Off hours: Dubai hotelier is fond of family and Ferrari

Imad Elias, the chief executive of Dubai-based Roda Hotels, came to the UAE as a trainee receptionist at the Abu Dhabi Hilton. That was 43 years ago when the Hilton was the only five-star hotel in the capital, and there was not a single tree in the hotel’s vicinity on the Corniche Road, Mr Elias recalls. He was 16. He rose to become general manager of the Hilton Al Ain at age 29. He left Hilton in 1995 to become a founder of the Rotana group of hotels. He resigned from Rotana as chief executive in 2012. After working as a consultant, he joined Roda Hotels two years ago. A Syrian-American, he was born in Beirut.

How do you spend your weekend?

On Fridays, I like to relax with my family. My daughters live with me and I enjoy reading, swimming, and doing barbecue. I like going for cycling and walking around Auto Dome near Motor City, Dubai, where I live. On Saturdays, we enjoy the desert where we go camping, and also do wadi bashing. I do the driving. We used to have a yacht and took it to the seas before we sold it. We also own a villa at the Cove Rotana Resort in Ras Al Khaimah and spend some time there as well.

How did you become CEO of Roda?

I was a consultant for Dubai International Real Estate for the hospitality projects. The chairman [Khalil Al Sayegh] then decided to build a hospitality arm to manage properties, and to expand in the Arabian Gulf. We are building the [Dh4 billion, mixed use Jewel of the Creek] project in Dubai, and hopefully we will have similar projects in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

What is your go-to gadget?

I like my classic BlackBerry and my diary. I am old-fashioned. I write down the contacts in my diary. I like to send handwritten letters and receive handwritten letters.

What was the lowest point of your career?

I was a front office manager at Abu Dhabi Hilton in 1978. We were overbooked. There were 30 Italian pilots staying with us. They had gone to Al Ain on a trip in a helicopter and their aircraft crashed, killing all. I had to pack their personal belongings. That was the saddest moment.

What advice would you offer others starting out in your business?

Any new entrant in the business must give their 100 per cent. They need to be patient, flexible, learn from their superiors continuously and believe that nothing is difficult. Where there is a will, there is a way.

What is your most indulgent habit?

Driving fancy cars. I have eight cars in Dubai, two in Spain and two in Scotland. They include Ferrari, Bentley, Mercedes and Range Rover. My favourite is the Ferrari.

What do you have on your desk at work?

On my desk is a Ferrari paperweight, a gift from my eldest daughter Lara, my diary, and a things-to-do today list. I believe in “do it today, not tomorrow”.

What can’t you live without?

My wife and my three daughters: Lara, who is 30 years, and works for me as my personal assistant at Roda Hotels, Nadine, 29, who works as a make-up artist, and Leila, who works at a spa. And also, I can’t live without our three-year-old dog Honey, an American cocker spaniel.

How do you achieve a work/life balance?

I believe that there is time for work and there is time to enjoy. It is important to spend time with your family.

If you could swap jobs with anyone, who would it be and why?

If I can swap jobs, it would be with a pilot or a fisherman. Because I love both: flying and fishing.

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