Beneath the professional in a pinstripe suit matched with an elegant tie and serious demeanour, Roberto Simone is a totally different man. The Italian hotelier is punny, if a little boisterous, an easy-going fellow with a soft spot for fun, food, fashion and anything in-between.
At 53, his charm and humour have only got better. One moment he will be tickling you with a witty remark, and the next he will be unpacking deep economics and the world of commerce, his forte.
The cluster general manager of Villa Rosa Kempinski and Olare Mara Kempinski describes food and cigars as his ‘‘main weaknesses.’’A refined foodie, he likes to eat everything everywhere.
From Coya to Nobu and Hakkasan and other such high places, Simone has tried out them all. Appealing to his taste buds, therefore, takes unquestionably great food, he notes. The only thing he can’t give up is espresso, and wherever he travels, he takes his coffee making machine with him.
In Kenya, Simone indulges in quality, classic fine dining, saying that he’s awed by the country’s expansively rich cuisine landscape. He notes that Kenya’s diversity make it complete ‘‘from a gastronomical point of view.’’
Lunch at Fat Duck in Berkshire, London and Arzak at St Sebastian in Basque, Spain, are his most memorable dining experiences, both which he describes as sublime.
The subject of cigars, particularly, lights up his countenance.
‘‘Putting me in a cigar shop is like putting kids in a candy shop,’’ he says with amusement, joking that he used to smokes ‘‘like hell’’ before.
His passion for cigars began in the 1990s when he worked as a bartender in Milan. Soon, he became a cigar sommelier. Famous Milano tycoons would hire him to do private cigar collections for them — he does so to date.
Simone stills loves to indulge a cigar, which he buys from limited editions of top brands.
‘‘Cigar is like wine. The type of tobacco used, how it’s rolled and the maturation period vary from cigar to cigar. By smoking different brands, you get the full experience.’’
I engage him in fashion talk, which is the right thing to do because, well, Signor Simone is a dandy.
‘‘Fashion runs in our DNA,’’ he says in reference to Italians. ‘‘I like fabrics, colour and bespoke tailored outfits.’’
His suits are made by a private tailor in Shanghai, using Italian fabrics. He buys all his shoes from St Jermyn Street in central London, an iconic thoroughfare near Piccadilly famed for designer footwear.
‘‘I buy about four pairs from different brands on every occasion. No one touches my shoes. I brush them myself using a special and fascinating English way,’’ he says.
So, what is this fascination with shoes?
‘‘Good shoes make you feel better about yourself,’’ he explains. ‘‘A good pair would last six or seven years. I work for 14 hours a day, which requires me to be in elegant, comfy and durable shoes,’’ he adds
Simone is a disciple of Hermès Paris brand of ties ‘‘which I buy in shops in the airport.’’ Every trip for him is an opportunity to add a new tie to his large and pricey collection, to which he is sentimentally attached.
It’s no wonder then that 20 per cent of his earnings go to his looks. ‘‘I believe in self-reward,’’ he says. ‘‘I love to look good.’’ And elegance is signor’s signature.
Simone is as adventurous as they come, and describes himself as ‘‘a typical Italian boy from a typical Italian background’’.
‘‘A mama’s boy, if you like,’’ he adds, giggling wryly. I’m jolted slightly when he says he is single. Questions flood my mind. Has he had someone before? What has taken him so long?
‘‘I had someone before, but things didn’t quite work out,’’ he reveals. So, is he dating now?
“I have somebody I like,” he responds with a chuckle, adding that ‘‘things aren’t defined yet’’.
For someone without a family, so where is home then?
‘‘When I meet my friends and homies in Bangkok, Dubai and Shanghai, I feel at home. When I’m in California for my studies, I feel at home. I also occasionally visit my mother in south of Italy.’’
He swears by travel, and in 2018 alone, Simone flew to 20 countries, both for work and recreation. A few days ago, he was in Abu Dhabi for the Formula One grand finale race.
Simone’s best illustrates global citizenry. The Italian was born in Switzerland, went to school in the UK and has worked in 12 different countries, visiting more than 50 others in the process.
He speaks Italian and English and fluent Portuguese. He regrets having not ‘‘bothered to learn French when he had the time’’. Learning ‘‘this beautiful language’’ is one of the items in his bucket list.
‘‘By travelling, I meet key people in the professional world from whom I draw inspiration for our business,’’ he says.
Driving to Naivasha and Maasai Mara are his favourite pastimes. Lamu though tops his list of local destinations ‘‘because of its authenticity’’. Here, he swims and savours a quiet time.
Only three months into the job, which he says he loves to bits, Simone appears to have gelled perfectly. After all, he has worked ‘‘in four different continents and one ocean’’.
So, how unique is his Kenyan challenge?
‘‘Delivering experience as an hotelier in Kenya is exciting and quite easy,’’ he says. How so, I ask him.
‘‘Fifty per cent of the skills required in this and any other job are people skills,’’ he explains. ‘‘Kenya has plenty of human capital in terms of talent, skills and motivation. When I walk around the hotel in the morning, I meet enthusiastic staff who are constantly striving to meet their personal career goals.’’
Before his appointment in August, Simone had first visited Kenya in 2011. Having grown up partly in south of Italy, he admits that his perception of the world was limited. Did that affect how he viewed Kenya?
‘‘I came to Africa from India where I had been exposed to multiple cultures,’’ he recounts. ‘‘Over the years, I’ve leant to avoid any preconceptions about a country I haven’t travelled to. This makes it easier for me to adapt.’’
Wherever he works, Simone says he builds human relations for a seamless stay.
‘‘My experience in one country prepares me for the subsequent duty,’’ he adds.
The hardest part of his job? To motivate every member of the team to deliver to the expected standards, he says.
‘‘The drive to deliver the hotel’s objectives differs among the staff. It’s my job to motivate them,’’ he adds.
At his age, does he think his life has changed? If so, in what ways?
‘‘In my 20s, I was a bit conservative. I didn’t take risks then. In my 30s, I became bolder and took risks. In my 40s, I became a heavy risk-taker. I am almost crazy in my 50s,’’ he adds, exploding into hilarity.
He goes on: ‘‘I like to plan like an 18-year-old professional. This helps me to set new goals and to take on challenges from a different standpoint.’’
Who does he look up to? Three people buoy him.
In hospitality, Ali Kasicki former general manager of Peninsula Hotel in Los Angeles, and Michelle Obama ‘‘for her fearlessness and oratory’’.
Indian tycoon and former chairman of Tata Group Ratan Tata too is a huge influence on him ‘‘for his contribution to make India an industrial country it is today’’.
He believes Kenya’s trajectory as a preferred hotel business destination is rising, enhanced by relative stability, good weather and the convergence of global brands ‘‘which has given Kenya a lot of visibility globally’’.
A lot of marketing still needs to be done to cement Kenya’s position, he observes.
‘‘Ten years ago, many hotels in Dubai and UAE had more Filipino and Asian staff. Today, the best hotels in these countries are managed by Kenyans,’’ he notes.
Does he fear that his contribution to the Kempinski brand may not stand out owing to its sheer size? Not at all, he says.
‘‘Kempinski as a hotel brand is run by a collection of individuals. Their individual efforts contribute to the overall success of the business,’’ he argues.
His legacy? To invest in the right talent for continuity of the business, he says.
He may come from a football-mad country, but the sport doesn’t have any effect on his adrenalin.
‘‘If I had an hour and a half to spare, I’d rather read my favourite books, swim or watch a tennis match,’’ he notes.
His favourite tennis player?
‘‘Roger Federer. Period.’’
World Bank pushes G-20 to extend debt relief to 2021
World Bank Group President David Malpass has urged the Group of 20 rich countries to extend the time frame of the Debt Service Suspension Initiative(DSSI) through the end of 2021, calling it one of the key factors in strengthening global recovery.
“I urge you to extend the time frame of the DSSI through the end of 2021 and commit to giving the initiative as broad a scope as possible,” said Malpass.
He made these remarks at last week’s virtual G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Meeting.
The World Bank Chief said the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered the deepest global recession in decades and what may turn out to be one of the most unequal in terms of impact.
People in developing countries are particularly hard hit by capital outflows, declines in remittances, the collapse of informal labor markets, and social safety nets that are much less robust than in the advanced economies.
For the poorest countries, poverty is rising rapidly, median incomes are falling and growth is deeply negative.
Debt burdens, already unsustainable for many countries, are rising to crisis levels.
“The situation in developing countries is increasingly desperate. Time is short. We need to take action quickly on debt suspension, debt reduction, debt resolution mechanisms and debt transparency,” said Malpass.
Kenya’s Central Bank Drafts New Laws to Regulate Non-Bank Digital Loans
The Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) will regulate interest rates charged on mobile loans by digital lending platforms if amendments on the Central bank of Kenya Act pass to law. The amendments will require digital lenders to seek approval from CBK before launching new products or changing interest rates on loans among other charges, just like commercial banks.
“The principal objective of this bill is to amend the Central bank of Kenya Act to regulate the conduct of providers of digital financial products and services,” reads a notice on the bill. “CBK will have an obligation of ensuring that there is fair and non-discriminatory marketplace access to credit.”
According to Business Daily, the legislation will also enable the Central Bank to monitor non-performing loans, capping the limit at not twice the amount of the defaulted loan while protecting consumers from predatory lending by digital loan platforms.
Tighter Reins on Platforms for Mobile Loans
The legislation will boost efforts to protect customers, building upon a previous gazette notice that blocked lenders from blacklisting non-performing loans below Ksh 1000. The CBK also withdrew submissions of unregulated mobile loan platforms into Credit Reference Bureau. The withdrawal came after complaints of misuse over data in the Credit Information Sharing (CIS) System available for lenders.
Last year, Kenya had over 49 platforms providing mobile loans, taking advantage of regulation gaps to charge obscene rates as high as 150% a year. While most platforms allow borrowers to prepay within a month, creditors still pay the full amount plus interest.
Amendments in the CBK Act will help shield consumers from high-interest rates as well as offer transparency on terms of digital loans.
Scope Markets Kenya customers to have instant access to global financial markets
NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 20 – Clients trading through the Scope Markets Kenya trading platform will get instant access to global financial markets and wider investment options.
This follows the launch of a new Scope Markets app, available on both the Google PlayStore and IOS Apple Store.
The Scope Markets app offers clients over 500 investment opportunities across global financial markets.
The Scope Markets app has a brand new user interface that is very user friendly, following feedback from customers.
The application offers real-time quotes; newsfeeds; research facilities, and a chat feature which enables a customer to make direct contact with the Customer Service Team during trading days (Monday to Friday).
The platform also offers an enhanced client interface including catering for those who trade at night.
The client will get instant access to several asset classes in the global financial markets including; Single Stocks CFDs (US, UK, EU) such as Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google, BP, Carrefour; Indices (Nasdaq, FTSE UK), Metals (Gold, Silver); Currencies (60+ Pairs), Commodities (Oil, Natural Gas).
The launch is part of Scope Markets Kenya strategy of enriching the customer experience while offering clients access to global trading opportunities.
Scope Markets Kenya CEO, Kevin Ng’ang’a observed, “the Sope Markets app is very easy to use especially when executing trades. Customers are at the heart of everything we do. We designed the Scope Markets app with the customer experience in mind as we seek to respond to feedback from our customers.”
He added that enhancing the client experience builds upon the robust trading platform, Meta Trader 5, unveiled in 2019, enabling Scope Markets Kenya to broaden the asset classes available on the trading platform.