On the sunny afternoon of Monday, December 5, the Business Elites Africa team pulls into the latest addition to the SRS Collection, Pier Harbour by SRS. It’s a palatial building with 12 3-room suites, but the absolute beauty lies on the inside. It also has a 24 Hour Spa and Restaurant and a Stunning Waterfront. A gentleman welcomes us at the reception area and leads us into the elevator, straight to the fifth floor. He shows us into one of the suites – a spacious 3-room suites with an ocean view and a sleek minimalist interior design. It immediately feels like a vacation until our host, Wumi Jubril, elegantly struts into the room.
Beaming with an infectious smile, Wumi welcomes us into her ultimate wellness-escape space. She’s the Chief Executive Officer of the Seattle Residences and Spa, flagship of the SRS Collection, a three-year-old hospitality group already in the front row of Nigeria’s luxury hotspitality accommodation sub-sector. Wumi, along with her team has been behind the expansion of the Group. She brings over a decade of her marketing and sales experience in the hospitality industry in West Africa to bare at the company, and she’s making a kill.
Wumi owns an MSc in International Business and a Master’s degree in International Business Management from the International Business School in Budapest, Hungary. She worked at Sheraton hotels in Nigeria and Gambia before moving to Starwood Hotels and Resorts, a leader in the global hospitality industry.
She walks us through her interesting journey in this interview and how she’s curating a rare hospitality experience for leisure seekers at SRS.
BEA: How did you get started in the hospitality industry?
Wumi Jubril: It is a long story, but I will do my best to make it as brief as possible. I started twelve years ago. At the time, I wanted to study hospitality at the University in Budapest, Hungary, but we did not have the course in the school of my choice, so I decided to study International Business. With international business, you can work in any industry. My interest in hospitality also comes from my love for hosting people. I enjoyed caring for and looking after people. I come from that background – everybody in my family is from the medical line.
Before returning to Nigeria, I applied to the Lagos Sheraton hotel and was so excited when they asked me to come and work there. I did that for about two and half years, then I moved to Sheraton Gambia, and then I was offered a role to come and represent the company in West Africa at its sister company, Starwood Hotels. It was a fun and exciting journey, and I have no regrets. That was really how I started. But I started as a core sales and marketing person, and with that, I was exposed to branding, lifestyle, and so many other areas of the Hospitality space.
BEA: How did that journey land you in your current role?
Wumi Jubril: After I left Starwood Hotels, I worked for myself for a year and a half, which was interesting. I was consulting for hotels. That experience exposed me to quite a lot and made me realise I could do it alone. It was scary at the time, but I enjoyed it. Working for yourself makes you hungry, and gives you some push and confidence that makes you feel you could be by yourself and succeed no matter what. Anyway, my track record also helped and it was based on this that I was asked to join the Seattle Residences and Spa originally.
BEA: What are the challenges of being a CEO?
Wumi Jubril: Firstly, staff retention, dealing with staff. You need to find out what other hotels are doing to ensure staff welfare is at the optimum standard. It is also essential that staff are comfortable no matter what. It’s important to me because if they are not, they will leave. That is the major thing, and it is something that keeps coming back every single time because of the economy and so many other things. We have to also ensure that our service is at par with all of the other hotels, and then again, you need to make sure that your staff are happy. It’s a learning process and its something we work on everyday as they are our greatest assets.
BEA: As a woman CEO, do you feel discriminated against sometimes?
Wumi Jubril: I recently heard a conversation with someone, and she was talking about that subject matter. Yes, it’s an issue for some people but for me, it’s always about who can get the job done. I’m not really interested in whether it’s a man or a woman. I don’t know whether my family background makes me think like that, but I am grateful I think that way. When I have to be in a situation where I have to compete with the opposite sex, honestly, I have never felt intimidated.
There was a time my friend and I submitted a bid to an organisation that was looking for a hospitality company to come and take over their property. The organisation had given us a yes, only for them to turn around and reject us for three reasons – because we were two unmarried women, we were young, and there was no man on our team. I was so shocked by it, but we weren’t upset; we only felt sorry for them that they felt that way. So that’s how I see individuals who think women can’t execute large projects. I feel people should be able to see beyond gender or relationship status. I think we’ll get way ahead with so many things if people could look beyond things as trivial as the gender or age of a person or what the person even looks like because it does not matter. People take it to heart when these things happen, but it just means there is a bigger opportunity for you out there. I’m a positive person, so that’s how I choose to see things.
BEA: When you assumed leadership of SRS, what were the marketing strategies you first deployed?
Wumi Jubril: There were so many, but first of all, we had to identify our target audience, some of whom are C-level and top executives, the diasporas, the leisure seekers who are mostly expatriates and the locals who are just looking for an escape. One of our marketing mediums was word-of-mouth; it goes a long way. I imagine you would tell someone about this place after you leave.
We also use the mainstream online marketplace platforms for hotels and apartments, and we have a solid sales team with the right contacts and clients they manage relationships with.
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BEA: Why should anyone choose SRS over other hotel rooms in Lagos?
Wumi Jubril: We are a hospitality group experienced in the art of curating wellness escapes, which is very important to me. I think that’s what is lacking in many hospitality properties in Nigeria. If you look at the properties we manage, at least two have a waterfront. When you stay outside, and you are staring at the sea, it gives you that serenity that is much needed in Lagos. I have always loved the water, and a lot of people do as well. When guests visit our properties, they don’t want to leave. You get a drink on arrival, and your body will thank you for the kind of food that you’ll eat – it’s wellness personified. We have a restaurant, a spa, and everything in one building, so you don’t need to go anywhere. We are also working on coming up with a really nice concession store where you can just go in and buy all that you need without going out.
Covid exposed us to all of that because we found out that most guests in our suites didn’t want to leave. This was when most people in other hotels left and looked for a better place to retire or just hide away. But here, our guests were just extending their stay because it feels like home. That’s why we call it the ultimate wellness escape. It is the actual home away from home. It is large and spacious. If you need a butler to help you do things, he is here. In a nutshell, everything you need to be physically and mentally comfortable is here.
BEA: Where your properties located?
Wumi Jubril: We have the Seattle Residences and Spa, Victoria Island; then we have Pier Harbour By SRS at Walter Carrington, V.I and Clayhall By SRS at Ikoyi. We plan to expand to other locations as well. Pier Harbour is our latest addition and as you can see, it is going to be one of the most talked about properties by mid January.
What would you say were the factors responsible for your career success?
Collaborations. It always works a great deal. It helped us with major events that have been productive, like when we partnered with Whisky companies, Art Galleries, etc. They have, in turn, given us major referrals. So, I believe in collaboration, being open to people, and then giving them a listening ear where necessary.
BEA: What are the qualities a good leader must have?
Wumi Jubril: First of all, no one knows it all. However, I would say that what has helped me on my journey has been the openness and willingness to listen, and always readiness to accept failure. The fact that you have failed does not mean you should quit; you just need to keep going else you will not even grow as a leader. Also, be ready to listen to your staff because you could learn from them too.
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