We travel to the Middle East for today’s Sovereign Story featuring Libbie Burtinshaw, Head of Operations at PRO Partner Group in Dubai. Hers is a story that began in Hampshire and as Ratty said to Mole in “The Wind in the Willows”, away from work, it involves a lot of time messing about in boats.
Born in Surrey, at the tender age of three Libbie’s family moved to Hampshire as her father’s heart was set on living close to the water. He berthed his boat at the famous Moody’s Marina on the River Hamble at Swanwick. As Libbie remembers, the boat’s location came first then the family looked for a house. In that order.
Given her family background, it was natural that Libbie spent her formative years on or close to water. Indeed this continued all the way through her education and the early years of working life too. Brookfield Community School in Sarisbury Green near Southampton was followed by Solent University where Libbie obtained a BA honours degree in journalism.
Libbie was always keen on the hospitality aspect of sailing. In the early ‘noughties, she combined both by working part time for up to thirty days a year on the 40-foot charter yacht her family owned and operated. Typical trips from the Hamble, with Corporate Guests, were to Cowes or Yarmouth and to take part in the annual Cowes week Regatta or the Round the Island Race. Whilst her father was in charge overall, Libbie acted as first mate and hostess and of course attended to other jobs on board as needed.
Whilst still studying, Libbie acted as Assistant Manager at the iconic Ferryman pub before moving to the Navigator (formerly known as the Spinnaker). Anyone who has spent time on the River Hamble (perhaps en route to the IsIe of Wight) will recall fondly these iconic pubs close to the riverfront.
After graduating, Libbie became Assistant General Manager at The Navigator owned by the Upham Micro Brewery group. More accurately described as a pub with (twenty-three) bedrooms it was really a small hotel. Libbie considers that her success was down to her preoccupation with attention to detail that has underscored her entire professional life – and is still a golden rule she follows today at PPG.
During her time at the Navigator, Libbie combined her organisational skills and technical ability to create a bespoke reservation system cooperating at the time with booking.com
The system was rolled out across the brewery group’s other fourteen sites.
In 2015, Libbie moved with boyfriend Dan to Dubai as he had been offered a role with his employer, in the events and brand installation industry in the Middle East. Now a married couple, the pair are proud parents to six year old daughter Bella.
Once in Dubai, Libbie was keen to exploit fully her education and hospitality skills and considered several executive assistant roles. Libbie was introduced to Jane Ashford, founder of PRO Partner Group (“PPG”), through Dan’s connection with Jess, Jane’s daughter. Libbie joined PPG at an early stage when the staff numbered just eight in total.
PPG grew and Libbie advanced rapidly within the business. Again, close attention to detail was her watchword throughout and this paid enormous dividends for the business and her career. In May 2022, Sovereign acquired PPG in its largest corporate deal to date; by then, the staff complement had grown to around forty.
Libbie is delighted with the integration process so far and “loves the Sovereign culture”. So much so, she says, that she cannot imagine life now without Sovereign. She feels that the coming together of the two businesses has been an education for all concerned. She has been particularly impressed by the cooperative way in which processes from both sides have been considered and if there are differences, the best way forward is chosen rather than any feeling of “doing it my way”.
Before Bella was born, Libbie and Dan continued their predominantly water-based lifestyle. When the couple met, Dan was a professional sailor and Libbie herself semi-professional. The couple are members of the Dubai Offshore Sailing Club. Established 50 years ago, the Club hosts courses, sailing, and corporate events so this is an excellent place for a social life based on a mutual love of life on the water.
Not surprisingly, daughter Bella has developed an affinity with the water and in Libbie’s words “is a little mermaid”. The family love to travel and often go camping in Ras Al Khaimah, one of the UAE’s northern emirates as well as further afield. Thailand is a favourite destination being very easy to reach from the Middle East.
The family also visit France regularly with Bellac in Aquitaine being one of their favoured places. We asked if wine played a part in all this. “Wine is life”, said Libbie who is hugely proud of her WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) Level 2 Award in Wines & Spirits studying with iconic London dealer Berry Bros & Rudd.
Libbie studied German and has “a little bit of Arabic” too. When travelling through France however, she leaves the French to fluent French speaker Dan.
It was a great pleasure talking to Libbie who manages to combine a demanding senior role at PPG with raising a young daughter together with continuing her love of the sea – and good wine. Thank you for your time, best wishes to you all – and happy sailing!