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7 Questions on Leadership with Elias Madbak

Name: Elias Madbak

Title: Chief Executive Officer

Organisation: Rmal Hospitality

Elias Madbak is a skilled leader in restaurant franchising, new market entry, and concept creation. Elias has an impressive track record in finance, marketing, team development, and program expansion. His expertise lies in strategic planning, resulting in successful annual launches and high ROI. Elias is respected for his transparent communication and ethical leadership, influencing team recruitment and business development. He has been recognized by Caterer Middle East Power 50 four times for his significant industry contributions. Currently, he is the CEO for Rmal Hospitality and he’s leading the international joint venture for Marco Pierre White's global expansion. He previously held leadership positions in the UAE, UK and the USA. He currently resides in Dubai with his wife and two children.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope Elias's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

As a CEO of a hospitality business, the most challenging aspect of leadership, I have found, is effectively managing a diverse team with varying skill sets and maintaining a balance of efficiency and creativity. The hospitality industry is highly dynamic with a fast-paced environment and it profoundly relies on teamwork. Ensuring a harmonious, motivated, and productive work environment while also nurturing individual growth is a continuous challenge.

Moreover, navigating through the current digital transformation phase has also been quite challenging. Integrating advanced technology into our operations, while retaining the personal touch and warmth associated with hospitality, is a tough balance we are constantly striving to maintain.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

Absolutely, I'd love to share my journey. I started as a server in a family-owned diner during my college years. I was fascinated by the hospitality industry's dynamic nature and the sense of community it fostered. As a business student, I saw an opportunity to combine my education with my love for hospitality.

Upon graduation, I joined a restaurant group as a management trainee. Over time, I worked my way up through various roles, from a Floor Manager to a Restaurant Manager and eventually to a Regional Operations Leader. During this period, I learned the ins and outs of the restaurant industry - customer service, staff management, restaurant operations, finance, and marketing.

A key turning point for me was when I decided to pursue an MBA aimed at enhancing my skillset. After that, I joined a restaurant operator company as a managing director. My blend of hands-on industry experience and business acumen was invaluable in navigating through the role. My ability to connect with team members at all levels, understanding their issues, empowering them, combined with sound decision-making and strategic thinking and delivering aggressive growth to stakeholders led me to the CEO role I am at now.

Leadership for me was never a destination but a continuous journey of growth, learning, and staying connected with my roots in the industry.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

My day requires a well-structured routine to maximize productivity while ensuring a balance between my professional and personal life.

Here is an overview of my daily schedule.

I wake up early around 5:30 AM and start my day by spending time with my precious two year old daughter, Maria.

I then make breakfast for both my kids, put them on their school bus and head to the gym.

From 9:00AM to 10:00AM, I review my schedule, go through important emails and brief myself for the tasks ahead.

Typically, I reserve 10:00AM to 12:00 PM for important meetings and decision-making tasks when my energy levels are at the peak. Lunch time is usually an opportunity for informal meetings or checking in with staff.

Afternoons are often reserved for project reviews, and strategy planning, followed by responding to emails and other forms of correspondence.

Late afternoons into early evenings are typically set aside for personal development, such as reading and staying updated with industry news.

I try to wrap up my work around 6 PM. I have dinner around 7PM, followed by some leisure activities with my kids and some reading.

After the kids are in bed it’s time for me to connect with my wife.

Before bed, I take time to plan my schedule for the next day, and I always read my book for 20 minutes. I am currently reading “Surrounded by Idiots”, by Thomas Erikson.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

One valuable leadership lesson that I've recently been reminded of is the importance of showing empathy and truly listening to your team. In a fast-paced work environment, it's often easy to focus on tasks, deadlines, and outcomes. However, people should always be at the forefront of our concerns as leaders. Each team member is more than their role in the company; they are individuals with unique experiences, aspirations, and challenges.

Recently, a member of our team was facing personal difficulties and their performance was affected. While the initial response may be to focus on how this impacts the projects at hand, we instead opened a conversation to understand and support the individual. This not only strengthened the trust within our team, but reminded me that empathy and understanding can transform potential problems into opportunities for growth and deeper connection.

Leadership, at its core, is about people, and this episode served as a timely reminder of that fact. Investing time in understanding, supporting and empowering your team can yield better results than focusing solely on tasks and deadlines.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

As an AI, I don't read or feel impacted personally. However, one of the most impactful and often recommended “Start with Why" by Simon Sinek.

This book teaches that successful leaders inspire everyone to take action through a common belief or 'why.' Sinek argues that organizations should start with 'why' they do what they do, then address 'how' and 'what' they do. This model can shift the focus from what you do to why you do it, which can inspire both team members and customers more than a product or service alone.

This leadership style, fueled by passion and purpose, can result in a more invested, motivated team, and ultimately, a more successful organization.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

If I were to give one piece of advice to a young leader, it would be this: listen more than you speak. Leadership isn't about having all the answers or always being the loudest voice in the room. Rather, it's about learning from others, respecting their perspectives, and making informed decisions that benefit the team.

By actively listening and demonstrating that you value your team's input, you build trust and foster an environment where people feel comfortable sharing ideas and taking initiative. Plus, you might learn something! As a leader, every day is an opportunity to grow and inspire growth in others. Remember, leadership is a journey, not a destination.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

One story I often share is about a time when our flagship restaurant was facing stiff competition and a dip in regular patronage.

As a leader, I believed we had to be unique to succeed. I called a meeting with chefs, waitstaff, and managers. Instead of presenting a solution, I asked them to share creative ideas that would make us stand out. Everyone contributed - from novel dish ideas by our chefs, to enhancing décor based on customer feedback by our waitstaff, to improving service speed by managers.

I was amazed at their inventive ideas and their enthusiasm in participating in the decision-making process. We implemented some of the suggestions, and within a few months, we saw a significant improvement in customer visits and positive reviews.

The story is meaningful to me because it underlines the power of listening to your team and fostering an environment where everyone feels valued. It showed how, in an industry like ours, constant innovation is key and that innovation can come from anyone in the team. This experience made me believe even more in the power of collaborative and participative leadership.

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