During her training at EM Normandie, Anne-Lise did a one-year internship in London which opened the doors to an international career. Throughout her career path, she has been able to seize the opportunities available to her: Milan, London, Singapore... and now Dubai.
In this first edition of "My Job in...", Anne-Lise looks back at her international career path and her current life in Dubai.
Can you introduce yourself in a few words?
Anne-Lise: My name is Anne-Lise, I did the SUPEUROPE programme at EM Normandie over 15 years ago! That was a little before the creation of the Master in Management programme!
I am currently living and working in Dubai.
What is your job in Dubai?
Anne-Lise: I work for IHG® Hotels & Resorts, which is one of the world's leading hotel companies. I am in charge of PR (public relations) communications for our 16 brands in the India, Middle East, Africa, South East Asia and Korea regions.
Can you tell us about your international career?
Anne-Lise: During my SUPEUROPE years, I had the opportunity to go for a year as an intern in London, which made me want to make my career internationally.
It was my internship year in London that made me want to make my career internationally.
After graduating, I moved to Milan for three years for the PR agency Cohn & Wolfe which is part of the Young & Rubicam group. Then I was transferred to London, then back to Paris for less than a year. I didn't really like Paris, it was very hard for me to come back home after living 6 or 7 years internationally.
So I packed my bags again to go to Singapore, initially on holiday, and I found work so I came back to France for 2 weeks to then make my life in Singapore. I started working for a PR agency and after nine months I was called by IHG® Singapore who offered me to join their Brand PR team for their luxury and lifestyle brand.
What brought you to Dubai?
Anne-Lise: After spending more than six years in Singapore, having been with IHG® most of the time, I had the opportunity to move to Dubai. Indeed, a position became available, which is called a "room to grow" in IHG® jargon. I got a promotion and moved to Dubai where I am now.
After 6 years in Singapore, I took a promotion opportunity within my company to move to Dubai.
So it was the international side that guided your career?
Anne-Lise: Yes. As a French person, you make a lot of connections and you meet a lot of people who work in this industry. In the end, opportunities are created and you have to seize them. You shouldn't be afraid. If I had to do it again, I would trust my instincts again. I have also had the chance to work for international companies looking to develop their employees internally.
The "growing room" is a kind of internal company incubator?
Anne-Lise: Yes, within IHG®, we have career development programmes. And every year, we have discussions to exchange on our short and medium-term aspirations. Opportunities are created all the time because markets and strategies are always changing.
You shouldn't hesitate too much and jump on opportunities when they arise.
How did it go with your integration into the country?
Anne-Lise: The culture shock was greater in Singapore than in Dubai. On the one hand, when you are in Singapore, it is difficult to be able to communicate with your family in France at reasonable hours with the 7-hour time difference.
Moreover, in Singapore the culture, as well as the religions, are different from ours. For example, the way of celebrating Christmas, Easter, Hindu holidays... It's quite nice. The food and the people we meet daily are also less similar to ours. The language spoken there is English and the ways of working are quite different.
What are the differences at work?
Anne-Lise: In Singapore, I often worked quite late at night because I was connected with the Middle East where there was a 4-hour time difference. With Europe, there were 7 hours, 8 hours with the UK and 12 hours with the US. It was not easy to find time slots to organise our meetings. Sometimes people would have to wake up at 5 am to do a call with me in my day or it was me working late at night to fit in with their schedules. I found it very hard to find a time slot for meetings.
I find it much easier now to get organised in Dubai as there is less of a time difference and I can talk with all my colleagues, whether they are in Japan, Australia, or San Francisco. Currently, we have a 2 hour time difference with France.
In Dubai, it is quite easy to talk with people from all over the world.
What are the differences in Dubai?
Anne-Lise: They are cultural. As you can see in the media, the customs are different from back home, but overall life is very similar to what we experience in France, with higher temperatures and seldom rain.
Really, you never get rain?
Anne-Lise: This year, we didn't have any at all. The first year we had a lot, I thought I brought the monsoon with me from Singapore! But since then, it hasn't rained for a year and a half. And it's approaching 40°C in the evening.
How do you feel about it?
Anne-Lise: I find it hard to go back to France in winter. It's true that in Normandy we count the days when it doesn't rain!
Speaking of Normandy, what memories do you have of the School?
Anne-Lise: I admit I need to do a little work to remember my EM Normandie years. Some students from the School came to Dubai about a month ago and we talked together. Some memories came back to me like some names of professors who are still on the faculty.
Most of my memories are of my year abroad, which was a great experience and gave me a taste for living and working abroad. I have also kept friendships, I still have a lot of friends from my class with whom I am still in contact. I still remember a bit of the Caen campus but it's far away for me because a lot has happened in the meantime.
I still have many friends from my EM Normandie class.
Thomas: You'll have to come back and see the changes on the campus, because there has been a nice expansion. We have opened a new campus in Le Havre and will open another one in Paris soon. When you come back, it won't be the same!
Anne-Lise: The number of students must have increased a lot. At my time, we only had two classes each year: a marketing/sales class and a finance class, whereas today there are 5,000 students at EM Normandie. There is a community spirit at EM Normandie where professors are close to their students and students are close to the administration. It's true, it was good to talk about EM Normandie again a month ago with the students. It was very pleasant.
What is your best memory at the School?
Anne-Lise: Once, we all found ourselves working in an amphitheatre for 4 or 6 hours on a case study. And after working, we were still in a state of stress but relieved. We were able to debate with Mr. Tirard face to face in a big classroom with just the two of us. I loved that moment. The other good memories are obviously about the contacts and friendships that were made and that remain with me.
What was the biggest culture shock for you in Dubai?
Anne-Lise: This is very personal for me, it was having a car because I hadn't driven for about ten years. The local way of driving is different as the locals slalom left and right and have very large cars.
It's an amazing city. There are many ways to see Dubai, it's both the city of superlatives (the highest tower, the most beautiful place, the richest, the most extravagant, the restaurant with the best experiences...), it's quite crazy! Me, it didn't make me lose my mind. I live in a flat in the city centre and I have a perfectly normal life. As far as housing is concerned, there are huge towers just like there are 3 or 4-storey buildings. In reality, you create the way you want to live in Dubai.
The Covid came 4-5 months after I arrived. I haven't gone out to explore the city much since. But just before that, I got to experience the typical neighbourhoods and go to the other emirates around. It's a city you get acclimatised to very quickly.
There are many ways to experience Dubai, either extravagantly or very simply. As far as I am concerned, I did not experience any culture shock.
The only thing that really differs is seeing huge towers daily which I already got used to when I was in Asia. There's not really a culture shock. The beaches are the same, we have big stretches of sand like in Normandy except the water is more transparent and warmer.
Dubai is not all Instagram and influencers. I think that's a misperception of what it really is. It is true that the city has played and still plays on this image to attract tourists as it lives mainly on tourism.
It seems to me that there are 70 to 80% expatriates in Dubai and among them, a huge number of French people. You have to be careful in the shopping malls as many French speakers can understand your conversation, the French and the Lebanese for example. There are also Carrefour shops and French bakeries. Many French people have come to set up their business here. You can also order French cheese and have it delivered to your door every week. You can eat French food all week long, either by ordering dishes or by preparing them yourself, because all the products are available on the spot.
How are the French perceived in Dubai?
Anne-Lise: We are seen in a positive light: rather efficient, hard-working and productive professionals. There wouldn't be so many French people living abroad if we didn't have such a good image.
The French are well perceived internationally for their hardworking side.
As a French person, can we develop our career internationally?
Anne-Lise: Absolutely, provided you have a good command of English. In any case, we learn to perfect our English by working abroad. For me, it's imperative to master it well. For my part, I hardly speak French in Dubai anymore, except in a private setting. In the office, we all communicate in English, even with French colleagues, out of respect for other non-French-speaking colleagues. English is the language used by everyone in a professional context.
Having good English skills is essential.
Why didn't you come back to France between your international experiences?
Anne-Lise: I wanted to discover something other than France although I am very proud of my country. I wanted to discover new cultures but also to boost my career. Progression is much quicker abroad, especially by changing countries between jobs.
Salaries also follow career progression. You shouldn't hesitate to start with a slightly low salary that will evolve quickly afterwards and even get higher than in France. In return, we do not have the same social protection (health insurance, pension fund, etc.). You have to take out private contracts.
Career development is very fast when working internationally.
Living in Dubai is as expensive as in Paris, so it's more expensive than in France generally speaking but salaries are doubled or even tripled.
What do you do in your spare time?
Anne-Lise: I go surfing as I am quite sporty. I also go to see exhibitions. I'm a very active person.
What are the typical local activities?
Anne-Lise: Camel racing in the desert is very popular here. A lot of money is at stake, a bit like with horse racing in France or England. People get together to smoke shisha and eat.
It's a great way to get to know each other.
You can also do Dune Bashing in the desert with big 4x4s. They also have the longest Zipline in the world. You can canoe and kayak in the Mangroves. On the cultural side, there is also Le Louvre which I visited a month ago in Abu Dhabi.
What advice would you give to our students who would like to work internationally?
Anne-Lise: I think you simply shouldn't hesitate. It's a real opportunity to work abroad, it's fulfilling both personally, professionally and culturally. You adapt to the local culture, you meet a lot of people and, as I said, it boosts your career. You learn to be more tolerant of others. You take a step back from your country and you realise you are not so bad in France when you go abroad.
You shouldn't hesitate to go abroad because it is fulfilling.
What do you think about influencers investing in Dubai?
Anne-Lise: I think from a real estate point of view, the government doesn't mind people investing in villas and flats. It helps the country to develop. I think any form of publicity is good.
But influencers want to have everything for free, at the restaurant or the hairdresser's, while behind them many people work. They are often people who have been on French reality TV and have become influencers and have millions of followers. They also do product placement.
In some cases, this type of advertising helps me communicate about my hotels but it has to be the right influencers who do it.
I'll leave you to it because I'm going to my Arabic class!