Carissa Nimah, Soneva’s Guardian of the Brand (Chief Commercial Officer)
Where are you from?
I’m originally from Brisbane, Australia, but I left in 2004 after I graduated from university to go on an “18 month backpacking adventure around the world” that has technically never ended
What brought to you Thailand?
I was living and working in Dubai, where I was working as head of Corporate Communications for a large US multinational defence logistics company that provided services to the allied forces, UN and NATO. It was a great company and a fantastic role which required frequent travel to interesting places (such as Afghanistan!) and working with lots of wonderful people, however the job mostly involved crisis communications. It was not an area I wanted to spend the rest of my life working in, as it’s very high pressure and there is not much opportunity to be creative (and I’m a very creative person). So, when my former manager contacted me about a role based in Thailand working for a luxury hospitality company, I thought it was a good opportunity.
I flew out to the Maldives to visit Soneva Fushi and meet with the management team and Sonu. It was my first visit to the Maldives and my first job working in hospitality. I previously worked in luxury jewellery so I knew about luxury, but I didn’t know what ADR is, or RevPar, or the drivers of customer behaviour in terms of choosing one hotel over another. I had a lot to learn!
My interview with Sonu was a disaster – I turned up late to the interview (there was a mix-up involving island time and Malé time), and then a very noisy crow kept interrupting us. Even so, Sonu liked my thoughts about luxury PR and marketing, and he said he preferred to hire marketing and communications people who were not from the hospitality industry, as hospitality generally was not very sophisticated in terms of marketing. Luck was on my side, and I managed to get the job, so I moved from Dubai to Bangkok to start at Soneva in the role of Communications Director. That was seven years ago, and since that time I’ve been promoted up the ranks, holding various positions in Communications and Marketing.
How many countries have you lived in or travelled to?
After high school, I won a Rotary Exchange Scholarship to Cape Town, South Africa (I am forever grateful to Rotary for the opportunity). Living and working abroad changed my perspective on everything. After I graduated university in Brisbane, I lived and worked in Dublin, Ireland, for 16 months, before moving to Dubai, UAE, where I stayed for almost 10 years. From there, I moved to Bangkok, Thailand. I now work for Soneva’s head office but I’m based out of the old fishing village of Hua Hin, located three hours south of Bangkok. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has been very challenging, it did create some little opportunities, such as forcing us to re-evaluate how and where we work, and proving that remote work is possible and effective.
In terms of travel, I have travelled to more than 60 countries and I love going to places with beautiful nature, and a little bit ‘off the beaten track’. My husband is Syrian and, having lived in the Emirates for 10 years, we know the Middle East pretty well.
Tell us a little about your role…
I am Guardian of the Brand at Soneva, which is the equivalent of our Chief Commercial Officer. I manage our Marketing, Sales, Reservations and Revenue teams. My role is extremely varied – I never really know what to expect on a given day. I also need to understand the complexities, the priorities and the workload of the different areas I manage. On average, I have five to seven hours of calls each day, and hundreds of emails. Thankfully my team is very strong and do a lot of the heavy lifting now – they support me tremendously.
My team is also geographically diverse. I prefer to hire the right people for the role and let them work where they want, rather than forcing people to be based somewhere they don’t want to be. Plus, using our head office as an example, many Thai people live out of the city centre, so there are huge efficiency savings by having people work from home if they have the infrastructure to do so. I also believe in Danny Meyer’s ‘51 Percent Solution’ he proposed in his book ‘Setting the Table’. The right attitude and strong emotional intelligence are the most important attributes I look for in candidates, more than skillset per se.
On a normal day, I could be doing anything from writing copy, approving press releases, drafting or approving a marketing strategy, reviewing the forecast reports, speaking to travel partners or guests, organising a media interview or press/FAM trip, reviewing sales or marketing plans, approving budgets, managing a PR crisis, or anything in between. Post-pandemic, a lot of travel is also involved in this job, which means attending travel or press conferences in Asia, Europe and the Middle East, mostly.
It’s also very important to me to like the people I work with, as they are your ‘family away from your family’. Sonu has given me a lot of autonomy and support, and I genuinely respect and learn from many of the people across the company.
What is your greatest achievement to date?
Having a wonderful family and maintaining a strong network of people I am honoured to call friends. I am proud of living my values and having a kind, ethical and honest lifestyle.
I am also proud to be doing what I love, at a fairly young age. I am motivated by challenge and purpose, so I push myself pretty hard to achieve my goals, regardless of the hurdle. I try not to have any regrets in life, so I generally try not to miss any opportunities. I’m also proud of the team I have built at work. We are a truly diverse team, and I love to hire people who are smarter than I am, and we are constantly challenging each other to raise the bar higher and higher. I was mentored by some inspiring people in my career, and now I am happy to offer the same support to others.
What do you still want to accomplish?
So much! I have ants in my pants, and literally can’t sit still for five minutes! This year I enrolled in law school so I hope to graduate with an LLB in three more years. Maybe one day I can be the Deputy CEO or CEO of Soneva! I also want to own my own business in the future (exact business plan is TBC). I also want to manage to find a way to do yoga every day, read more, become a connoisseur of fine wines, and write a book (not necessarily in that order).
What advice can you give about finding a balance between career and family?
For me, work is very important but family always comes first. The secret for me is organisation. Get everything in the diary and prepared in advance, and then it becomes easier. If I find time to meditate or just find some time to myself, my brain processes things and it helps to prioritise what needs to happen. Of course, a supportive partner or family network is also extremely helpful. And don’t sweat the small stuff! Life is stressful enough without adding unnecessary pressure on yourself.
What does Soneva’s ‘No News, No Shoes’ ethos mean to you?
It makes a lot of sense to me. I love being in nature, barefoot, and I think it’s really good for the soul. I stopped following the news some years ago as I noticed I was feeling really low after watching it regularly. Now I just tune in once a day for highlights. I believe that people can get so much more out of their holidays if they reconnect with themselves and their loved ones without the aid of technology. It’s about stripping off the protective armour of tech, devices and ‘current affairs’ and becoming our true selves.