Al Shindagah Magazine 60 short years

Three of the Metropolitan Hotel's longest serving staff members share some of their memories

Between them they have amassed more than 60 years service with the Metropolitan Hotel. Each was at the hotel before the first guest had checked in their baggage. The long- serving triumvirate of 'back-room boys' are the unseen cogs and gears responsible for the hotel functioning smoothly.

Cedric Barretto, the laundry manager, Maqbool Hussain Khan from personnel and A.P.V Naidu of the accounts section are the stalwarts of the Metropolitan Hotel. They were there when the doors opened, watched with awe as Princess Anne strode in and bowed before the UAE's rulers.

All three men clearly fit the company's employee profile as stipulated by the general manager Rahim Abu Omar. Soft- spoken, humble and polite, the men typify the perfect unflappable employee. And their longevity verifies the accuracy of the staff recruitment policy.

When Barretto chose to leave India to come to Dubai in 1978, he was among the early batch of sub-continent expatriates to make the exodus to the 'promised land' of Dubai. But far from being a novel and scary experience, the passage to the Middle East was a path well-trodden by his siblings. "My brothers already lived in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Muscat in Oman so I had some idea of what to expect when I came here from Bombay," said Barretto.

The transitions that have taken place in Dubai since his arrival when the Sheikh Zayed Road was just a two lane carriageway have been reflected in the changing technology employed in the laundry.

"The scope of the job has increased markedly since I started," he said. "Where once we processed half a tonne of laundry, we now handle the three Metropolitan hotels and put through about two and a half tonnes of washing every day of the year," said Barretto.

While the train may have progressed from steam driven to electrical, the reverse has happened in the development of laundry equipment. "We originally used electric powered machines but nowadays it is all steam. It has been interesting to watch the hotel and the surrounds develop over the years."

Since the three men first fronted for duty, more than 2,400 people have been employed by the hotel, including the 1,300 employed in the hotel chain today. The personnel clerk best qualifies to relay this information is Maqbool who arrived at the hotel from his native Pakistan on November 6, 1978, a date he quotes with the ease of one who is overly familiar with staff movements.

His own progress closely rivals that of the hotel he has spent much of his life dedicated to serving. From a young, enthusiastic bell boy, Maqbool was progressively promoted to concierge, where he served for nine years, before moving on to the personnel department.

"My experience with the hotel was my only qualification. With the experience of dealing with people here over many years comes an understanding of the job in personnel," he explained. The changes he has seen in his tenure with personnel have come more from outside than within the hotel. "There is a lot more bureaucracy and red tape to contend with these days. The government's rules and regulations are stricter and more thorough than in the earlier days," he explained.

Like himself, the staff of the Metroplitan hotel tend to stay on for the long term once they have joined the group, he said. Although the hotel employs people from scores of different nationalities, the majority reflect the demographic constitution of Dubai itself. Pakistanis, Indians, Philippinos and Sri Lankans comprise the bulk of the staff. But an increasing number of Europeans and South Africans are joining the ever-growing list of 2,400 people to have worked for the group. "One of the pleasures of the job is that you get to meet and work with people from all sorts of backgrounds. We have Argentinians, Russians - you name it," said Maqbool.

Naidu came to Dubai from Bombay and spent two years working in the stores. These first two years were a precursor to a wealth of jobs and experiences he would benefit from throughout a so far unfinished 20 year career with the Metropolitan Hotel.

Stints as a ledger clerk keeping tabs on the vast stacks of the complex, cellarman, night auditor, receptionist and cashier followed. From handling the relatively small sums of money as the lone cashier, he now oversees the processing of the entire company's enormous payroll.

"As my experience grew and resignations were handed in by those in other positions, I advanced through the company to where I am today," Naidu explained. Dealing with customers in any form of enterprise can be both rewarding and frsutrating. For Maqbool and Naidu, however, both agree that if there is one thing they miss about their old positions 'on the front line' it is the regular contact with hotel guests.

"We spent a fair amount of time together on the front desk, probably about five years. you have a good sense of comeraderie in that sort of job which is something I miss a little about being behind the scenes in the office," said Naidu.

Maqbool echoed those sentiments, adding, "It can be quite lively and entertaining working on the front desk and interacting with guests. You still do that now and then, but not as an everday part of the job." "You get good and bad guests as with any other walk of life," added Naidu."But you always try to remain a diplomat and accommodate everybody in this business because, after all, they are the ones who pay our salaries."

Among the famous guests to have stayed in the hotel, all three were unanimous as to the biggest and most impressive. "Princess Anne was here in 1980-81 for a horse show and the staff were all excited at the prospect of getting to see her in person," said Maqbool.

"You get used to it," said Naidu of the celebrities that regularly grace the hotel foyer. "I think it was back in 1984 when the football World Cup was being played and the Saudi Arabian team had qualified for the finals that it was the most chaotic I have ever seen in the hotel. All the players were jubilant in the foyer and the place was full of fans blowing horns and celebrating with members of the team," he said.

After 20 years in one city and one hotel, each is reluctant to reveal what the future holds in store. "So much has changed over the years and it won't be long before this hotel goes from being outside the city, to the middle of the city to the other exptreme perimeter of the city. Dubai is growing that fast," summised Naidu. "But we've been here a long time and it is hard to say whether we could return to our home countries and assimilate again because things have also changed there and people have moved on. I'm not really sure what the future holds."