In conversation with Suresh Babu -
Hospitality Management Professional
Armed with a diploma in hotel management, catering technology and applied nutrition, Suresh Babu started his career in the corporate kitchens of two star hotels – The Oberoi Hotel and Taj West End in Bangalore. The bottom rung when you start is hard, he says – but that’s the best way to make an entry into this wonderful world.
Suresh’s hard work took him right up the ladder – to the position of Corporate Executive Chef at Aloft Hotels belonging to Starwood Hotels & Resorts – the group has five properties – in Chennai, Coimbatore, Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Chandigarh. Other names in his work profile include Goldfinch Retreat, The Windflower Prakruthi Resort & Spa, Clarks Exotica Resort & Spa and Oakwood Premier Prestige in Bangalore. Suresh has also worked overseas, at the Grange Manor Hotel in Scotland. His most recent work position was General Manager at the Tamara Coorg, where he has done a long stint.
Going up the culinary ladder happened at the right times for Suresh, and he soon found himself at the crossroads of career advancement. Should he stay within the four walls of a corporate kitchen, or cross over to sales, marketing and management? Coincidentally, an opportunity came his way and made the decision for him.
How did you move from a corporate kitchen, into management corridors?
The move happened when God’s hand chose to help me – just when I was ready I think. And when an internal opportunity was advertised in one of the places I was in, I grabbed it with both hands. I must say here that the transition was not easy – I was pitching experience and skills with some of the best in the business. But with hard work comes success and with success comes the opportunity to do better. I think this has been the secret of my success.
I must add here that both kitchen and managerial work spaces involve working with people and getting the best out of them - while you need to do this from a management perspective. For me it was a change in my toolkit and the people I needed to work with.
Since you talk about working with people, do talk about your approach to handling people in your team.
For any employee to succeed, there are three things that should come into play within his work environment. First, the opportunities to do your job well – which means a supportive environment. Second, employees need the opportunity to grow – which means recognition from superiors and support from colleagues. (Colleagues, because it is always team work that gets any job done, to perfection.) The third, is the freedom to take independent decisions. This can be difficult in a job that has a prescribed code of conduct – outlined in careful detailing. What you need to do is already written down as a guideline.
But here’s what I feel. In the hospitality business, you’re often faced with situations that are uniquely different – throwing up equally unique challenges. That’s where quick, sharp-decision making comes in.
Managing people also includes handling customers – what’s your approach to the customer?
This is where I remember Mahatma Gandhi’s quote about the customer. “A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work – he is the purpose of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us the opportunity to serve him.”
Every thought and word in that quote adds up to better customer service. As always, the customer comes first – he or she brings a business opportunity to our doors. And we must make sure we treat that with care and respect.
We understand that you are currently in a transition between jobs – how has Covid made things difficult for you and the industry?
The pandemic has been like a tornado, destroying everything in its path. But unlike a tornado that you can see, this virus is invisible. It has been the most devastating source of anxiety and risk – wiping out jobs, careers and any possibility of running a business. The hospitality industry is among the most affected by the pandemic.
Another reason for my transition phase is the health of a family member that was a cause for concern. I do need to be close to the family now till things improve – which means looking at job openings in Bangalore.
What do you think of timeshare as a vacation format?
I think timeshare offers a win-win equation for both resort owners, and customers – “members” as they are called. But from what I have seen, people do not really understand the product from a user perspective.
First, a customer needs to make an upfront remittance that gets him a membership for the specified term. Then he needs to realize that to keep his membership active and valid, he needs to pay annual fees for upkeep and maintenance. This is invariably explained to most customers during the sale or signing up process.
If a member does this diligently, he will enjoy the benefits of his vacation week for many years. He will also get protection from tariff increases that happen over the years in the hotel industry.
Timeshare is a good vacation format if the resort owners believe in it and give it the support it needs, and the customer understands the product in terms of features and benefits. I am happy that AIRDA is working towards promoting the organized sector of the industry and giving players a platform for the sharing of best business practices.
That’s the only way to grow.
What does an AIRDA membership mean to resort owners and developers? AIRDA comes in as your industry partner, conscience keeper and business catalyst - with a wide portfolio of support services.
What does AIRDA mean to holiday seekers and prospective customers? AIRDA comes in to provide information and offer guidelines on making the right timeshare decisions.