It is a momentous occasion when the retirement of the general manager of Abu Dhabi’s oldest social club comes in the same year as its 60th anniversary.
It has been like a second home to Mike McGrath, who has been its general manager since 1997, and is now returning to his native Scotland with his family.
"It has been an honour and a privilege," Mr McGrath told The National, reflecting on his tenure. "It has been a long shift."
Mr McGrath, who is The Club’s longest-serving general manager, first arrived in the UAE in 1986 to take up a teaching post in Al Ain. He and his wife became members shortly after.
After a stint at Hilton he returned to The Club in 1994 before becoming general manager three years later.
During more than two decades of service, Mr McGrath has helped to steer The Club through lean times, growth, potential relocation and, more recently, the unprecedented challenge of Covid-19 when they had to briefly close.
“It was very challenging mentally and physically,” he said. "But the support we had from membership [and staff] was exceptional.”
Club gains international following
The Club was founded by a small group of pioneering residents in 1962. By the end of the decade, with a surging membership putting pressure on amenities, Sheikh Zayed, then Ruler of Abu Dhabi, granted a new piece of land to The Club, where it remains to this day. During this time, The Club has welcomed more than 50,000 Abu Dhabi residents from no fewer than 84 countries into its membership. It now boasts two beaches, a pool, a gym and multiple restaurants.
Mr McGrath said The Club was in a “respectable position” when he took over in 1997 but things needed to change as competition was on the rise and every hotel then also had a beach.
“We had to compete with five-star hotels. If we didn’t raise standards in terms of service and infrastructure, our future wouldn’t be guaranteed. So it has always been a challenge: it has been a challenge of terms of the infrastructure; and a challenge in terms of the changing demographic of the membership.”
By Mr McGrath’s reckoning, he has worked 6,925 days, attended 25 annual general meetings; worked with six chairmen; recruited 1,007 staff; and “drank at least 16,800 cups of coffee”.
Another long-serving staff member, K Thomas, who had been financial controller for the past 35 years, also retired this year after making a huge contribution to The Club’s success.
'It is like my home'
“I’ve been here so long and have seen the huge changes,” said Mr Thomas, who is from India. “My children grew up here. The Club is like my home.”
Mr McGrath finished his term on Wednesday with Kyle Wykes, the current director of recreation at The Club, taking over as its eighth general manager from July 1.
"It is an honour to take the reins from Mike," said Mr Wykes.
"It is a fantastic achievement Mike should be very proud of, The Club looks significantly different since he took over almost three decades ago.
"Along with The Club team and Club Committee, I look forward to implementing changes to modernise The Club and to continue to offer our members the best possible experience.”
Ali Kaddas, chairman of The Club, also joined members in paying tribute to the two.
“On behalf of the members, I sincerely thank Mike for all he has achieved at The Club over the last 28 years," said Mr Kaddas.
"And we look forward to supporting Kyle as he takes on the challenge of leading The Club team.”
Mr McGrath leaves The Club in good standing with it recently entering an elite global group by being voted one of the top 100 city clubs in the world by the Club Leaders Forum in California.
He thanked the Abu Dhabi government for its long-standing support and all the members over the years who gave their time to build it up to what it is today.
"Like many roads that my wife, Elaine and I plan on taking when we get back to Scotland the journey has been long, winding and occasionally challenging," said Mr McGrath.
“What makes the club is the people. And the future looks very bright indeed.”