The Disruptor Series: Mario Stubbs

May 07 2024.

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“The Disruptor Series” profiles business leaders making waves in their industries; redefining their businesses, spearheading innovation, tackling unprecedented change and disrupting the status quo. We delve into their remarkable journeys and dissect the transformative impact they're having on the way we do business.

In the heart of Sri Lanka, amidst the lush landscapes of Nuwara Eliya, Mario Stubbs began his journey. Raised by parents deeply committed to philanthropy, Mario's childhood was steeped in values of compassion, respect, and selflessness, which have greatly influenced his professional ethos. Transitioning from aspirations of piloting to mastering the intricacies of entrepreneurship and business development, Mario has ventured across industries—from hospitality to technology—leaving a mark of innovation and leadership. Today, as a driving force behind multiple ventures including The Serendipity Collection and Sail Lanka, Mario’s multifaceted career epitomizes the spirit of our feature in "The Disruptor Series," where we explore the stories of business leaders who are redefining norms and setting new paradigms in their industries.

1.⁠ ⁠Tell me a little bit about yourself - family, childhood, school, life growing up. Did you have different aspirations as a child, or is this what you always wanted to do?
⁠I was born in Nuwara Eliya and had my primary education there until I moved to Colombo for my OLs and ALs at Elizabeth Moir School. My parents have run a successful NGO for the last 37 years focusing on children with disabilities predominantly in the central and eastern provinces. They have also worked in the rehabilitation of many children affected by the war in Sri Lanka who were part of the crossfire or who were orphaned. 

I loved Nuwara Eliya as it taught me so much and my heart will always remain there. Growing up was a very simple life and when I had to move to and live in Colombo by myself for education, it taught me to grow up and be independent at a young age of 12/14 years. Having been exposed to my parents’ work gave me the grounding to be the person I set myself out to be later on. Many other traits of kindness, humility, compassion, respect, selflessness and limitless love which I learnt or was exposed to as a child are some of the traits that helped me in all areas of my life. I couldn’t have asked for a better start to life. 

As a child, I always wanted to be a pilot. But as I grew up and life took over, I had to adapt to certain situations to survive and strive which eventually meant that most of my exposure was in entrepreneurship, survival, philanthropy and business development across many industries, not just hospitality. And when the time was right, with a lot of determination, manifestation, prayer and commitment, I reached a point I can comfortably say I’m proud of.

2.⁠ ⁠Walk me through your career thus far and tell me a little bit about the positions you’ve held.
⁠I started off as a management trainee at a hotel in Dubai where I gained a lot of experience across all departments. My first placement as an Assistant Manager was in Food and Beverage, an area I’m definitely passionate about. However, I moved back to Sri Lanka and decided to start life back home as I wanted to be part of developing my home country and seeing it grow. I am a dual citizen with my other country being the United Kingdom and maybe someday I would like to live and retire there, it all depends on where life takes me. 

I moved into other areas such as being an Executive Assistant to an MD of a conglomerate where I learnt the most in life about business practices, discipline and most importantly innovation. My boss was a visionary. I worked in aviation, real estate, beverage and distribution, technology etc. I then moved into corporate communications, PR and marketing for a while in banking before getting back into hospitality into area development for an international chain. I aspired to be a CEO by the time I was 30 and I managed to just make it into that category when I was promoted to Area Manager which is equivalent to a country director for a multinational. This position and job role exposed me to a lot, not just the traditional way of how work was done in local companies. It exposed me to a lot of international business best practices and moulded me into the right leader. 

I then left the corporate life and started out on my own and formed a hospitality consulting company which soon grew and serviced clients across the region, namely Sri Lanka, Maldives, Vietnam, Cambodia, Bhutan and Nepal. Mostly in high-end or boutique hotel operations. 

Covid put a halt on most businesses and that’s what made me hibernate that business temporarily and then reform and refocus on other areas, which is when I founded the Serendipity Collection in Sri Lanka which is a villa management company and provides unique experiences across the island. The idea is to expand this business model in the region once we have the perfect blueprint and work ethic. I was then appointed MD of Sail Lanka a couple of years ago to help turn around the business in the form of increasing revenue through innovation and the right strategy in marketing the product. This fell hand in hand with the other company I then founded called The Serendipity Experiences which is a bespoke destination management company focusing on tailored travel experiences around the island and connects to all other areas of the businesses I overlook. I am also currently a board Director at the European Chamber and the Chamber of Marine Industries with a focus on developing tourism and marine tourism. 

However, I try not to lose sight of philanthropy which is what I was born into and which is why I frequently still visit Nuwara Eliya or look at ways of sustainably doing business with the companies I’m associated with.

3.⁠ ⁠How would you describe your leadership style? 
Working for many companies, institutions and industries, I’ve had to adapt and adopt as many different business practices and work with many cultures. So I prefer to empower and not micromanage as I believe experiential learning is the best form of education and mistakes (if taken) are the best form of bettering oneself. Having to work with multiple companies and look into various personalities, I constantly have such moments and have to keep changing my approach and leadership style. And if that doesn’t work, then I reset and restart and make sure it’s an approach which is respectful to the teams involved and brings out the best results.

4. You have been a part of fast-paced industries where trends are constantly changing. How do you stay informed about industry trends and adapt your strategy accordingly?
⁠⁠I read up a lot on tourism statistics and product innovation constantly. I watch a lot of local and international news. I travel a lot or sometimes force myself to so that I learn from other industry specialists as well. Knowledge sharing is something that always keeps me on top of things and the hunger to listen and learn

5.⁠ ⁠How do you encourage a culture of innovation within the company?
Self-learning is key here, I give the idea and expect the teams to expand and innovate on the seed I plant. Thought-provoking ideas with real-life examples and comparisons to practical situations. You always need to see life through different lenses, not just one because everyone is unique and so are our customers. Expectations aren’t always the same and neither is the delivery of the ideas or execution of them.

6.⁠ ⁠Who are your role models?
Role models, definitely my parents as they had and still have all areas in life covered and maintained being humble throughout, never losing their way of looking at the world or how they live in or appreciate it. I also have a few other inspiring personalities such as some of my ex and current directors and mentors. Most of my role models and mentors are ones who are not in my industry, they are ones who have been selfless in their corporate worlds and made the world a better place to live in for everyone around them and still continue to do so. It’s not the money we make that matters but the lives of the people we touch along the way and what we will be remembered for when we are no more that mostly matters to me.

7.⁠ ⁠What is the greatest piece of advice you have ever received?
You never stop learning. Every day when you wake up, there is something you are going to learn, something new or some challenge which gets you ready for the future, it may be heartbreak, a challenge at work, a family issue, or maybe someone else’s problem you’re trying to help solve or advise on, etc. You never stop learning, just be open to listening and growing.

8.⁠ ⁠What was the most discouraging moment you’ve experienced in your professional career?


Rihaab Mowlana

Rihaab Mowlana is the Deputy Features Editor of Life Plus and a journalist with a passion for crafting captivating narratives. Her expertise lies in feature writing, where she brings a commitment to authenticity and a keen eye for unique perspectives. Follow Rihaab on Twitter & Instagram: @rihaabmowlana


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