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

India Today - - CONTENTS -

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.

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