- Who/what has significantly impacted your life the most?
My childhood and upbringing, along with my family environment were all pieces of a puzzle that came together to make me who I am today. I would believe a lot of people have influenced my life but naturally, my parents had been a guiding light through all the phases. The values they taught, molded me to the person I am today. There are my two wonderful boys who have come to be successful and inspirational young men paving their way through life, and friends who have become like family throughout my never-ending journey. Additionally, to the people surrounding me, my international exposure has clearly influenced my embracing of different cultures and societies. And finally, my community activities left very deep feelings of reflection and heartfelt impact. Working with less privileged people has some very personal imprints on your soul. Each one has certainly impacted me in their very own tailored ways to who I am today.
- How have you managed to being assigned for the re-opening of LV at the Avenue Montaigne and subsequently being appointed Marketing Director Louis Vuitton Germany?
I would tend to believe that it was a subtle combination of factors of which, recognition of my work and commitment to the company, my disposition to be open for new opportunities, having always worked in multicultural work environments, my command of French as a foreign language and most likely representing the company’s culture commensurate with their values as a Luxury Brand. These have certainly been some key factors to be assigned both the most exceptional roles, re-opening the flagship store in Paris and the senior role as Marketing Director LV Germany alike. Hard work, integrity and dedication always pay off.
- What was your main challenge through your path and how did you overcome it?
I am not a big believer in the solidity of the word “challenges”. Where some see cracks and holes in their journeys, I tend to see opportunities and progress. No matter what life throws at us, there are always actions one can take and decisions that will shape you in the right direction. Challenges can perfect your skills, senses, courage, and self-growth. There had been several occasions that come indeed into my mind such as having accomplished my professional diploma at the Ecole Hoteliere de Lausanne which was the biggest milestone and tread towards my professional career. The time of having achieved at the age of 28 the first GM role in a beautiful boutique hotel in France. There is my first public speaking outside the workplace and my first published article, both events that still make me exceptionally proud.
An imperative milestone was the appointment as the first female GM at Phoenicia Intercontinental Hotel in Beirut ever since its inception in 1961. Above all, there are personal milestones that also impacted my professional life such as the birth of my two children, the passing away of my mom and most importantly, having found my personal path when life challenged me the most. In every aspect of life and besides certain beliefs, there is no perfect or ideal scenario to achieve your goals and to get where you want to be in life – it’s a mindset. You can have it all, but not all at once.
- How did you achieve a work-life balance, between your career and your motherhood?
It needs a thorough organization at a private and professional level to combine it all and succeed. The support from my family helped tremendously in the earlier days when the children were still young and needed me the most. You cannot be a parent-in-absentia. However, where there is a will there is a way. It needs all stakeholders to play an integral part in making it happen, family and employer alike. I was very fortunate to have been able to proceed my career path whilst looking after the family as sole bread earner. Agility, flexibility, strong work ethics and a huge portion of serenity are sound base pillars to manage it all. The real concept of balance is being mindful and devoting time to what really matters most at any given time.
- Can you mention some major turning points in your life?
My mother had always been my tower of strength. She passed away at a young age after over a decade of suffering which accompanied my high school years. And whilst still trying to digest the loss, it has brought into sharp focus what is important in life and where my priorities lie. Difficult times make you very humble and grateful. Until today, kindness and gratitude are my key beacons. Not everything in my life went according to plan and the toughest times and failures were in hindsight the most valuable experiences. As such I might be able to say that all experiences joyful and challenging have deeply shaped me.
- Tell us more about your experience as the first female GM at InterContinental Phoenicia ever since its inception in 1961, Beirut Lebanon.
Having fallen in love with the country, its people and its deeply rooted culture it was an outstanding honor being appointed (Cluster) General Manager for InterContinental Phoenicia, the landmark hotel of Lebanon and known as the Grand Dame. This beautiful property is symbolic of the rich history of the country and has in time be renowned as one of the best luxury hotels in the Middle East. Being a hospitality establishment with vast historical background and having been assigned with the mission to infuse a more modern creative approach to such an establishment was a most intriguing undertaking. More importantly has been the first female GM ever since the hotel’s inception led to a different, most inspiring awareness in the local community. I loved every single moment of leading this beautiful property with its mainly local talents and international clientele. A female perspective at times is a wonderful icebreaker as it values not only competition but also collaboration to organizations and teams. Feminine values are truly a holistic nurturing operating system of a modern, social- and open-minded society.
- You were head-hunted for the project and company set up in KSA as a female Expat General Manager whilst the country is only opening-up for female talent. How did this experience help you grow?
It appears to me an obvious choice to select the most skilled candidate who best meets the requirements for the position at any given moment, independent from gender. This was the case for this most complex senior leadership position and diversified work environment here in the Kingdom. However, understanding the dimension of Vision 2030 and the country’s most exciting transformation at social and economic levels, having appointed a female leader certainly was a new signal to all communities. I utilize my assignment to coach, inspire and guide especially young female talents into their future within the enormous opportunities in the Kingdom lying ahead. Within my activities, it goes without saying that every experience helps you grow if you take the time to assess and reflect on the content.
- What could you tell us about Hospitality and challenges in KSA?
Saudi Arabia has proven to be a rich territory including its culture, tradition, and history. A mere example is Alula, a city unraveling its historical places and ancient ruins that portray the Kingdom’s varied natural exquisiteness.
Times have changed and oil will no longer be the arrow leading the country’s economic growth, but tourism with the flag the latter. The increase in tourism will provide creation and career opportunities and growth, whilst placing the Kingdom on the international traveler’s world map and initiating the Kingdom’s citizens’ warm hospitality to the world.
The nation’s local hoteliers will need time to fully establish themselves in this field as it is newly introduced and not common amongst its citizens. While Vision 2030 is a most stimulating revelation, education in all fields must be aligned with the growing professional demand in the country. Education plays a vital role in shaping the future of any industry, with a prime focus on the hospitality field. Despite the vast developments in this sector there is still a societal stigma as technical jobs are perceived as ‘low-status’. For the female workforce additional layers of complexity are added as The Kingdom emerges from its patriarchal underpinnings.
- What piece of advice would you give to young female talents struggling with limiting beliefs set by their societies?
Females have instinctive solid traits such as emotional intelligence, empathy, and communication skills amid many others. Women value relationships and are naturally nurturing which translates into one key aspect of leadership to develop themselves and their surrounding environments. Ladies are inclined towards a holistic approach and self-reflection in their work, and value work-life balance in addition to helping people reach their goals and potential.
To believe in themselves, and their potential and to trust in their instinct and capabilities in achieving all that they are capable of. Life is full of challenges, however, since the beginning of time, women have surpassed these hurdles. You are the change!
- What’s next for Dagmar Symes?
Saudi Arabia has become my home away from home. With its vast opportunities in all sectors, especially within hospitality and tourism, I will be further dedicating my expertise to coaching, inspiring, and guiding the nation’s youngsters and professionals alike, especially women – a matter very dear to my heart. Assisting them in paving their journeys into their future within the enormous opportunities in the Kingdom lying ahead, is a most rewarding exercise.
The Kingdom is focusing its development on becoming a leader into one of the most dynamic economies in the world. Taking part in this transformation and witnessing the country’s enormous growth and restructuring is a most rewarding task and undertaking.