How a native of Cairo came to run one of Nantucket’s premier hotels.
When hordes of wine lovers and foodies descend on the White Elephant this May for the Wine Festival, they’ll be expecting the finest that the island has to offer, but the man responsible for meeting those high expectations isn’t losing any sleep over it. That’s because Khaled Hashem, the managing director of Nantucket Island Resorts (NIR), which owns the White Elephant, has spent a lifetime preparing. Hashem, 56, started out in the hospitality business cleaning toilets and doing dishes. Today, he manages Nantucket Island Resorts’ portfolio of luxury hotel properties, which accommodates more than 70,000 visitors to the island every year with a peak season staff of 400. The story behind the point man of Nantucket’s largest private business began half a world away in Cairo, Egypt.
Hashem spent the first sixteen years of his life in the Egyptian capital, the youngest of three children in a middle class family who learned to speak English, French and Arabic at a young age. “I had an amazing childhood, and I have great memories of it,” Hashem says, recalling summers at the beach in Alexandria, playing soccer every day, and renting chalets with his friends in the shadows of the pyramids. His father, a general contractor who also owned a furniture factory, took Hashem on his first international trip to Beirut, Lebanon when he was eleven years old, sparking a lifelong love of travel and hotels. At sixteen, Hashem and his family followed a relative to the United States, immigrating to Dallas, Texas in 1976. Back then, Dallas was mostly “green land and pastures,” he recalls. And Hashem admitted there was certainly a little culture shock for a sixteen-year-old boy moving from Cairo to cowboy country.
“We landed at JFK and we were trying to call my uncle in Dallas from a pay phone, and I had to ask someone, ‘How do you work this thing’?” he says. “My brother and I used to stand there and look at all the different cars and take pictures of the Pontiac Grand Prix and the Firebirds and send them to our friends. The cars, the language, the accents — it all took some getting used to.”
But Hashem quickly hit his stride. After finishing his last year of high school, he enrolled at the University of Texas at Dallas, taking two classes per semester toward a degree in marketing. As he navigated college as a recent immigrant, he also got his start in the hospitality industry, holding various entry-level positions with the Marriott hotel chain.
As Hashem worked steadily toward his degree, he climbed the ladder at Marriott. By the time he graduated in 1986, he had been promoted to controller of the hotel’s Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport location. Hashem’s early success launched a prolific career in the hotel industry. He moved on from Marriott to Renaissance Hotels, taking posts in Houston and San Francisco — where he met his wife, Jennifer — as well as in Mexico, where he oversaw seven hotels. In New York City, he opened the Renaissance New York Times Square Hotel. From there, Hashem joined Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, one of the top luxury hotel companies worldwide.
In 2003, Hashem found himself working at the Four Seasons in Amman, Jordan when the Iraq war broke out, throwing the region into chaos. “It was a challenge being able to stay there in that part of the world during that time,” Hashem remembers. “We wanted to come back and a headhunter from London called me and said there is an opportunity in Nantucket. I said, ‘Nantucket? Where’s that?’ I had to look it up.” Hashem had other options, but after meeting with NIR owner Stephen Karp and his team, “I just clicked with them,” he says. “And over the last eleven years, we’ve built this amazing company together. We rebuilt the team, focusing on the people and getting the right people in the right places.”
Karp, the chairman and CEO of New England Development, knew immediately that he had found the right man for the job in Hashem. “Khaled has impressed me from day one,” Karp said. “He is a great leader and motivator. His laugh is contagious but when he is serious, we all listen! The success of Nantucket Island Resorts is a direct result of his leadership.”
In his thirty-eight-plus years in the hospitality business, Hashem has tended to presidents, kings, queens, movie stars and Fortune 500 CEOs. But it’s the people on his team that he’s always most interested in talking about. “Our company has over thirty-two different nationalities represented,” he says. “We are very proud that over 80% of our seasonal employees return back every year.” Sometimes maintaining this international workforce presents obstacles, such as in 2008 when H2B Visas were restricted and many of Hashem’s seasonal employees could not return that year. “The economy was also in a downward spiral,” he says, “but we were able to manage and still able to provide fantastic service.”
That Hashem provides great service no matter the situation comes down to his scrupulous attention to detail, from selecting uniforms and tasting food and drinks to even testing out all the new mattresses. “Several NIR employees get to stay in our hotels to try the various models and give us their opinion regarding the plushness and quality of sleep,” he says. Not surprisingly The Boston Globe has listed NIR as one of the “Top Places to Work” two years running.
Hashem’s career enabled him and his wife to see the world together; they are self-described “travel junkies.” Now the couple has two young children, Jenna and Ryan, who they have shared their love of travel with, including a recent trip to Europe and Asia. But one place he hasn’t been back to in more than eight years is his former home in Egypt. Hashem watched from afar as revolution came to Egypt during the Arab Spring in 2011, when mass protests culminated in the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak followed by the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and a military coup in 2013.
“Not in my wildest dreams would I have thought what is happening today would happen,” he says. “It was very peaceful when I was growing up. You always hope things will turn around. I would love to take my son Ryan there. We talk about that. I want to show him the school where I grew up… I talk to my friends who are there and I feel for them too because they’re amazingly educated people. They’re PhDs and they’re struggling with the life there now.”
Back on Nantucket, Hashem is wrapping up an offseason in which he and his team hit the road like they do every year, meeting with travel agents and writers to market Nantucket well beyond its shores. His immediate focus now is on another successful Wine Festival weekend at the White Elephant and preparing his team for the busy summer ahead. “You have to inspire people,” he says. “I always tell our staff, people who come to Nantucket, before they even step foot in our hotels, they’ve spent thousands of dollars just to get here. We’re here to make it memorable. And hopefully we can deliver.”