An interview with Marwan Joumaa

Read Marwan Joumaa's interview, a doorman, a well-read gentleman and a born diplomat.

​​​​​​​Marwan, you joined the client reception services team in Geneva in February 2016. You and your fellow doormen all command everyone’s admiration and respect with your friendliness, great people skills, a culture of discretion and the ability to make everyone you meet and greet believe they’re unique.

How has your journey through life shaped who you are?

First of all, I really love travelling – not just to see the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China or museums – but also to immerse myself in different cultures and to discover other traditions, other customs and everything that brings me closer to my fellow humans. It helps me to deal with people better, including anyone that we welcome at Pictet. Understanding another person's perspective through a better knowledge of their country's history, their education or their religion, for example, naturally makes you more tolerant and more open.

I grew up in Lebanon, in a small town where Christians and Muslims lived together in harmony. During Ramadan we were invited into Muslim homes to celebrate the end of the fast; at Christmas, the Muslims put up Christmas trees. Living in this relatively peaceful multi-faith environment and, on the other hand, enduring a long civil war, undoubtedly helped me to develop a sense of curiosity and benevolence.

I went on to study hotel management, and that led me naturally enough to Switzerland, where the hotel schools are some of the most reputable. That was the starting point for my professional career. Once I’d graduated, I left for the Middle East, to work in Dubai. I helped open a hotel there, before joining Qatar Airways as a steward. That enabled me to visit over 45 countries and then I landed – no pun intended – at the Intercontinental in Geneva.

Didn’t you ever dream of being a diplomat?

I did. But the political situation in Lebanon at the time made that choice of studies very risky. And things haven’t really changed much. But in a way, I did fulfil this dream in 2016 by taking a Master's degree in International Protocol and Diplomacy at the International School of Diplomacy in Brussels. Through this training I was able to broaden my knowledge, particularly of diplomatic protocol (politeness formulas, etc.), business practices and cultural subtleties.

The doormen are the first contacts for our visitors and therefore the first ambassadors of the Group. What qualities do they need?

A smile – that’s really the first thing – but also discretion. And then with Asian clients, for example, there are different politeness formulas in Chinese or Japanese culture. In the case of the former, the bow should be from the shoulders whereas with the latter, it’s from the hips. If we’re dealing with Middle Eastern clients, the person on the right always enters first.

Can you give us some examples of faux-pas that should be avoided?

As far as possible, you should find out about the person you’re going to welcome, their origins, their socio-cultural environment and their religion. But you should also make sure you pronounce their name correctly or follow the protocol linked to their functions, if this is applicable. You should also be mindful of superstitions and beliefs. For example, you should never open a gift in front of the person who gave it to you in Indian, Chinese and Japanese cultures. This could be viewed as a form of greed. There may also be differences between regions of the same culture or language. In Syria, Lebanon or Jordan, you can open a gift when you receive it, but in Saudi Arabia it’s better to do so later. When it comes to interactions between men and women, again in the Middle East, you shouldn’t shake hands with a woman first, regardless of whether she is wearing a veil or not.

Also, avoid giving knives to people of Chinese culture – anything sharp and pointed has a negative connotation. Nor should a Chinese person be given salon no. 4 or a room on the 4th floor, as the number is associated with death. Colours have their own code, too. Giving a yellow rose in the Middle East means you’re thinking of the other person, while white is a symbol of mourning in Asia.

We shouldn't forget that one faux-pas can have a negative impact on a business relationship. A few years ago I accompanied a Kuwaiti businessman to a major watchmaker in Geneva. He wanted to buy dozens of watches. The management was informed of his visit, his name and the fact that he was a practising Muslim. And then a woman offered us chocolate pralinés – containing alcohol. The man stood up and walked out...

On a more personal level, are there any books that have particularly inspired you?

There are three books that have made an impression on me. The most recent one was Illusions, by Richard Bach. He challenges our view of reality and argues that what surrounds us is based on illusions. The second book is Jules Verne’s famous Around the World in Eighty Days. And finally there’s something I like to read and re-read... The Prophet by Kahlil  Gibran. It’s the story of a sage who’s going to leave his city, Orphalese, an imaginary city that could be Beirut or Jerusalem. This is where the people start to ask him questions about different topics, joy, sadness, self-knowledge, reality, pain, marriage, passion, etc. It was also adapted for the cinema, with Salma Hayek, in 2015. The female Lebanese singer Fayrouz, who’s well known throughout the Middle East, wrote a song “Al Mahab” (Love) about this magnificent work. It was one of the first books I read at school and it remains a great source of inspiration for me.​​​​​​​

The first ambassadors of our brand

The 15 or so members of staff in the Geneva reception unit, headed by Arnaud Debord, are on the front line in representing Pictet to clients at the Group's headquarters. They are multilingual hospitality management professionals and perform reception and concierge duties. They also help out at events organised by the Bank and work closely with the catering teams in the client salons on the 5th floor. In the client entrance hall, the doormen, with Remo, Erwann, Marwan and Ferdinando, who’s led this team for 14 years; two drivers and messengers, Ernesto and Arnaud, are also part of the team. After passing through the entrance hall, clients are taken care of on the different floors by the receptionists. These eight employees ensure that the salons are all spick and span, that the relationship manager or banker is contacted, and that the account management documents are made available.

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