Mohamed Yamany: Bringing local touch to butler training in Maldives

By Shamman Zahir

Meet the president and the principal trainer at the Maldives Butler Academy, Mohamed Yamany. The first-ever local academy of this nature aims to build better infrastructure to mold top-class butlers and offer avenues to develop their careers. Maldives Insider team explores how a career with over 19 years of experience behind him has led to the start of this up-and-coming company in the Maldives.

Maldives Insider: Tell us briefly how you got started in your career.

Mohamed Yamany: 20 years ago, I finished my diploma at FHTS. I saw an ad in the newspaper for Mr. Friday at Soneva Fushi. A gentleman by the name of Hussain Shahid whom I was in contact with for field research for assignments of FHTS was kind enough to recommend me despite having no prior experience. I was interviewed by my trainer, Mr Frederick Broodryk, who was at one point the personal butler of Nelson Mandela. I quite clearly remember him saying to me in the interview, “you have no prior job experience in the industry, what is something that you can offer to the company than the other candidates who have applied for the same role?”. I told him the positive attitude is the only thing I can give apart from what I have learned from my time at FHTS. He was happy with the answer I gave and thought I would make a good Mr. Friday. After finishing my butler training and serving 2 years in Soneva Fushi, I was transferred to Soneva Gili. While I was at Soneva Gili, Six Senses was opening their new property in Vietnam, Six senses Ninh Van Bay. I was sent as part of the task force to train the first butlers of this new property in Vietnam. It was a very good experience professionally. This is something I would recommend for future Maldivians to do as well. Find an opportunity to get some international exposure before settling down to work in the Maldives. While I was in Vietnam, the Tsunami of 2004 hit Soneva Gili and the property was damaged badly. The GM at the time TJ said “there is nothing for you to go back to, since it will be a construction site at this point. Why don’t you stay back and help to open up?” A few months later the Front office manager resigned and I inherited the department of 43 hosts. Managing a diverse team became a crash course in leadership for me. Before that, I had no prior leadership experience or training, everything was learned on the go and I was lucky to receive a lot of mentoring from the GM and other Directors at the resort. After that chapter, I came back to the Maldives to get married. At that time, Four Seasons was reopening their Kuda Huraa property and had an opening at the time. The opportunity in HR was a great exposure for me. So far in my career at this point, I had the experience of working in front of the house, and this was my foray into working at the heart of the house of a resort. After spending a year working there, I won a Villa Foundation scholarship to do my degree in Malaysia at Taylors University. While I was doing my degree, I did my internship in Malaysia and then in UAE. After finishing up my degree, I got the opportunity to work in a Singapore based company that did open a couple more resorts in Vietnam. Some of them like Ana Mandara Hue and An Lam Ninh Van Bay won some awards. I then came back again to the Maldives and with my wife being pregnant I wanted to stay close to home. I have always wanted to give back to the community, and this came true with getting the opportunity to work at FHTS as a lecturer. After working in the public sector, I came back to the hospitality field doing resort openings such as Vakkaru Maldives and Crossroads Maldives. Now, I am on this current journey of having started my own training company with two other gentlemen Dr Sunny and Mr Badhuru.

MI: What interested you to start Maldives Butler Academy?

MY: There were many reasons we started this. One of the reasons was before we started there were perhaps 2 or 3 companies that was conducting Butler training so resorts didn’t have much of a choice. These companies were able to charge a premium due to the lack of Butler training schools both in the Maldives and abroad. With Maldives Butler Academy coming into the game, it sort of have levelled the playing field.

Just because you are late to the game, doesn’t mean you can’t make an impact. Take Google for instance. It was the 13th search engine but it has the biggest market share today.

We launched the Academy in December 2020 and after we received many inquiries, the second wave of Covid-19 forced us to push back the many trainings that was to be held.

MI: What do you think of the opportunities available for Maldivians in the Maldives?

MY: I think there is a lot of opportunities available for the Maldivians but we should grasp these opportunities and also keep at the back of their head that when it comes to talent that they are competing with the rest of the world who are vying for the same opportunities.

MI: What services/programmes does the academy provide?

MY: We have three levels, basic advanced, and professional. The details are available on our website (https://maldivesbutleracademy.com/) The basic course generally covers what it is like to be a butler in the Maldives and brings you up to standards. The advanced level is focused on certain modules such as Valet skills, Event management, Mixology for advanced training, etc. The professional level includes modules such as cigar service, silver service, Barista coffee, hot beverages, etc. It also includes certain items requested by the brands.

We get a lot of interest from locals to do the training but we lack the infrastructure ourselves to give public courses. So we currently do partnerships with resorts to do Butler training. Every course is made customized and tailored to the resort and its needs. It’s simply easier to be done in resorts where you can play out real-world scenarios. Assimilation would be tough if we did public courses at this point. That is a limitation we have.

MI: What makes a good butler?

MY: In my opinion, a person who can put others’ interests ahead of your own will make a great butler. Quite a lot have the notion that a lot of butlers make a lot of money with tips and you intend to become a butler on that basis and being money-oriented is your primary focus, being a butler is not for you. Being an entrepreneur is a better option with that kind of focus.

As a Butler, your primary focus should be to give a once-in-a-lifetime experience to guests with no strings attached. There are age-old stereotypes that certain nationalities will tip better, that should not be in the mindset of a butler. It should be the same level of service of every guest regardless of their nationality, gender etc. A guest is a guest no matter where they come from.”

What I believe and advocate is to being very customer focused. Just as Jeff Bezos says, “Competitors will not give us any money”. If you are competitor-focused, you have to wait until a competitor does something and you are playing a catchup game. Being customer-focused allows you to be more pioneering.

It’s also good to have experience in other departments of the resort before becoming a butler. It certainly helps to have an understanding of operations to do your job better. It’s important to see that in the resort, things work as a team with everyone doing their part. If a butler has a notion that the guests are happy simply because him or her doing a great job, that is not very true as it is a joint effort from the airport team, room boys, stewards, to the waiters. A butler should play a diplomatic role where he or she is able to utilise the others to wow their guests.

MI: What are some of the challenges you face in your line of work?

MY: Right now, the biggest challenge is scheduling. Some resorts are very busy during the low seasons as well. There are expectations sometimes to finish one training and go to the next one back to back. That is not the most efficient way to go, as most of our content is very much customised to the location. Currently, it is just me doing the trainings, so manpower is a limitation but how we have designed the academy is that any butler can take the mantle of trainer and contribute to creating more butlers. I believe the Maldives Butler Academy is bigger than one person.

MI: What is a memorable moment from your career?

MY: I was offered to become the General Manager of a company but I felt I wasn’t ready at the time. In Vietnam as well before coming back to the Maldives, they offered me to be the Resident Manager. So, in terms of career goals, being offered those positions assured me I had made it to that level. At the same time, having a wife and a daughter now changes things where you have to factor them in when making career decision. When your decisions can affect more than just you, you will have to make sacrifices and put their needs ahead of your own as well. At this point in life, working with work-life-harmony is more important for me than going up the career ladder.

MI: What is your vision for the academy?

MY: One facet of the vision is that we intend to conduct the trainings offered by the Academy in hospitality establishment outside of the Maldives. Another facet is to make our courses be approved by Maldives Qualification Authority (MQA) so that it becomes a bridging course for our participants to use it to continue their studies to pursue a degree so that it is not just another certificate and that there is more value to it. There are a lot of criteria set by MQA, we are working towards fulfilling them.

MI: What advice would you give to those starting in the industry?

MY: Don’t just get into hospitality because you want a job. Get into hospitality if you can put others before you. It’s not a factor to be ashamed of. There are alternative career choices if you cannot put serving others before yourself. So only get into hospitality if you can follow that rule of serving others before yourself.

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