Interview with Valentina Kislaya, the CEO and founder of The Club, a private members’ club in Nicosia
What was the inspirational driving force behind the development of The Club?
As an expat, who spends a considerable amount of time travelling, I am always on the look-out for a ‘home away from home’ which offers me ways of connecting with the local community. By this I mean a place where I know I can just knock on the door after a long flight and I will instantly be put at ease – there will space for me to check emails, hold a last-minute meeting and also have the opportunity to come across interesting people. At The Club this is what we have tried to create, and, for it to feel like home it has to be personal and accessible, from simply remembering how our members like their coffee to their children’s names, it’s the little details which make all the difference and sadly in too many places they are all too often neglected.
How does the club differentiate from other exclusive ‘private members’ clubs?
We’ve actually never intended to be different from other private members’ clubs. Having been inspired by the members’ clubs around the world who really put high quality customer service first, we wanted to bring that to Cyprus. If you look at what’s currently happening around the island and the sheer amount of external investment in the country, there has never been a greater time to expand and diversify your network and The Club provides the platform to do so.
Please share some of the feedback you receive from your members and how you use this information to develop your space even further?
For me the greatest feedback is knowing that we are making a difference. One member who has spent the majority of their working lives abroad said how excited they were to have found The Club and to have a place around the corner where they can have interesting conversations with like-minded, forward-thinking and open-minded people. And that really was music to my ears to hear that one of our members saw us as a gateway rather than a locked door.
What is your brand philosophy and how do you communicate this philosophy to your members?
Our brand philosophy centres precisely around our name ‘Phoenix’. Like the mythical bird we believe that to be successful, regardless of field or position, you have constantly to rejuvenate and reinvigorate yourself and your skill set, otherwise quite frankly you will be left behind. This is central to how we do things at The Club, we are constantly trying new things and breaking our own boundaries, and I think that is plain to see for our members.
What challenges have you experienced along the way and how have you addressed them?
Our biggest challenge was to gain the trust of the local business community. Cyprus is small and the power of ‘word of mouth’ cannot be underestimated here; so it took a while for us to be able to communicate our offering, but once we did we have been overwhelmed by just how quickly the concept of The Club has been welcomed.
What services does The Club offer?
In essence, The Club provides members with a place to work away from the traditional office set-up, a place to hold meetings supported by first-rate catering services and also a place to meet and listen to world-class leaders. Our club discussion series, which hosts a new speaker each quarter has welcomed since we opened in 2018: Former head of the MI6, Sir Jeremy Sawers, Britain’s youngest ambassador, Jules Chappell OBE, former president of the European Council and former prime minister of Belgium, Herman van Rompuy, one of the world’s foremost experts on strategy and innovation, Professor Costas Markides…to name a few and we will be welcoming Professor Vybarr Cregan-Reid to The Club in September to discuss the topic of his best-selling book “Primate Change: How the world we made is remaking us.”
Please name some of your favourite books featured in your library?
I’m really glad you asked me about our Leadership Library as it is one of my own favourite corners of The Club. As an avid bookworm, it was important for me to be able to share my passion for books with others and we are constantly adding more and more titles to the library, which made choosing my holiday reading quite challenging! However, the three books I did take away for my summer holiday were of course Professor Vybarr’s book I mentioned above, Herminia Ibarra’s brilliant handbook for leadership “Act like a leader” and Richard D Lewis’ “When cultures collide”, which really opened my eyes up to the opportunities and challenges of conducting business in an increasingly globalised market.
Who do you consider to be an inspirational leader and why?
I don’t believe in the phrase an ‘inspirational leader’ as to be a leader you have to be inspirational to your employees and peers, if you’re not, then can you really call yourself a leader? If you asked me who I consider a leader, now then I could give you an answer. As a woman in business, I have often tended to seek out female role models and the woman who has made the most impact on my career has been Sheryl Sandberg. For me she has an incessant amount of energy and determination in making her voice and ideas heard and has shown leadership in putting the needs of her employees first and not just prioritising the bottom line.
What is your vision for the island?
As a member of the business community here, I share the vision of many which is to see Cyprus really start making waves on the European and global stage again. For me a key element of making this happen is connectivity: from improving the public transport connections between the cities, to developing a more integrated society which operates across the main hubs rather than remains within them, we need to find ways of efficiently harnessing and merging the extraordinary pools of talent we have here for the benefit of the island.
How do you balance work and leisure?
That’s a question I have been asked a lot recently, and the simple answer is that I don’t believe the perfect balance between the two can ever be achieved – or at least I would like to meet the person who has managed to do so! I do try and be honest with myself and listen to those around me (usually my son!) who I can count on to indicate when the balance is slipping too far in one direction and then act on correcting it, but I am human and must admit that I don’t get it right all the time.