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Name: Igor Gambachidze
Nationality: French
Age: 29
Graduation year: December 2011
Program: BBA Hospitality Management with Honors with merits
Current role: Director Finance Operations, Middle East & Africa, Marriott International

Why do we love hospitality? Because when you have passion and talent, like alumnus Igor Gambachidze, your success is limitless. Just 29 at the time of writing, Igor has gone from Glion graduate to Director of Finance Operations of Middle East & Africa for Marriott International in eight short years. We caught up with him to hear his story and get some industry insight.

Like many Glion alumni, Igor’s first career move came as a result of a meeting with an employer at an on-campus Career Day, as he explains.During my 6th semester in Glion I had the opportunity to meet Starwood Talent Acquisition team that were screening students for their Management Trainee Program”, he said.

“Upon graduation I received an invitation to attend their final assessment and I was fortunate to be selected for their finance program, starting my management training at the Starwood Brussels complex in 2012 in accounting.”

Deploying a new supply chain Structure

From the Management Trainee Program, Igor moved quickly into a permanent role. “The program was originally designed to last 18 months, but I was approached in 2013 to join Starwood Divisional office in Brussels a finance analysist to support the CFO team in deploying a new supply chain Structure across Europe, Africa & Middle East”, he commented.

“That time was an amazing experience, to be so young and have the chance to be exposed directly to the senior leadership and be part of a major project for such a big company.”

Heading East

A move to Russia followed, as Igor lead the transition of the Kempinski Nikolskaya in Moscow to the St Regis brand. Over the next two years, he opened various hotels, supported the implementation of finance systems and trained finance teams. Then, just four years after graduation, he received his first Directorship.

“In 2015 I was appointed Director of Finance for the opening of the Sheraton Aktobe in Kazakhstan, my tenure there taught me a lot, from being present on the construction site to representing Starwood to the ownership group .”

‘Living on a plane’

There are many reasons to love hospitality, including the travel opportunities, life experiences, multiculturalism, the people you meet, the things you see, the diversity and the endless career paths. In his next role, Igor would experience it all.
“Later in 2015, I was offered a move to Dubai to become Assistant Regional Director of Finance for Africa and Indian Ocean region”, he said. “My responsibility was to oversee the management of the finance departments for 34 hotels across the region as well as to ensure profit optimization and execution of the leadership finance strategy.”

“It is at that time that I learnt the expression ‘living on a plane’, my travels have brought me all across Africa travelling across dozens of countries in the region. This experience enabled me to gain considerable knowledge of the different cultures as well as to see first-hand the geo-political challenges of the continent.”

‘It is an incredible experience for our team to be transforming finance processes through the use of new technologies and processes improvements.’

In January 2017, upon finalizing the acquisition of Starwood, Marriott International offered Igor the opportunity to join the company as Director Finance integration Middle East & Africa.

“My role was to lead the efforts in identifying the synergy benefits during the merger as well as to be the finance business partner for new initiatives, such as the launch of the new Loyalty Program (Bonvoy), the deployment of our new fee structure and many other interesting changes the company has experienced since the merger with Starwood”, he commented.

“As of January 2019 I was appointed Director of Finance Operations Middle East and Africa. In my current position I am leading a team creating from scratch the first fully-integrated finance shared service centre outside of the United States. Having spent 8 months between Dubai and South Africa, our team was proud of this accomplishment and to have a fully established new finance office in Johannesburg.”

A career that started on-campus

Igor’s career is a shining example of the career diversity available to driven hospitality graduates, and he’s clear that it all began before he’d even graduated.

“My career with Starwood started on Glion Campus as I attended the presentation from the Starwood team organized by the career department of Glion”, he said. I was then selected for their management trainee program, so in a way Glion is at the origin of my current position”.

“Wherever I travel I connect with my fellow Alumnus. It is a strong network that transcends borders and age. What I appreciate the most about it is the trust and support you get from this network.”

“Glion helped me to move in my career having taught me to operate in an international and multicultural environment. Also, the quality of operational and theoretical knowledge provided by Glion is something that companies want their associates to have.”

A Director’s insight – what will have the biggest impact on hospitality in the next 5 to 10 years?

During his time in hospitality leadership roles around the world, Igor has identified two main changes that are already impacting the industry and will have an even bigger impact in the future.

“The first one is the emergence of maxi-hospitality groups resulting from mergers such as Marriot, IHG or Accor. On one hand standardization is key for these companies to manage large estates and optimize shareholders and owners’ returns but this needs to be done in careful way as to ensure that our guests still receive personalized services, mostly for the premium and luxury products.”

“The second factor deeply impacting our industry is the home-rental services such as Airbnb, so far only a handful of hotel groups have invested to develop new models that will allow them to react to the changing demand. Either companies will stay passive, in which case they are doomed, or they will re-invent themselves to stay ahead of the market.”

Advice for hospitality graduates

Currently studying his MBA at Warwick Business School, Igor believes building your life experiences is an essential way to gain confidence, knowledge and elevate your CV above strong competition.

My first advice is to challenge yourself, companies value employees that are resourceful, that can think outside the box and that are flexible. I see too often young graduates moving to big capitals and hoping to start a great career in corporate office, very often this results in them reaching a ceiling due to their lack of experience outside their comfort zone.”

“Secondly, travel! Go see the world, take on the most challenging assignments, question what you see and what you think you know. Companies need dynamic and critical thinking associates; the market is full of talented and knowledgeable people so always think about what makes you different and what can you bring to the table. Don’t forget that a job is a two-way road between you and your company.”

Thank you to Igor for taking time out to share his hospitality career so far. We’re proud to have him in the Glion Alumni Network and wish him further success with his career. We also congratulate him on his nomination for ‘Best professional success under 30’ at the Worldwide Hospitality Awards.

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About the author

Glion Institute of Higher Education
Glion Institute of Higher Education is a private Swiss institution offering bachelor’s and master’s degrees in hospitality, luxury and event management to an international student body across three campuses in Switzerland and London, UK.
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