Rolling Out The Red Carpet
NIRUPA SHANKAR, DIRECTOR, BRIGADE HOSPITALITY, ONE OF SOUTH INDIA’S LEADING PROPERTY DEVELOPERS, ON THE FUTURE OF THE HOTEL INDUSTRY AND WORKING IN THE FAMILY BUSINESS. BY SONALI ACHARJEE
Nirupa Shankar, director, Brigade Hospitality on the future of the hotel industry and working in the family business.
Despite being only 30-years-old, Nirupa Shankar, is already the proud director of Bridage Hospitality. The Bangalorebased group is a subsidy of real estate conglomerate, Brigade Group, and handles Sheraton Bangalore, Grand Mecure Bangalore, four clubs, Orion Mall and a number of luxury service apartments across the city. Seated in her plush office at the World Trade Centre, the second daughter of M.R. Jaishankar, the founder and CMD of Brigade Group, says that working in the family business was not always her first choice.
“I was born and brought up in Bangalore. At the age of 18 I left home to pursue my undergraduate degree in economics from the University of Virgina in the US. Initially I wanted to experience life as a consultant. I felt one could learn a lot from trying their hand in different markets and projects,” says Shankar, who went on to work with Ernst and Young as a risk advisor and the Federal Reserve Bank as a consultant. “As a college student I used to pursue various internships during my summer holidays. I tried my hand at PWC and a small media agency in Bangalore. This was when I had my first stint with hospitality as a front office and sales and marketing in- tern at the Leela Palace in Bangalore. What interested me right away was the blend of customer interaction and analytics that the hospitality sector offered. I enjoyed the work so much that when I returned to the US, I took up an evening course in hospitality at New York University,” adds Shankar. Soon afterwards she enrolled for a masters pro-
I AM REALLY HAPPY TO BE WORKING IN THE HOSPITALITY SECTOR AS IT’S THE PERFECT BLEND OF CUSTOMER INTERACTION AND ANALYTICS. RIGHT NOW THE ENTIRE INDUSTRY IS GOING THROUGH A METAMORPHOSIS WITH NEW BRANDS EYEING INDIA.
gramme at Cornell University in hospitality management. “I completed my course in 2009 which was the same year that Brigade launched its first hotel, the Grand Mecure in Bangalore. The prospect of growing and nurturing a company from scratch really appealed to me and so I returned home the same year and joined the group,” says Shankar.
Today, after having completed five years in the company, Shankar still isn’t ready to leave behind hospitality for pure real estate. “A lot of people often ask me why I don’t join the real estate sector. Maybe I will at some point in my life but for now I am really happy to be here in the hospitality sector. The entire industry is going through a metamorphosis with new brands eyeing India,” says Shankar. For her competition from other brands is not a threat but a value addition to the market. “I don’t think seeing a Ritz Carlton open doors in the same city threatens me. Instead with supply having nearly tripled in the last few years in Bangalore, it has not only put the city on the map but has also encouraged growth, innovation and quality in the sector,” explains Shankar. “Hotels take around five to six years to be completed so it’s taken some time for supply to catch up to the demand. With so many options in the city
now, it’s a really challenging field to be a part of. Competition has also added pressure of reducing days. While in the glory days five star hotels could charge as much as Rs 25,000 per night for a single night, now it’s something between Rs10,000 to Rs 15,000,” adds Shankar.
Interestingly despite the demands of the sector and the long time frames involved, Shankar remains undaunted. “Ease of business can be very difficult in Karnataka. It’s a major challenge dealing with approvals and clearances. One year of business delayed has a huge opportunity cost involved, as much as 20 per cent of your return. So one needs to do constant follow ups and be highly focused on meeting deadlines. That said once you’ve done a hotel project you can never go back. I still get emotional when I walk into our properties,” she says. Reflecting on the Sheraton and Grand Mecure projects, she says the most crucial step of the initial phase of setting up a hotel is to find the right parcel of land and hotel operator. “We first study the market and cost of land. You don’t want to set yourself up for failure by going to an area that’s already overcrowded. Once you’ve procured land you then shortlist the operators you want to work with,” explains Shankar.
She might love both her five-star projects but luxury isn’t all that interests Shankar. Her team has recently signed at MOU with the Intercontinental Hotels Group ( IHG) to set up ten Holiday Inn Expresses across South India. “To be honest, the luxury segment is growing much slower than the mid-market budget market. While we get a handful of business travellers and foreign tourists, we have 650 million domestic travellers who eye budget hotels,” says Shankar. High land costs have been one of the major reasons that few developers have entered the budget market but Brigade has come up with a way to overcome land limitations. “You can’t build a humungous budget hotel and expect to break even let alone make a profit. What we’ve done is to use smaller pieces of land to construct cute, compact and efficient hotels with affordable rates. It’s a maturing market and we’re really excited to be a part of it with the IHG,” adds Shankar.
It is this enthusiasm to be different and courage to enter new markets that has made Brigade the most diverse group in the city today. “No developer has the breadth of experience that we have. We’ve worked on malls, clubs, apartments, hotels, cafes and lounges. For example the Brigade Gateway and World Trade Centre generate a lot of business for the nearby Sheraton,” says Shankar. Add to this the business acumen and drive of the group’s renowned chairman,
WHILE WE GET A HANDFUL OF BUSINESS TRAVELLERS AND FOREIGN TOURISTS, THERE ARE 650 MN DOMESTIC TRAVELLERS WHO EYE BUDGET HOTELS. THIS EXPLAINS WHY THE LUXURY SEGMENT IS GROWING SLOWLY.
Jaishankar, and it’s little wonder then that the Brigade Group has reigned supreme in the city for the last 26 years and generated a collective registered revenue of Rs. 78,812 lakh last year.
Business aside, Shankar also prioritises on employee welfare and is actively involved in various social initiatives. “We’re not only about building great properties but of offering customers a better quality of life on every level. We’ve cleaned up Puttanhalli lake, planted 25,000 trees and landscaped parks and jogging tracks near our properties,” says Shankar. Brigade Foundation, which is run by Shankar’s mother, Githa Shankar, manages its own school. “It’s not about dishing out money. We want to build self sustaining initiatives that will stand the test of time. The model allows the schools to generate their own revenue for reinvesting in itself,” adds Shankar. Brigade is also looking to start the country’s first experiential museum, inspired by the Seattle Museum. “Our chairman is extremely passionate about music. Infact he used to make his own CDs and give them out at one point. Together with some governmental achievements we plan to set up this museum where visitors will be able to touch, see and experience the musical culture and heritage of India,” she adds.
Brigade has also been named one of the best real estate companies to work for in India by the Great Place to Work Institute two years in a row. The reason is evident in Shankar’s own drive for employee happiness. “No employee of Brigade will ever say that they’ve been scammed of their livelihood or professional achievements. I am glad infact to see that the industry salaries are rising because it will make hospitality a better career option for many,” says Shankar. She also says that the quality of hospitality education and international education providers in India have improved the talent coming into the sector today. With Brigade Hospitality now looking to invest in value hotels and the launch of their brand new lounge, High Ultra Lounge, on the 31st floor of the World Trade Centre last month, one can certainly expect a lot from Shankar and her team in the years ahead.