„For me, Turkey was Emel Sayın…“
A football star at national youth team of Egpyt, great grandson of an Ottoman general, manager of a luxury brand, sophisticated, good looking, influential… Some words to describe Mr. Tarek Mourad, General Manager of Raffles İstanbul. But the most impresive thing about him is his sincerity and his sense of respect. His own words tell you more about him than I ever would:
„Being successful in the eyes of my colleagues and guests is my description of success. Because nobody would say Tarek was a great general manager. They would talk about if I was a good or a bad person. That’s what stays with people at the end of the day.“
You’ve started your career as a lift boy and that young man in the front office, manages the world’s luxury now. How did you achieve that?
In our industry what people missed most is the fact that it’s a very easy business. The hotel business is what you do at your home like cleaning, cooking, welcoming your guests. You get success when you work with sincerity, honesty and passion. In luxury business, it’s all about quality interaction. The more you care for the guests the more apprecited you are and that appreciation is converted to a monetaryaspect that translate into dollars.
What’s the breaking point of your life?
I grew up in Egypt in a large family with love and care. That was the turning point that I enjoy being with people. I decided to quit football and focused on hotel business at an early age. That was one of my breaking points. The other is my children. I have three kids, Ali is 23 and my twins are 9. When I hold Ali in my arms for the first time, it was an amazing feeling. Yet I felt guilty because I was very busy to prove myself in professional life so I missed his amazing moments that I could have enjoyed more. With my twin girls I tried to enjoy more of those special moments that would not reoccur.
You have Ottoman ancestors. In your family tree, how far you did you reach?
My great grandfather Mansur Selim Silahdar Paşa was a commander in Ottoman army. My mother’s side is Greek. I, my parents and grandparents were born in Egypt so we are Egyptian. It doesn’t matter where our roots are. What really matters is how we live with each other and how we can enjoy life without having classifi ations or borders between peoples and nations.
Career suggestions for well educated young ones?
Sometimes you come across inviduals who behave very negatively towards the less fortunate ones. But it’s the worst way of management. I respect my colleagues, treat them equaly and appreciate them. The most junior person in this hotel is much more important than the general manager. If the most junior person doesn’t do his or her job passionately and right, I can’t manage.
You have an upscale restaurant here by a famous Catalan chef Sergi Arola. Other than Arola, what are your restaurant/food choices in İstanbul?
What’s so nice about Catalan culture is it’s driven by the concept of sharing. The sharing concept comes from warm, passionate societies. In our communities we don’t go so much to psychiatrist because we have so many people in our inner circle. Going back to food, we share because we care. The food concept that we had upstairs is delivering the best of Spanish cuisine in a much more appealing way while preserving the beautiful taste experience in smaller quantities so you can enjoy even more. About other restaurants, there is a beautiful restaurant in Bebek which serves amazing breakfast. They keep on serving you in a very generous, tasty, fresh manner. If I want to go and eat outside in İstanbul, it’s difficult to choose because there are tons of places. First of all the Ottoman cuisine is what my mother cooks at home. Syrian cuisine is the best in Eastern Mediterranean and best cuisine in Turkey is Hatay by far. Kebab, hummus, kibbeh, gombo, green beans, egg plant dishes and adorable appetizers… When I go to restaurants at Sultanahmet, I can enjoy all these beautiful traditional dishes. When it comes to food, İstanbul has endless choices.
Do you eat street food?
Yes of course. What’s so special about street food is its “speciality”. Street food is the ultimate speciality cuisine. If you cook only one dish for 30 years it has to be fantastic. Even in hotel business the most successful ones are the most specialized ones.
As a marketing and sales specialist, how would you promote İstanbul?
İstanbul is the best destination in the world by far. When you have such a great product, you need to promote what you truly have. For instance you can reach horse back riding granges with an amazing greenery setting and you don’t need to travel for hours to experience such beauty. And it goes back to what you’re telling the world to come and see. You’re showing what almost everybody knows but not other amazing aspects. Embrace your culture because people come for it. What’s so special as local will take you to become global. Show what you have and let them choose.
What was your expectation about İstanbul before you came, what were you dreaming of?
I was dying to see the opposite gender! I was born in ’63. In the 70’s, there was a beautiful tv programme in Egypt called “the world sings”. And they were always showing an amazing Turkish singer named Emel Sayın. I thought all Turks were like Emel Sayın. The looks, the voice, the glamour, the beauty, the elegance was truly amazing. So Emel Sayın was Turkey for me.
Where do you go for entertaiment?
Movies, football matches, spending time with my kids, Angelique, Reina, the ten liras Bosphorus trip. Reina, Angelique is one life and Bosphorus trip is another. So many things you can do. That’s why it’s very difficult o leave İstanbul and go to another city.
Do you consider to settle in Istanbul after retirement?
I would like to retire in İstanbul. I will definitely have a house here. In other big cities you’ll find one life style. Cairo is similar to İstanbul but İstanbul has much more to offer .
Do you have an art collection?
I have more than hundred pieces of paintings. But I stopped buying because I don’t have enough space. I enjoy all kinds of art; modern, portraits, landscapes as long as it is beautiful.
Dressing style at idle hours, favorite clothing brands?
I buy most of my clothes from Turkish brands like Abdullah Kiğili and W and ties from Hermes because it has a style. I buy what I like. And for casual wear, I prefer more international and colorful brands like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Polo. I always buy during the high sale time. I invest in clothes at the right price.
Dramatic / funny / embrassing Istanbul stories?
After ten days in İstanbul I started to drive by myself and try to learn landmarks. I was always noticing Çevreyolu sign and used it. One day I was driving with my wife and told her “if you follow Çevreyolu sign, it’ll take you where you want”. She said Çevreyolu means highway. So I understand why sometimes I used to end up on the Asian side… To ride a Vespa was one of my dreams because my father used to have a Vespa when I was a kid. I bought a Vespa in İstanbul. But when it came to registration phase, they said there was seizure on it. It took two and a half years to get a result. At the end, I owned it for one day before selling it because I had to leave Turkey…
The only bad thing for a foreigner about İstanbul is that one day you have to leave it. And there is absolutely nothing bad about İstanbul except this.
How do you see the luxury business in Turkey?
The luxury level is not about the country, it’s about the attitude of the organization. For example I went to a top luxury hotel in a top European city as a guest. But they had the security officer going after me because I was wearing casual clothes. And that told me a lot about their attitude. By then, I was a general manager in that brand.
Your job is simply making people happy. And you’re doing this in an industry where expectations are almost endless. So what makes you happy?
To be successful in making people happy. Because it reflects on me, I get a better salary. Life is a two way street. I was lucky to work with very few people who were not good at heart… Off course I made mistakes but I never stop to try to do my best.