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Brits abroad: Simon Casson

02 November 2016 by
Brits abroad: Simon Casson

The EMEA president of hotel operations for Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts chats to Katherine Price about the wealth of opportunities available in Dubai for young hospitality workers

What inspired you to go abroad?

When I was training at Oakley Court hotel, Windsor, my managing director was from Bermuda. When I finished my training scheme, I spoke to him about working abroad, and Bermuda sounded so exotic. I handwrote 50 letters to every hotel, big and small, in Bermuda, and of course did not get any opportunities.

I joined what was then the Inn on the Park, now the Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane, in 1989 as an assistant manager. That gave me the first feeling that maybe I could have an international career with a company.

How has moving abroad helped shape your career?

In the UK at that time we were very formalised as an industry and there was a lot of hierarchy. When I went to the States, everyone from the general manager down said "call me Stan". In London, if a manager told someone what to do, they did it. In America, they'd ask why. So it was a much more entitled, participative style of management. I think that was formative in my early years.

What is it like to work in Dubai?

It's a land of great opportunity. It's very entrepreneurial, very aspirational, they really believe in quality and being the best that you can be. At the same time, it's a fun place to live. The sun shines every day, it's tax-free, and it has a world-class restaurant scene. I would not choose to be anywhere else at this point in my life.

Is there anything you don't like?

I miss the natural beauty that you find in the UK. Dubai is summer and then summer plus, which is lovely, but it's no real substitute for the changing of the seasons.

What does your day-to-day work involve?

Dealing with owners is a big part of it, but I'll also do town hall meetings with hotel teams. At other times I'll be looking speculatively at other new sites. So I might go and look at a green field site, an existing hotel to take over or an historical building that the owner has and wants to convert into a hotel, as is the case with Ten Trinity Square in London.

I spend a lot of time on the deals, as well as modelling what the business might look like. We want to have clear projections of what hotels can produce in returns.

I don't think there's anything routine about this job. I'm probably on the road 250 days a year, so you become an airline junkie.

Do you think you would ever come back to the UK?

It's possible, and you can never say never. I don't see it happening, because our headquarters that we've set up for EMEA are in Dubai, but I do love London.

Do you think Dubai is an easy place for hospitality workers?

Super-easy - it's Middle East lite. It's not like Saudi Arabia or Kuwait, which are more culturally conservative, although there are certain nuances you have to be aware of. It's a great place for someone early in their career, because they will have opportunities that may be more difficult to get in London. If they're prepared to travel and go somewhere like Dubai, they'll find a lot of hotels with a lot of opportunities.

What has been your favourite place to live and work?

I've always made a point of loving wherever I am located. Choose to love it and enjoy it, because the years pass by quickly, and who wants to spend years doing something or living somewhere you're not passionate about?

CV highlights

2016-present EMEA president, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts

2010-2013 Regional vice-president and general manager, Four Seasons Doha, Qatar

2000-2004 Hotel manager, Four Seasons London

1999-2000 Hotel manager, Four Seasons Canary Wharf

1996-1999 Director of rooms, Four Seasons Washington DC

1989-1993 Assistant front office manager, Inn on the Park, London (a Four Seasons hotel)

1985-1987 Concord Hotels Management Training Scheme

1983-1985 BTEC Diploma in Hospitality

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