Islamabad-born Ajaz Sheikh went to school in Abu Dhabi, where his peers and family seemed set on becoming bankers or lawyers. Young and rebellious, he decided to jump the other way and between January 1993 and August 1995 undertook a Swiss Hotel Association Diploma at Les Roches hotel management school in Bluche.
His career path didn't initially cause the family tensions you might expect, but a gap year spent at the Islamabad Marriott hotel as banquet sales executive did eventually prove too much for his father, a banker, who suddenly became conspicuous by his absence from his favourite hotel.
Undeterred, Sheikh's next stop was New Hampshire College in the USA, where he gained a degree in hospitality administration. During his time in the country he worked at the huge Atlanta Marriott Marquis hotel with its 60 floors and 1,800 bedrooms.
"It was fabulous, and I was given the opportunity to try many things. I was working as a room supervisor in a room service department bigger than the hotel I'm in now," he says.
In April 2000 Sheikh joined the Le MŽridien Piccadilly hotel in London as assistant food and beverage manager, transferring from the group's Abu Dhabi property.
"I wanted to be in a major city for hospitality and to concentrate on food and beverage," he says.
Talent rarely goes unnoticed, and Sheikh moved to the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park hotel in June 2002 before being headhunted for the Hilton Hotels Corporation and Hilton International joint project, Conrad, a five-star de luxe all-suite hotel located at Chelsea Harbour.
Joining in November 2003, he now has a staff of 60 to 70, round-the-clock room service, 16 function rooms, and five department heads to look after. Fortunately, the 30-year-old learnt long ago to hire talent to cover areas of personal weakness and strengthen the team.
His ambition is to make general manager, so the additional responsibilities he's been given recently for the hotel's health club and public relations at the restaurant will be useful.
The Conrad London project is at an early stage, and Sheikh admits it remains on a learning curve, although there is a real sense of gathering momentum. Tellingly, he continually praises the efforts of his staff above his own.
"The biggest sin is not to listen," concludes Sheikh. "We have a good team here now and are building on our success."
Assistant food and beverage manager at Le MŽridien Abu Dhabi
Assistant food and beverage manager at Le MŽridien Piccadilly
Food and beverage manager at Conrad London