I was thrilled when Alexandra Pisani, General Manager of Corinthia Palace Hotel, agreed to be interviewed on Insider Plus. I have known her for several years, and every time we met, I found her more and more stimulating. She is ebullient but never superficial, casual but with a dose of sophistication, reflective and contemplative but never heavy-going.
Her gentility may take you unaware when she speaks of her vision with a vigorous determination which reminds me of her father, Alfred Pisani, Chairman of Corinthia. ‘I want Corinthia Palace to be the best in Malta and the best in the Corinthia Group. I want our guests to feel they belong here, where they let go of their guard and relax, knowing they are being safe, loved and pampered.’
She stopped for a few seconds and added: ‘It does not come easy. It’s the result of hard work, constant training and care of all the staff, revising and upgrading our services, environment, and aura. But much of this work must be done silently. Sometimes it is much more difficult to achieve silently without accompanying fanfare, but I find that the silent or subtle approach settles down deeper in the hearts of our guests, who justifiably expect the best we can offer without being bored with the details of how we achieve it. High-class should preferably be discreet.’
I queried whether, given her family background, she was ever tempted not to work in the hospitality sector. Or was it a foregone conclusion? ‘I confess that for some time, I considered studying criminology and psychology. They fascinated me and still intrigue me, but before I started studying these subjects seriously, I found myself on my way through the hospitality journey. So perhaps, without me knowing, my environment had shaped me and led me to what you may consider a foregone conclusion. The world of hospitality is captivating, but it requires hard, dedicated work.’
This led me to query what time she starts her day. I expected a comfortable hour, but I was utterly mistaken. ‘My alarm rings at 4.30 am. By 5 am, I am training.’
Training? What type? ‘Oh, it varies. I box, run, walk. I am back home by 6 am, shower and then I meditate. I am then ready to head to work. So first muscle, then mind, then both muscle and mind for work.’
And how long is a day’s work? ‘I would say, 14 hours a day.’
But does she stop in between? ‘No, not really. But by the evening, I feel knackered. Then at times, I escape for a weekend abroad.’
That leaves precious little time to do anything else after a long day’s work. Alexandra smiled and reiterated one of her oft-repeated phrases.’When you want to do something, you find the time to do it. I love nature. I am active in sports, hiking, and cycling. I also actively pursue mind development and meditation. I love reading and am always curious to get to know things. Then when I find the time, I love travelling.’ Quite a list for an overworked lady!
Alexandra graduated B.Sc. in Hospitality Management at Ecole Hoteliere de Lausanne in Switzerland. After graduating, she joined Corinthia London in the HR department and was later appointed Quality and Standards Manager for the Corinthia Group. She then worked in Los Angeles for a high-end wedding and events business and founded her own events company in London, specialising in destination weddings. She followed that up by becoming the Manager and later General Manager of Corinthia Palace.
To get to know a person more, one needs to become aware what that person admires most in others. I bluntly asked that question, and Alexandra bluntly answered, ‘I admire humility and integrity. I highly respect those who keep their word even when it’s uncomfortable for them to do so. I love a joie de vivre attitude, but I equally highly esteem determination. I deplore arrogance and a know-it-all attitude.’
I could not resist the next question. Alexandra’s father, Alfred Pisani, is a larger-than-life personage, whilst her mother, Maria Pisani, is a gentil donna of excellent qualities and unique imprint. Does Alexandra feel squashed or overshadowed by them both? Alexandra was quick on the draw. ‘No, I have never felt squashed or overshadowed. On the contrary, I feel blessed that both of them have instilled in me different characteristics, principles, visions, and strengths. Father has instilled in me a sense of discipline, grit and the evergreen principle that everything is achievable. Mother is a true mentor to me. She’s highly intelligent, selfless, and humble. She is endowed with exquisite taste; she is sensitive, but very powerful at the same time.’
And this led me to the obvious next query about how she sees herself.
‘I am inquisitive and think a lot. I like the company of people, but I’m not an extrovert, nor am I an introvert. Perhaps I am introspective rather than an introvert. I love laughing; it makes me feel fresh and good. I am inquisitive and feel conscious that learning is an essential tool that can only be managed with a humble approach to the unknown. I would define myself as a disciplined person, honest and direct. You see, I cannot put on a poker face; my face betrays my feelings. I sometimes think I should work on this aspect, but at the same time, I feel it is good. What do you think?’
I replied that I could not see her as a neutral person. I believe that being yourself will always be the best policy. It is undoubtedly the most honest and direct.
And what about the various aspects of her work? Which does she like most? Alexandra’s face shone. ‘I love giving life to a vision. I suppose we all have this innate love to create. And when the process is over, and I look at what I have done, I can sit back and enjoy.
I am delighted when all the team works as one on a mission which is shared and understood by all. Ultimately, we all want to drive towards one aim: seeing our guests content and relaxed. This oneness in energy is essential and so rewarding.
That is why I am not fond of unnecessary complaints or seeing anyone frustrated and down because something may not have gone exactly according to plan. This bickering and pettiness annoys me. Standing up to adversity should be our common motto.
I am a great believer in oneness—a shared drive and camaraderie which moulds us into one Corinthia family.
Naturally, all this requires constant work on relationships, energy driving, mission directions, and realising visions. Sometimes we may take one step forward followed by three steps back, but we cannot let go of our mission and drive, which leads us to the rewarding end of seeing our efforts taking their final shape.’
Alexandra seems an accessible person. Was I right? ‘I practice an open-door policy. All the staff know this, and I have no reservations about grades for accessibility. I acknowledge that I can be firm, but I always strive to be fair.
I want everyone to share our dream and be aware of what is happening so we all feel part of this exciting journey.’
Do you feel that being a ‘woman at the helm’ still carries some prejudice? ‘I do not favour the practice that women should be offered better chances than men to make up for past injustices and achieve their goals. But at the same time, I strongly condemn any attempt to lessen the equality of sexes. I advocate equality but do not believe in sameness. I am proud of my femininity, and I believe that women who try to lose it to become like men are messing it all up. I do believe, we have made strides forward, though more is needed.’
Corinthia Palace is the birthplace of the Corinthia story. The first steps were taken here with determination and foresight. Did Alexandra feel a unique and particular responsibility steering this gem with so much family and corporate history?
Alexandra smiled broadly. ‘I am very proud to serve in this position, especially when in a couple of months, we shall be celebrating Corinthia’s 60 anniversary. Corinthia’s success story started from this very place, and I feel extra proud that I am steering it to take it to the next level. I am humbled and honoured.’
A fine ending to a chat which I thoroughly enjoyed.