When and how did you realise that this is what you want to do?
I realised early in my career that I wanted very much to work with people. The beauty of hospitality as a profession is that it is extremely gratifying and served my greater purpose of wanting to create meaningful employment for large numbers of people.
Offering an experience that brings people together and brings them joy is an aspect that really motivated me. Also, the diverse range of people who come into hospitality is exceptional. This is a community of people from all backgrounds: those who come from elite management schools to those who start as kitchen stewards and work their way up. There is a kindred spirit among everyone who works in this industry because it is operationally challenging and driven by a desire to serve. Those who stay in it, truly love it which creates a very binding and dynamic energy.
Another part of the appeal of hospitality is job creation. Growing up, this idea of creating employment and the contribution of meaningful jobs to society was very important to me – especially the creation of jobs that could not be replaced by a machine in the imminent future.
The Hospitality, Tourism and Leisure industries account for 10% of employment in India. That includes millions and millions of jobs created for people across skill sets including growth opportunities for relatively low-skilled workers. It is very fulfilling to be an active part of this type of growth.
What are the hurdles you had to face to reach where you are today?
Our vision to integrate sustainable practices within our various brands (ranging from luxury to mid-segment) posed several challenges. Hotels have historically been high polluters and there is much space to implement change without sacrificing guest comfort or convenience. A lot of our early work involved experimenting with different processes and technologies to reduce waste without compromising on quality.
This allowed us to be very creative with every aspect of the business from design and architecture, to employment and logistics. For example, we were able to find simple solutions to reduce water consumption by 10,000 litres a day at each of the Tamara properties in Kodai and Coorg. We set up outdoor lighting that would not disturb native wildlife, which has resulted in a rich ecosystem of both resident and migratory birds.
We also worked closely with the local community. This enabled us to get a culturally sensitive view on environmental conservation. We were able to have local women train our chefs in how to make traditional dishes. It also allowed us to hire locally, which is an essential part of uplifting local economies and integrating local knowledge into our operations and offering. In many ways, the hurdles have been the most edifying part of the process.
Please share some of the highpoints of your journey?
The best part of the journey has been the people that I have had the chance to work with, grow with, and learn from. We are a very people-focused organisation. For instance, we made sure that we did not let go of any employees during COVID19 lockdowns and only the top 3% of the organisation experienced pay-cuts. We also spent much of that down-period investing in our employees through health and safety seminars, skill building sessions, recreational activities and access to mental health support.
Being able to build an organisation that is resilient enough to support and stand by its people continues to be the highpoint of what I do.
How would you describe the unique set of qualities and skills that women bring to the table?
Because our experiences as women are unique, our perspectives are also unique. Our theoretical skills and qualities may be universal but the way we apply them is different. Women may perceive a different set of risks or implement new styles of execution. I have the pleasure of working with some incredible women in senior positions. I would like to see more and more women represented at different levels but particularly in management positions. Diversity improves an organisation in every form through richer, more well-rounded and better informed conversations. The simple fact is that we lose out when we don’t have women at the table.
What does work-life balance mean to you?
Work-life balance does not exist outside of dreams. Realistically, everyone must play a combination of roles at any single point in their adult life – whether it be leader, caregiver, partner, or student. I find that for myself, carving out dedicated time for each, being very clear about my priorities, and creating a support system to ensure that things are running (somewhat) smoothly at most times helps me feel like I have some balance. Being aware that complete balance is impossible helps me feel okay on days when nothing goes right.
What role does fitness play in your life? What is your fitness regime?
Working out has been a part of my daily routine for many years. It feels good to spend even just 30 minutes a day focusing on nothing else. I have always wanted to feel strong so maintaining a weekly routine which incorporates strength training, cardio, yoga, and a good diet help me achieve this continuously.
How do you keep evolving in your work & staying ahead of the game?
I am a lifelong student and try to find inspiration from all those around me. I have been lucky to be surrounded by amazing thinkers and be presented with opportunities to engage and work with people who have far different experiences that I have had. Also, access to information across topics and industries has never been easier than it is today. Reflecting on the experiences and learnings of others allows me to derive my own conclusions and ideas. The nature of my work is also very challenging and keeps me pushing forward constantly.
How have family values influenced your business strategies?
The values I grew up with are an enormous part of how I approach our organisational vision. One of my most consistent priorities is to communicate openly with my team. This was especially useful in helping me, as a leader, navigate the pandemic. It was important for me to let the team know how committed we are to them. We needed to operate much like a family, in that every member was essential to the process of overcoming crisis and building a stronger unit.
It is also very important to me to give people the chance to keep learning and growing within the organisation. We invest consistently in skill building and training. This is also our ongoing focus with SAATHIYA, a non-profit organisation under the Shibulal Family Philanthropic Initiatives that offers vocational training, job placement, and mentorship to economically disadvantaged youth.
Every aspect of our organisational culture, policies, practices and even expansion plans have a value-based and people-focused foundation.
What are your other hobbies and passions?
I am a huge cricket fan and oftentimes my passion of travel has been driven by where the Cricket World Cup is happening. I am a foodie, of course, and miss eating out enormously during these strange times.
What is in the pipeline in terms of your work currently for Tamara? Are there any expansion plans?
We currently operate three brands in Tamara Leisure Experiences – The Tamara Resorts in Coorg and Kodai, luxury resorts providing memorable experiences; The O by Tamara in Trivandrum, which is an upscale business hotel, and Lilac Hotels in Bangalore, which are mid-segment properties. We are very much focused on growth right now. Later this year, we will be opening an Ayurvedic wellness retreat in Kerala. We have three Lilac properties under development across South India. We are also actively looking at acquisitions and a variety of expansion opportunities in the post-COVID market.
— By Namita Gupta.