Aline Ashkarian is dynamic, versatile and a multi-tasker. She has a strong personality and holds true to her convictions. With years of experience in travel retail, she knows exactly when is the right time to hit the bulls eye. Hard work and perseverance is the secret of her persona.
DutyFreeList in conversation with Aline Ashkarian on the advent of Women’s Day 2019!
Your current role and a short brief.
I am the Country General Manager of Patchi UAE. I have over 20 years of experience in marketing and business development in different industries between Lebanon and UAE. Our team comprises of over 900 employees, and I oversee Patchi’s UAE operations in different divisions including Retail, Travel Retail, Corporate and our chocolate factory, based in Dubai Industrial Park.
My responsibilities also include overseeing the building of the new Patchi factory, which will be our largest manufacturing plant, and will have a doubled production capacity of 10 tons of chocolates daily. The new production facility will be integrating the highest quality of construction, sustainability and reliability standards in conformity with LEED guidelines, the facility when completed in end of 2019 will include fully functional production zones, service areas and management offices.
What sparks passion in you about travel retail, travel and tourism?
Through the years that I have been in the UAE, I’ve witnessed the development of the tourism sector especially in Dubai, and how the city’s infrastructure and vision was built around this industry with an objective to host 20 million visitors by the year 2020.
This goal made me focus more my attention on this growing sector, and I started learning more about the travelers’ behaviors and their purchases, the travel retail spectrum and trends. After joining Patchi, I had a clear objective to develop and grow our Travel Retail presence through strengthening our relationship with key duty-free operators, such as Dubai Duty Free. I am proud of our achievements to rank as a top brand within a range of over 155 confectionery brands.
What is your management style? How do your employees perceive you?
I don’t consider our employees as such, instead they are my colleagues and many of them are my friends. We all have an open-door policy at our offices, and I often visit our boutiques across the emirates. As I truly believe in the importance in creating a bond with the staff in the organization at any level within the organization.
This is actually a culture which was embedded by our CEO Mr Oussama Choucair, who considers the team working at Patchi as family and friends. He knows every single employee at the company.
Who is your women role model?
While Amal Alamuddin came to the spotlight after her marriage to a famous actor, however I have been following her career years earlier, as I am always keen on reading and learning about successful women especially those advocating for human rights. She is someone who used new found fame to shed the light on many unfortunate events, which needs to be addressed and solved.
Advice for young women in your and other industries?
My mentors are a blessing to me. They have empowered and supported me throughout my career. However overall the journey hasn’t always been paved with roses. I had restless days and nights, working to meet deadlines. Taking on challenges and deciding to pursue an Executive MBA while I had a senior position in a demanding job.
The key to any success is perseverance, consistency and identifying what you want. When you set yourself an objective, it becomes clearer to visualize the next stage in life. Nothing comes without sacrifices, however make sure the goal you set will be worth it, and a career or profession is gender neutral, anyone can do anything they set their mind to.
Who would you thank as a mentor in your career?
I am very grateful for our CEO Mr Oussama Choucair who was the driving force to challenge and motivate me to reach new heights in my career. He empowered me to sometime make decisions I was otherwise scared to take. However I always knew that he’d have my back as he a great believer in experiences, whether good or bad, as the best tool to develop ourselves.
Throughout my years at Patchi, we went through some challenging times especially during the economic downturn in 2008 and 2009. Yet his confidence in the UAE and in the vision of the country’s leaders, he was able to convince us that we shouldn’t let external factors depict our success or sustainability.
We should double and triple our efforts, and through the power of positive thinking to overcome whatever might come our way. This has actually worked, we made an increase in our sales during that period.
What celebrities inspire you?
Well many people from different sectors inspire me, however the most inspiration comes from HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.
His vision and roadmap for Dubai has been an astonishing journey to witness. For the past 15 years that I have been in the UAE, I’ve seen dreams come true. The impossible turn to a substantial reality. His love for his people and his appreciation for everyone.
What was the last gift you bought at duty free and gave someone?
I am like everyone else I know, Duty Free shopaholics; I have a weakness for the Travel Retail exclusives and my holiday spending starts as soon as I step there. However, my last purchase was a beautiful silver bracelet from Tiffany & co. as a birthday gift for my cousin.
Innovations that you are looking forward to in technology/ social media (foldable phones, VR, AI, BITCOIN?)
I’m always fascinating technology and how it is reshaping our behavior both as individuals and businesses. I’ve been constantly reading about the new innovative trends in Artificial Intelligence and its implications on our industry. Whether or not it will have an impact on the human element and the craftsmanship. Behind our delicate profession as premium chocolatiers.
However, I am also aware of the importance of adapting the technology usage effectively in our operation. As an example is using BiOT (Internet of Things) in our new factory. Which will help reducing the energy consumption and maximize efficiency. While controlling a predictive maintenance system through a proper data collection and analysis.
Social media is very intriguing in the leading the way. They are new creative collaborations between brands, artists and various industries. To introduce ad promote, new campaigns for products or initiatives. Earlier marketers had the traditional media to maneuver, however social media made it impossible. For businesses it gave a new wave of innovative tools to promote their offerings. It gave them a stage to reach a much wider global market.