Five Minutes With…Emma Cullen, Manager, Capital Club Dubai

Increasing costs are one of the club’s biggest challenges currently, says Cullen.

What is your view of the business clubs in Dubai?

Most business clubs in Dubai are groups that don’t have a physical home or presence. Capital Club Dubai has worked hard in building relationships with these groups as there are many synergies in the goals that both types of club’s wish to achieve.

We work with a broad range of business groups and smaller business orientated bodies who support entrepreneurs and SME’s locally, in the Emirates and globally. This includes our Young Executive Committee; the YPO (Young Presidents Organisation); the YAL (Young Arab Leaders); EO (Entrepreneurs Organisation), plus numerous alumni’s for example Cass Business School.

What sets your club apart from all other business clubs?

We believe we are the premier private city club situated in the heart of the financial district – DIFC. The Capital Club is a members-only club in a contemporary setting for members to network professionally and socially, to dine and party, to conduct private meetings, and attend a wealth of social and business events. The club is connected to over 300 premier private clubs around the world as part of our reciprocal club network. We think this not only sets us apart here in the region, but also globally.

What type of members do you target?

The club is always striving to maintain and grow a diverse membership and company roster. This includes all industry sectors and cultural groups. We have a good representation of women in business, CEO’s, vice presidents, managing directors, and business leaders.

We currently have just below 1,500 principle members, a proportion of these members also have spouse privileges taking us to around 2,300.

Can you explain the club’s membership process?

Membership of the Capital Club is  “by invitation only”  in the tradition of fine private clubs. The governors of the club led the process in the early stages, assisted by the shareholders. Members can propose suitable colleagues, friends, family members and business associates for membership, but nominees must be approved by the membership committee.

What new services are you adding?

The club is teaming up with some interesting partners in 2014 to further enhance the current membership offering.  This includes Quintessentially Lifestyle, INJAZ – our charity of choice and ecurie25 super car club.

What are your marketing strategies?

Private membership clubs do not tend to advertise as it goes against the invitation-only policy, however we build our community awareness through a schedule of events. Members bring their guests along to these and some of the speakers at these events gain press attention, which gives us greater community awareness. We truly believe that the best ambassadors for the club are the members themselves.

How many staff do you employ?

Just over 100.

Are you planning to open in any other locations?

Capital Club Dubai is majority owned by the Dubai-based investment and development firm ENSHAA and managed by Signature Clubs International, the developer and operator of the Capital Club brand. SCI’s portfolio includes operating properties in Bahrain and Nairobi with three further clubs under development in MENASA, and many others planned in a five-year major global roll out programme.

We are working on club’s in both Lagos and Karachi with some others in the pipeline. The focus for new club locations is on emerging markets.

How do you think the upcoming expo in Dubai will impact business?

The successful bid was an outstanding achievement for Dubai and the region. The club recognised earlier in 2013 what this could mean for businesses and we are proud that we were brave enough to actually host an event to celebrate the bid itself last November on the announcement day. Win or lose we wanted to celebrate the opportunity and all the great things that is Dubai. During the event the region’s media gathered to interview and interact with members and their guests. This created a real buzz and demonstrated the calibre and strength of the type of members we have.

With the workforce expected to grow in excess of 270,000 in the lead up to EXPO 2020, the club will be a space that helps facilitate relationships and business opportunities through a diverse calendar of events and facilitation of networking opportunities for both long standing and new members.

How has your experience in the hospitality sector helped you in your role?

Clubs are a little different to the usual hospitality operations and although my education was pure hospitality, my later roles have been more in the marketing & sales side of the business.  My most recent roles have been as a director of Membership Marketing Australia with ClubCorp and director of Customer Care & Data Management at Better Homes.  I have never strayed far from hospitality and like most in the industry I am drawn to the people and relationship factor.

What are the challenges you face?

There is no doubt increasing costs are one of the major factors affecting our business currently. We are a small group and don’t enjoy the economy of scale that larger companies often enjoy. The nature of being a general manager is that I can go from looking at carpet samples to annual budgeting within five minutes, however the variety that the position offers, far outweighs the challenges of the role.