Dagmar Symes: A Trailblazer making a Mark in Hospitality

Dagmar Symes - Hill Robinson | Making a Mark in Hospitality | CIO Women Magazine

The hospitality industry is one of the most significant contributors to driving growth in the service sector across the world. Considered the bedrock of almost all tourism and travel-related activities, the industry is constantly generating direct and indirect employment opportunities. Seizing the opportunities, an increasing number of women are venturing into the industry. 

Women are taking up major leadership roles in the industry thanks to their naturally high emotional intelligence and hospitable instincts. Dagmar Symes, General Manager of Hill Robinson Estates, is a prime example of an astute woman leader making a mark in the hospitality sector. Leveraging her avid experience in the industry, Dagmar has been successfully leading the company toward unrivaled success. 

“I had to follow my calling….”

Dagmar started her journey with a sound hospitality education at the renowned EHL (Ecole Hoteliere de Lausanne). This allowed her to pursue a career path undisturbed by the societal environment and prevailing norms. During the initial stages of her career, she worked in the luxury hospitality industry resulting in her first GM assignment at the age of 28 in a beautiful boutique hotel in France. 

Thereafter, Dagmar undertook a sidestep into senior leadership positions in the luxury consumer goods industry—working for companies like Louis Vuitton and Bvlgari—before returning to luxury hospitality, her true passion. Talking about her inspiration to work in Saudi Arabia, Dagmar says, “Yearning for new experiences, paired with my willingness to tempt new waters and in alignment with my career path developments has brought me to the Middle East in various senior management roles within the luxury hospitality industry.”

“Traditionally, we have been taught to be competitive with one another, however, this should be reversed. It has been proven that women benefit from the collaboration over competition.”

Stepping out of the comfort zone is one of Dagmar’s key drivers. Thus, her journey in the Middle East started with various General Manager assignments in Lebanon and Oman, ultimately leading to Saudi Arabia. For Dagmar, tapping into the unknown is the most stimulating factor to explore new opportunities. Her optimism, daring, and at times certainly unconventional attitude, blended with a persistent positive mindset, have largely contributed to her career path. She finds the project of private estate management that she is entrusted with in Saudi Arabia very intriguing. 

A Reliable Business Partner

A leading international yacht management company, Hill Robinson has recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. A high-level client satisfaction rate has led to new business opportunities—such as private aviation and estate management—for the company. Its KSA entity strives to establish itself as the most reliable and reputable business partner for private estate management business opportunities within the kingdom. This is just the first step and Hill Robinson has a clear vision of going even further. 

To achieve its vision, Hill Robinson provides tailor-made services, creative and extraordinary solutions, a highly-skilled workforce, and most importantly, a high-ranking level of confidentiality and discretion with all its clients. “Scouted for this exciting position in Saudi Arabia, the prospect of a most stimulating undertaking in the set-up of a new company in KSA within the country’s Vision 2030 as both a female executive and a leader was an evident choice,” says Dagmar. Project management in the new and unknown fast-developing KSA market compelled her to take on the role and break new grounds. 

Benefitting from the Experiences

Dagmar believes that all experiences encountered alongside your journey can be considered a benefit in one way or another. Having constantly worked in multicultural high-end environments, all her experiences are based on a sole principle—pure customer satisfaction at the highest levels of professionalism and trust, positioning authenticity and empathy at the center of a business. 

However, over the years, the luxury market has shifted from its conventional conspicuous consumption model to an experiential luxury sensibility. This is characterized by a shift in the definition of luxury through the eyes of consumers. According to Dagmar, it is factual to say that service as a term is intangible. Luxury services offer a range of high-end amenities and unstandardized features. They entail a superior level of personalized mental and physical attention and have a sense of exclusivity only available to a select crowd. 

The luxury services are known for their exceptional quality, be it the finest finishes or materials, skilled employee excellence, or a most courteous attitude based on discretion and pure confidentiality. “This relationship between luxury brands and consumers is based on deep understanding and trust. In addition, and this goes without saying, creating emotions and portraying optimism are vital additional attributes,” says Dagmar. 

Culture of Improvement and Empowerment

Strong core values represent the heart of every organization in capturing collective motivation drivers. Some of Hill Robinson’s key pillars are values such as integrity, respect, trust, responsibility, independence, authenticity, and passion. Hill Robinson supports a culture of seeking improvement and genuine empowerment leading to discovering creative and extraordinary solutions for its customers. Hill Robinson’s success relies on its most valued asset in the organization, its team. 

Dagmar’s leadership style is reflected in empowerment in harmony with a persistent positive empathetic attitude, open-door policy, and transparent communication. She mentions that leading by example and an ethical work environment are key factors to a successful, diverse, and rewarding workplace. This is achieved by driving results as well as deepening Hill Robinson’s talent pool and retaining talent from all across the globe. 

Challenges are long-term partners in the personal and professional development of a leader. However, Dagmar has never been affected by the opinion of others. She has developed and utilized her skills in a targeted manner and has always taken a sportive attitude towards all aspects of competition. Presently, the Hill Robinson Estates team has come up with its EPIC values (Excellence-Performance-Integrity-Commitment) and Dagmar takes pride in supporting these from all angles of the company’s business activities. 

A New Home 

Enunciating her views on the business environment in Saudi Arabia, Dagmar mentions that the country is undergoing major changes to meet the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 objectives. According to her, the country’s ability to modernize and yet keep true to its own culture and origins makes these transformative times so special, and now is one of the most exciting times in history to spend time in the Kingdom. While media in general tends to attract visibility via negative headlines, Dagmar mentions that the perception of Saudi Arabia in the Western hemisphere and in her country is not at all reflected and coherent with her personal experiences and impressions in the Kingdom. 

“The relationship between luxury brands and consumers is based on deep understanding and trust. In addition, and this goes without saying, creating emotions and portraying optimism are vital additional attributes.”

Dagmar further states that the people in the Kingdom are hospitable and open-minded towards expats, and it is a wonderful place to work and live in. Her expectations that the lifestyle would be somewhat stricter, be it by dress code or in public life, had to be waived in full. “It is beautiful to witness how much the community is longing to advance. The role of Saudi women has dramatically changed to take their rightful place in the society, and the younger generation is ambitious and eager to grow,” adds Dagmar. 

Furthermore, Dagmar expected desert weather throughout the year, which turned out to be another false assumption. Summers in the country are long, sweltering, and arid while winters are cool and dry. Dagmar has wholeheartedly embraced Saudi Arabia as her new home away from home. She urges everyone to be discrete, respectful, cordial, and honor rules that don’t go against societal habits. “After all, we are guests in this beautiful country, and with that comes a kind of unspoken expectation that you will conform to their society’s rules and laws,” she asserts. 

Prioritizing Women Empowerment

Saudi Arabia has fully opened up to the female workforce and therewith grants adequate opportunities at all levels. Dagmar believes that gender should never come to play in identifying a great leader, but rather the individual’s leadership abilities depending on their strengths and personality traits. A good leader, no matter the gender, should be a jack of all trades. 

The Kingdom supports the female workforce on all levels and has dynamically opened up in creating a gender-balanced work environment that includes female leadership. Saudi women have made unprecedented progress in joining the labor market in their country. 

“It is beautiful to witness how much the community is longing to advance. The role of Saudi women has dramatically changed to take their rightful place in the society, and the younger generation is ambitious and eager to grow.”

Dagmar tends to believe that female leaders have naturally engrained attributes that could be related to female characteristics like emotional intelligence, empathy, and communication skills among others. Women value relationships and are caring by nature which translates into one key aspect of leadership to develop a team. 

She adds that there is a more inclusive leadership style underlined by the willingness to building and leading teams. Female leaders have an inclination towards a holistic approach and self-reflection in their work. Moreover, they value work-life balance and question the status quo. Dagmar mentions that this is no different in KSA and therefore women have to trust their capabilities. 

“Women supporting Women”

According to Dagmar, women supporting women is the recipe for success. “Traditionally, we have been taught to be competitive with one another, however, this should be reversed. It has been proven that women benefit from the collaboration over competition,” she adds. Dagmar mentions that channeling the power of collaboration is truly how Hill Robinson is altering this equation. Hill Robinson is lifting the diversity barrier by creating a culture of acting as mentors and sponsors for each other rather than competing. Dagmar further mentions that achieving gender equality and empowering women is vital to building a fair, inclusive, and prosperous work environment. 

Surpassing the Stereotype

Dagmar mentions that the stigma that female characteristics are counterproductive to their business acumen is a conventional stereotype thinking, and is certain that this will be considered unconventional very soon. She always advises women to believe in themselves and their potential as well as their instinct and capabilities in achieving their targets. In her opinion, the naturally engrained attributes that could be described as more female characteristics are a woman leader’s wealth and a very powerful arsenal. 

Take pride in who you are and what you have accomplished! You can do it!” concludes Dagmar. 

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