Aranaud Palu, Chief Operating Officer of Majid Al Futtaim (MAF) Leisure talks to SME Advisor about the art of being a credible executive: A story about golf, urban myths and generally answering the call of nature…


I started playing golf some years ago because I had been told that, as a young executive, I was expected to play golf. Actually, I had not been told that, to be fair. I had been led to think that. The corporate world is very often finding subtle ways to give you thoughts you didn’t have in the first place (but that is another story for another time).

But playing golf during my working hours was all right because I was not expected to play for the fun of it, of course! Fun had nothing to do with playing golf. No, no, son! Being an executive is not about having a good time anyway, so I thought that was pretty convenient. I had even been told (backed up by some obscure American survey) that 60% of the deals made in the corporate world were closed on golf courses. So it was a win-win, right? It was all very legitimate in fact.

I was somehow disappointed after my first round. Not because I did not close any deal. That was in fact the last thing that was on my mind. I was more concerned about the dozen golf balls I had lost in the wrongly placed lakes and Jurassic sized rough. On the other hand, I must admit that I was slicing and hooking with great enthusiasm indeed.

But I kept on playing. And the less golf balls I was losing, the more focussed I could be in between my shots. I was still witnessing no deal closure though. Maybe I wasn’t playing well enough? Maybe those 60% deals being made around the world were done once you could use that 2-iron-serving-no-purpose-other-than-to-embarrass-you tool properly? So I kept on playing with even more dedication. I can honestly say that I put my all heart and soul in it – which involved playing two to three times a week. And still on my working time of course. So much so that I started playing single digit and still…no deal closure on the horizon.

That is when I started to realise that maybe …maybe this all “it is ok to play golf during the week because it is all part of the job, son” thing was some institutional excuse to get away from work. As a matter of fact, I got the proof of that sometime later when I tested my chairman (the same one I was playing golf with) and told him I was going to close a deal next Monday while go-karting. I leave it to your imagination to guess what his reaction was.

And what if all that was simply about taking the time. Taking the time without being afraid to be judged. Taking the time to be at long last relaxed, dropping the guard without exposing your flank, enjoying nice company, breathing some fresh air. Simply taking the time to live. Doing so does not make you a bad person.

Arnaud Palu, Chief Operating Officer, Majid Al Futtaim (MAF) Leisure

So the next time you find yourself on a golf course on a Wednesday morning, telling your subordinates that you are on your way to close a deal, please show the same resolve as when you are about to hit that 2-iron – admit that you are going out to play golf because you need some time to yourself. Simply because you deserve it and you earned that moment. And maybe also because you need some fun to release work pressure. After all, even Julius Cesar was reminded every morning that he was just a man. I guess what is right for Cesar must be right for us too.

As for my reference to urban myths in the title…not everything in life needs to have a purpose. I thought it sounded nice and catchy. Just for the fun of it.

About

Arnaud Palu is the Chief Operating Officer of MAF Leisure, which has operations all over the Middle East, from the iconic Ski Dubai to water parks and world recognized FECs. He is establishing the business as the Leisure arm for the group, developing new concepts, getting into new markets and strengthening the performance.

Prior to joining Majid Al Futtaim, Arnaud worked for 10 years in Disney across all operational functions. He assisted in restructuring problematic departments and rose to Director of one of the entities before leaving to join the Millennium Dome as Director of Operations in London in 2000. Thereafter he continued his pursuit to change and streamline Six Flags Holland as consultant. In 2001, he entered the property business in the United Kingdom with X-Leisure Ltd and its leisure anchor: SNO!zone. In 2008, he was taken on board as Chief Executive Officer to create a leisure brand of hotels & theme parks in Dubailand for the well established US animation company DreamWorks, with destinations in Dubai and India.

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