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Posted by Karen Thornalley

Clair Hattle



I have taken a rather circuitous route to get to this place in my life. I would never have thought when I was starting a degree in Astrophysics that I would eventually be head of a corporate language and training company in the most exciting city in the world, having lived in Barcelona and Hong Kong en route! (I never did finish that Astrophysics degree, though I retain a layman’s interest in superstring theory and blackholes.)

I’ve worked in many industries including Hospitality & Catering (3 yrs as a Banqueting Supervisor), Banking & Finance (Complaints Supervisor & Banking Ops Liaison with credit card company), social work (alcohol & drugs advisor on UK helplines), as well as bits and bobs in retail, restaurants & bars, telecommunications and contact centres…

Throughout it all, I have had a passion for travel and exploration. I love encountering new places, people and food. I love food so am a very happy traveller. It was this that took me into the world of teaching English to speakers of other languages (sometimes called TESOL or TEFL). From there I never looked back.

I am now Director of International House Dubai, an institute dedicated to lifelong learning and professional development which offers language training and accredited vocational qualifications in HR, marketing, training, leadership and management. IH Dubai is part of the International House World Organisation which has over 155 centres in more than 50 countries worldwide.

I first fell in love with the organisation (strong words, but true!) over ten years ago when I trained at IH Barcelona, I have risen through the organisation and I am also a Director on the Management Committee for the IH global network.

In addition to this committee role, I am also Director – Focus Groups on the Management Committee of the British Business Group Dubai & Northern Emirates (BBG), and on the Joint Committee with the Abu Dhabi BBG. This is a role that has afforded me a deeper insight into the Dubai and UAE business community, but has also allowed me to tap my experience of the education sector.

Work life

I’ve always thought of myself as a hard worker, or having a ‘good work ethic’ as it is sometimes described. However, those ideas were challenged when I came to Dubai! I have never had so much thrown at me or expected of me as I have here. However that challenge really sorts the men from the boys - so to speak.

I thrive on challenge and seek it out the moment things become comfortable or easy. (A lot of people proclaim they like challenge and change, but it’s disruptive, and in reality I find most people fight against it to maintain the status quo.) To me, each one of these disruptive moments is an opportunity, and with each opportunity comes the potential to reap greater rewards.

In terms of specific challenges I have faced, I would have to say that the people management side has presented some of the toughest. There was the challenge which came in the form of resentment when I was promoted above peers: sad to say that this was mostly from female colleagues; and the challenge of demanding more of people than they had delivered before, and of course the global financial crisis added its own challenge to things!


My main professional achievements to date would have been:

  • taking over as Director of International House Dubai

–      increasing productivity by 25%

–      gaining accreditation as a university of Cambridge Language Assessment Centre (and being the busiest in the UAE)

-       bidding to host the 2014 IHWO Directors’ Conference in Dubai and winning

  • Joining the Management Committee of the British Business Group – working towards increased corporate governance and adding input to the new strategic plan
  • being accepted onto the Management Committee of the International House World Organisation – being involved in the decisions and projects at a senior level


My personal goals are to continue learning and developing. The more experience and knowledge I gain, the more I am aware of improvements which could be made, gaps in my knowledge and as I train myself, I am aware of the possibility for even better performance. This is why I am studying at a Master’s degree.

I try hard to keep in shape outside work. I think there’s something to be said for the ‘Corporate Athlete’ and you need your mind and body in shape to really be at your best.

I still want to travel and see the IH network expand – to see it become better recognised in emerging markets of the world.

I would like to see that whenever I do leave Dubai (definitely another few years here yet!) that I have left my mark on the place and that some things are better because of me.


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