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Time to talk woman to woman: Leading ladies of hospitality open up about achievements, challenges, and aspirations

February - March 2010 . Mrs. Micheline El Housseini Timbrell


Time to talk woman to woman

Leading ladies of hospitality open up about achievements, challenges, and aspirations
When Hospitality News magazine invited key female players in the industry for a roundtable at Hazmieh Rotana Hotel, an all-star cast showed up. Familiar faces such as Nada Sardouk, general director of the Ministry of Tourism, Lebanon were there to share their success stories, what it took to get there, and the long road ahead. The meeting of matriarchs was moderated by Micheline el Housseini Timbrell, managing director, Phi Management Group, which provides human resources services herself a successful name in her field.

A journey of a thousand miles begins

It has not been all velvet and roses for these hospitality A-list ladies. “My experience in hospitality in the early 90’s was humble. At that time it was just delivering low fat, low calorie food programs to my clients," commented Sawsan
Wazzan Jabri, co-owner and chief dietitian, Nutrition and Diet Center. Alice Eddé, co-founder and chairperson of Eddé Sands Hotel and Wellness Resort wanted to start something new. “When my husband and I came to Lebanon in 2000, we wanted to encourage tourists visiting the Mediterranean to stop in Lebanon, so we turned Byblos into a destination," said Eddé, mentioning that her conservative parents did not encourage her to study hospitality.

The long arm of coincidence intervened in the case of Hala Massaad, general manager, Hazmieh Rotana Hotel, the first female at the helm in the Rotana chain. “In 1996, while I was still pursuing my studies in marketing, I applied to work for the InterContinental Le Vendome. I ended up working there for 10 years, moving up the ranks. The hotel was a real hospitality school," she remarked. Chance also played a part in the life of Annette Maalouf El Rami, restaurant consultant, Blends Ltd and Ants Holding, Beirut. “I never even imagined venturing into hospitality, but, then I decided to start Casper & Gambini’s in 1998 with my brother [Anthony Maalouf] and a couple of friends," pointed out the mother of four. Another business and finance major who knocked on the door of hospitality was Maya Bekhazi Noun, the entrepreneur and restaurateur who runs winning concepts like Fiona’s, Tartufo, and Le Fil, as well as heading the hospitality division of Solidere. She opened her first venture in 2004, after which she moved to restaurants and her career soared with the revival of the Beirut Cellar.

The restaurant field also called out to Christine Assouad Sfeir, CEO,
Dunkin’ Donuts and Semsom, despite the fact that she had an MSc in food science, “I liked the restaurant side more since we are in touch with the end consumer and can be much more creative," Assouad Sfeir explained. Nazira Haddad Bitar, a chef and caterer since 30 years and owner of Nazira Catering, always wanted to cook. “I started out when it was not the norm for women to work, first by giving cooking classes to ladies and catering to children. After earning a diploma and working at Al Bustan Hotel for six years, I started my own business and I tried to stand out among top male chefs."