Our Longest Serving GM

Our Longest Serving GM

After 28 years with The Club, our General Manager, Mike McGrath is hanging up his sun hat and returning home to Scotland. In his final week as GM, we asked Mike to timeline his history and how he came to the UAE and more importantly, The Club.

31st October 1986
I was teaching physical education in a damp and dark Glasgow, Scotland.

1st November 1986
I boarded a flight to take up a teaching post in Al Ain. Elaine had left Glasgow for the same school a month before me. The road trip from Dubai airport to Al Ain took four hours along a road that meandered through the dunes and was often used by as many camels as cars!

Although, that changed when camel underpasses were built. I later found out that the school needed Elaine much more than they needed me and because of this, they expedited her visa while mine was left to traverse its way across the desks of numerous government officials: It was Al Ain 1986, everything was done manually and slowly and involved umpteen passport photographs, reams of paper and dozens of paper staples.

While the official weekend fell on a Friday school finished early on Thursday afternoons. Once a month we, along with various other ex-pat teachers would make the trip to Abu Dhabi to stock up on some beverages, fresh milk and fresh bread. We would typically leave the school campus around 09:00 and get into the capital after 11:30 – all in all, a five-hour drive that featured 194-speed bumps to and from the off sales!

20th August 1988
Elaine and I relocate to Abu Dhabi to take up new teaching posts and we meet lifelong friends Peter and Pat McManus. Pete was my boss and, as it happened, he was also the Sports Member on The Club Committee.

21st August 1988
We apply to join The Club. Our application was followed by a semi-formal cocktail reception held in what was the Sailing Club Bar and is now The Vista restaurant. Pete had told us to be on our best behaviour and be sure to introduce ourselves to as many Committee members as possible. He also advised me not to wear my green shoes! Like most attendees, but not all, we made it through the screening process and enjoyed our short membership.

1st July 1989
I joined Hilton Hotels in Al Ain as Recreation Manager and go on to take on, among other roles, Food & Beverage Manager and Operations Manager.

9th April 1994
I had just left the corporate environment of Hilton hotels to take up the post of Deputy GM (Operations) here at The Club. It was an unorthodox move and many people wondered what on earth I was thinking. I was doing very well with Hilton where a progressive career seemed obvious. In terms of job satisfaction, I thoroughly enjoyed the operational buzz. Despite that, when I got a call from Mark Pawley, the then GM, I was immediately interested. I was never completely comfortable in the highly commercial sector of hospitality and felt The Club offered me the opportunity to stay in the industry but without being required to put profit before guest/member satisfaction. Due to my membership in 1988, The Club wasn’t unknown to me and it felt like a good fit. In August of that year, Elaine joined the teaching staff at Al Khubairat Community School (now BSAK) and went on to enjoy many great years there and forge friendships that continue to this day.

Mark and I went on to make a good team, and when, in late 1997 he moved to Hong Kong to become GM at HK Football Club I was appointed GM here. I suppose, given the fast-moving, but very different dynamics of both cities it’s quite remarkable that we are both still in the same roles. I think this speaks volumes about the virtues of good Private Members clubs where heritage and continuity is an indelible part of the culture. Before my initial appointment was signed off by Committee in 1994 I met Ken Swan, the then Chairman and Stuart McDougall who was Premises Member at the time; sadly Ken, who was a great mentor passed away in November 2014 while my friendship with Stuart has endured. Coincidentally, Stuart lives just outside Glasgow and is extremely close to Steve Colthart, a relatively recent Vice-Chairman of The Club and a very good friend and great committee member: I look forward to catching up more with both of them and getting intoxicated on Club stories of old in the years ahead.

1st September 2006
In 1999 the UAE weekend was extended to include Thursday and then on 1st September 2006, it changes to a Friday and Saturday.

There have been too many people who have supported me over the last twenty-eight years to list here but, at the expense of ruffling a few feathers, two truly stand out: Hamish Macdonald (previous Secretary and Chairman) and Andrew Palmer (previous Treasurer and Chairman.) Their combined influence on The Club over the first 20 years of the 2000s cannot be overstated. I owe them a debt of gratitude for the support and counsel they provided me. Hamish’s understanding of The Club and what was expected of it was exceptional. Andrew’s financial acumen and constant concern for staff welfare were second to none. There have been many other committee members with whom I truly enjoyed working, (Mike Twitchett, the aforementioned Steve Colthart, Rupert Evans and Willie Duff very readily spring to mind) and I am equally grateful to them for their support, encouragement and commitment. I have been similarly blessed to have worked with some wonderfully committed managers and staff over the years: names that trip easily off the tongue are K. Thomas, Dayle Kelly, Peter De Kauwe, Joe Gargaro, Prabha, Pushpan Hasssankutty and Narenderan. I remain in contact with Hassankutty and Narenderan despite them leaving The Club to return to India in 2018 and 2019 respectively.

1st January 2022
The weekend changes to Friday afternoon, Saturday and Sunday.

I have always tried to run The Club on the principle of underpromising while striving to over-deliver. Overall, I think it has worked and stood me and The Club in good order. During my time I have interviewed many people for various roles and one of the questions that I always pose is: “What frustrates you at work?”: if I was ever asked this question my first response would be “people who over-promise and under-deliver.” It’s a short-term, self-serving posture that runs contrary to much of what The Club stands for. Part of The Club’s success is due to our predisposition to take a medium to long-term view, remaining true to our roots and making the right decisions at the right times. My best decisions involved appointing some great people who have helped make The Club what it is.

It has been an honour and a privilege to have been an active player in The Club’s evolution over the last quarter of a century and, while not being very demonstrative about it, I’m extremely proud of what we have achieved. I believe we have punched above our weight, exceeded the expectations of a great many members and put The Club on the international map of private members’ clubs.

Now, as I hand over the keys to Kyle Wykes to make his mark, I hope this ethos remains embedded in The Club’s heritage for many years to come. I also hope that the care, concern and commitment that we have for our staff remains as high on The Club’s agenda as it has ever been. I wish Ali Kaddas every continued success in his role as our very first Emirati Chairman. Ali is a wonderful global citizen and an excellent ambassador for the UAE: I am sure his passion for and commitment to The Club, along with his natural tendency to embrace people from all walks of life will contribute to the ongoing success of this wonderful establishment.

And so, after a very lengthy shift, Elaine and I, along with our son Ross now look forward to being closer to family, particularly our daughter Kristin who moved home in 2018 and to soaking up the delights that Scotland has to offer (rain, wind, sleet and dark nights permitting!).

1st July 2022
I’ll be boarding a flight to resettle in St Andrews, Scotland where I intend, among other things to work seriously on my golf handicap.

Slainte mhath