Today on Pearls And Heels we feature Alyana Popat. Alyana Popat is the Marketing Manager for Simba Hospitality (Acacia Hotels), a pillar within Simba Corporation, a diversified conglomerate in Motor, Hospitality and Real Estate. She is working on setting up restaurants and a wine business that will be part of the Simba Hospitality portfolio. She is also heavily involved in setting up and running the Simba Foundation, the corporate social investment arm of Simba Corporation that aims to create sustainable opportunities for empowerment of African communities. She also previously worked in the Strategy and Business Development department as a Business Analyst.
Alyana has a strong passion for philanthropy and social entrepreneurship. She is a member of the Ismaili Economic Planning Board, a committee that helps improve the economic well-being of the Ismaili community by providing guidance and assistance. She also sits on the Shining Hope for Communities Kenyan Advisory Board.
Describe your typical day?
My day starts at around 6am. I get up, have a quick shower and leave home around 7:15am. I get to the office around 7:45 am and spend 1 hour replying to emails. I don’t ever have a typical day as there are times I end up working from Kempinski or from our offices on Mombasa Road. During the day I am either meeting potential partners or working on several projects. Right now I am working on setting up a wine business, setting up restaurants in Westlands, Marketing Acacia Premier Hotel and also working hand in hand with our Simba Foundation Manager. After work, which ends around 5:30pm, I head to the gym, which actually helps me wind down the day.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I actually wanted to be a journalist working for a company like CNN. I don’t know what I was thinking back then because I was extremely shy. Once I finished university I decided to join the family business just so I could understand the Kenyan market better, I quickly saw myself attracted to the hospitality side of the business. Ever since then, I instantly knew my passion lies in hotels and restaurants (I am a big foodie).
If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
I would probably get some experience working in a hotel and restaurant somewhere in the world so that I could understand both industries better.
What would you say are the top three skills needed to succeed at your job?
Time Management – I work on several different projects, so time management is extremely important. It’s key that I make the most of my time and make sure I deliver quality work for all projects that I am involved in.
People Skills – Since I work in the hospitality industry, I get to meet a lot of people, therefore it’s important that I am able to build and sustain relationships.
Creativity – In order for the public to constantly engage my brands I need to demonstrate an element on creativity in all the work that I do.
As a professional how is it working in Nairobi? Is it open to what you do or what could be better?
Working in a city like Nairobi really keeps you on your feet. Nairobi is fascinating, with its diverse people, constantly growing skyscrapers, and unpredictable environment. It is definitely more challenging to get certain things done fast and efficiently, however it’s not impossible. The hospitality industry is growing tremendously, big international brands now want a piece of the pie, so now is the time for ‘us’ home grown brands to really show the industry that we can play at the same level.
I also do quite a bit of work in Kisumu. The hotel I manage (Acacia Premier) is in Kisumu. I am not there very often but for the few times I have been there, It’s spectacular. Kisumu’s biggest advantage is Lake Victoria which connects the city to both Tanzania and Uganda.
What motivates you?
Having long conversations with passionate and intelligent people. I love interacting with people who enjoy what they do and can talk about their job for hours. Passion is everything in what we do.
How do you define success?
My definition of success is being the leader in the hospitality and restaurant industry and having a company that is able to contribute a significant amount of time, knowledge and money to helping underprivileged youth and communities. When we look at Acacia Premier, I am proud of the brand. It has succeeded in setting standards in Kisumu, we employ locally, buy food locally and the Hotel is preforming well financially.
Who has been your greatest inspiration?
My father. He is one of the smartest people I know. He knows both the motor car industry and hospitality industry inside out; he has immense knowledge. He also works a lot, entertains clients and partners on a weekly basis, is also able to keep up to date with current affairs and at the same time has time to relax. How amazing is that?
What is your favorite aspect of your job?
My job allows me to think like a marketer, accountant, architect, restaurateur and hotel manager all during one day. This diversity is what keeps me going day by day.
What would you say are the key elements to being successful?
Hard work, passion and a positive attitude. Look I told you, passion is everything!
What advice would you give somebody just starting out in your line of work?
Listen and learn by speaking to professionals in this industry. Also reading about the industry is important. I believe there are so many new practices that have been tried and tested in other parts of the world that can be implemented here in Kenya.
What has been your most satisfying moment in terms of career?
Watching my confidence increase over the past two years. I am generally an introvert and normally find it difficult introducing myself to people or even opening up to new people. Also being asked to sit on the local advisory board of a company (SHOFCO) has definitely been a satisfying moment for me.
What makes you happy?
Being with friends and family and seeing them happy. Also spending time with the girls from Kibera and seeing them with constant smiles on their faces.
What are your hobbies? What do you do in your non-work time?
Reading books, playing squash or tennis, mentoring a girl from Kibera and trying new restaurants around Nairobi.
Where do you see yourself in around 10 years?
I want to have finished my MBA and be in the process of opening up my 5th restaurant in East Africa. I also want to be opening up the 10th Acacia Hotel in East African region. Finally, I would like to sit on several social enterprise/NGO boards and dedicate a large portion of my time to helping those in need whether it be through mentoring or helping set up social projects.
If you would like to interact with Alyana you can find her on LinkedIn.