when I had to come back to Maldives as my paid leave got cancelled. When I came back, things had changed. I did not have a place to stay. So while connecting the dots, I saw that the best place to start a career would be at a resort where accommodation, food and other facilities are part of the package. So I started job-hunting, and sent my résumé to 24 positions of 22 resorts—from room attendant, and HR positions to finance and procurement positions too.
I only received five auto-replies and no other response. I had no clue about resort life. Nor did I have a friend in the resorts. I kept trying until I one day I got a call from a Human Resources Manager who asked a few questions. He then asked me to come for a face-to-face interview, to Hilton Maldives Iru Fushi Resort and Spa. I was told to prepare a small presentation for the role I applied for (Human Resources Assistant), as it could be connected to Training Manager as a shared role, to support them with administration.
4. What fascinated you to the tourism and hospitality industry?
To be honest, at the start I was pretty desperate for a job and wanted to start a career regardless of the industry. However, the travel and hospitality industry has changed me; inspired me; and has given me so much that I will always owe to the professionals who supported me throughout my journey.
The hospitality industry has so much to offer for energetic and passionate people as it has started to be more mature with well-established brands. Working in the hospitality industry exposes one to many different cultures and provides opportunities to learn from each other. I believe this industry is the heart of Maldives—it is actually connected to every single Maldivian family.
5. You have worked in managerial levels of many resorts. What were the positions served, and how was the experience?
Yes, I was very fortunate to be a part of the most high-end brands in Hospitality. I have worked at Hilton Maldives Iru Fushi Resort and Spa as a Training Manager. It was a great experience that enhanced my learning curve exceptionally. I then joined One & Only Reethi Rah as Training and Quality Assurance Manager. This resort is a totally different game, has more than 800 islanders to look after. Being in charge of Quality Assurance of the resort and training around 800 islanders was an incredible experience that challenged me a lot in my role. I was very lucky to be a part of the Four Season and was exposed to the world’s strongest hospitality group as Learning Manager. In 2014, I got the chance to be a part of the pre-opening team of Amilla Fushi as Talent Development & QA Manager. After the opening, I got promoted as an Assistant Cluster Director of HR as we were working on a new project named Finolhu.
I was at Amilla Fushi from 2014 to 2016, then appointed as Director of Human Resources and we opened Finolhu located in Baa Atoll. This was the biggest responsibility ever in my career, to drive a pre-opening resort in this role. It was the most successful opening of 2016 and the first resort to open on published date with 100% operation set-ups. This experience taught me a lot and sometime later, I was given the opportunity to represent Huvafen Fushi with its recent takeover from Minor International as the Director of Human Resources. After a smooth transition, recently I got promoted as Director of Operations expanding my scope of responsibility not only to HR but to the entire resort operations.
6. Currently you are the Director of Operations at Huvafen Fushi Maldives. What are your responsibilities on the job? How would you describe your workplace?
In this role, my responsibility covers all operational areas—including back-of-the-house departments. I work closely with the General Manager, and support the General Manager’s role to achieve organizational success through the leadership team of Huvafen Fushi. We have a great leadership team at Huvafen Fushi who takes charge and are all potential to look after their sections. The General Manager and I facilitate and support the leadership roles to ensure they perform to the best of their capability.
7. Describe how a typical day starts and ends for you.
My day starts with the morning meeting at 8:30 where we discuss about the business and key operation; highlights of the previous day; make plans for the day ahead; and share all information that is needed for departments to run their regular operations. After the meeting, any unfinished business or sensitive information will be discussed with the respective leaders individually. Throughout the day I attend all arrivals and departures and meet all guests—ensuring a personal welcome and farewell. During the course of the day, we have daily meetings with selected departments to support them and seek updates on ongoing jobs and find solutions together. In between, I check my emails and follow-up on key tasks that need urgent attention. Evenings are for entertainment—we host some guests with special events, extending out personal attention and building on guest engagement.
8. As Director of Operations, you would have a massive responsibility towards your staff. What is your approach on managing staff?
We call them islanders, not staff!
I believe motivation is connected with many expectations. The islanders should be treated the same as guests, and making them happy or looking after them is not optional. This is important for islander retention, as the industry grows rapidly and competition is fierce. We need to create an experience for them too, starting from the time we make a first connection, to their boarding on the last day. Hence all aspects of the onboarding cycle are mandatory. Onboarding mainly covers pre-arrival, arrival, registration, compensation, benefits, checklists for training, orientation to the resort and departments, SOP trainings, etc.
Many resorts fail to make an impression in their departure—which I believe is the most important part in comparison to the arrival experience. It is our way of saying “thank you for all your efforts”. If they are treated well, then they will have a good word to say about the resort. Maldives is so small that this can have a big impact for future attraction of the right talent.
In my role, I encourage and support all HODs to develop a succession plan, to ensure they look after their high potential islanders so we can reduce the turnover and avoid losing good talent. As you can see, I am very passionate about islander development and training. I believe it is the team that makes a leader stronger in his role—no one can survive alone, and it is a “people’s industry” after all! Our aim is to ensure the islanders who leave are able to handover to a successor better than him—hence we develop the successors to grow together.
9. What is the most difficult situation that you have had to handle? How did you handle it?
The project of opening Finolhu at Baa Atoll was the most interesting and challenging assignment that I have ever taken during the course of my career. I was assigned to take charge of Human Resources function during the pre-opening stage of Finolhu.
This role challenged me to commit till the end—keeping up with deadlines provided by the government to bring all islanders and managers onboard and on time for the opening. Hiring 280 islanders and preparing them for the training to open the resort was a big challenge. Of course, I couldn’t do this alone—I had a very good HR team and support in Finolhu who worked with me day and night to ensure we complete the hiring on time This included proper screening, selection and entire recruitment through the process involved, in a timely manner. Meanwhile, I also worked with Talent Development Manager to initiate and activate the onboarding process, orientation and provide the tools needed to enhance their product knowledge about the resort so we are all ready to welcome our first guest. It was also my responsibility to ensure that we are ready in the areas of Security and Clinic as they play a crucial part of the resort.
Finolhu’s opening was a great success in 2016, and I am very glad and proud to be a part of it.
10. What activities are done for staffs’ recreation at Huvafen Fushi Maldives? What are your roles in them?
At Huvafen Fushi we have a great HR team led by a young Maldivian talent who works with the team to plan and execute all HR practices that include active sports. We have structured in such a way that each department will take charge of a monthly event and gathering—so we can keep it fresh, exciting and engaging. Monthly activities calendar is out to all islanders prior to the month to build the spirit and get everyone involved. One of the best parts of our location is that we are close to Malé —so our islanders can head to Malé on their day off, and as a resort we facilitate the same.
In my role, I find it very important to be part of the activities, show my support and be present at all times. I also actively participate in Football and volleyball tournaments.
11. Throughout your journey, what is the one moment that you simply cannot forget?
I will never forget the day I got promoted to Training Manager at Hilton. This was the first managerial role of my career, and I was very pleased to learn how much the management of Hilton acknowledged my efforts and hard work.
12. Do you feel accomplished? What is your biggest accomplishment so far?
I was awarded “100 Top Global HR Minds (Hotel Industry)” at the World HRD Congress in Mumbai, India this February. I also received the “50 Most Talented HR Leaders 2017” award by HR Maldives.
My biggest achievement so far is my current role. Moving from HR to Operations initially was not an easy step. However, I invested my time and put more effort to expose myself and embrace the role as much as possible. I would encourage people to follow their passion and never stop dreaming. More importantly, believe in your own self: it helped me to reach where I am today and I feel proud of what I have accomplished, back with a lot of hard work and commitment.
13. There definitely would be many people who are driving forces behind your motivation and successes. Who are the most supportive people in your life?
Yes, the list is very big. Firstly I would like to start with my family whom always supported me from the first step till date—in every decision I made in my life. Secondly I am very grateful to my wife who has been very patient and given me all the support that I needed to focus on my career and role.
In the professional world, I am very grateful to my first HR leaders—Mr Hussain Siddeeq and Mr. Sebastian Pasiano from the then-Hilton Iru Fushi. I am also very glad to have a good friend—Hussain Afeef—who taught me a lot during the time we worked together.
I would also take this opportunity to thank Sue Lord and Aminath Shaly for their continuous support and guidance, and giving me the chance to develop my professional career. Very special thanks to my current General Manager at Huvafen Fushi, Mr Jean-Christophe Nager.
Lastly, I thank Mr Tom, Mr Michael Flynn and Mr Mark Hehir for believing in me and giving me the chance to grow and show my potential during the past years.
14. What is your next goal?
I would like to continue learning and build my experience even more—to take the next steps of my professional career while also elevating my educational background.