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Tuesday, 27 March, 2018, 12 : 24 PM [IST]

Against all Odds - Neelu Singh, Group Director & CEO, ezeego1

To defy all odds and pursue one’s dreams are stories that winners are made of. From fighting a losing battle at home to giving up a career in research, and eventually becoming the face of ezeego1, Neelu Singh has come a long way. While her journey had its fair share of challenges and dull moments, today Neelu has ensured brand ezeego1.com stands headstrong to its contemporaries in the extremely competitive online travel space, while diversifying into other businesses. TravelBiz Monitor recognises Neelu Singh for her brave career moves and steep growth from joining SITA as a Sales Executive to becoming the CEO of ezeego1 at the age of 32, and making it a global brand today.

It is a relatively relaxed mid-week when I walk into ezeego1.com’s Mumbai headquarters to meet Neelu Singh. I am aware that she isn’t a very social person, however, all my apprehensions are laid to rest once we meet, which culminates into two and half hours of constant chatter and lots of laughter. This is the same woman who gave up a career in Microbiology and Biotechnology, and went on to launch ezeego1 at an early age of 32 as its CEO. Today ezeego1.com has successfully emerged as a leading player in the online B2B travel space.

It was a summer internship with SITA in Agra turned out to be a life-changing decision for Neelu, a Botany Graduate. Coming from an army familial background, Neelu has fought her way to the conservative mindset to make a name for herself in the travel & tourism industry. “My father was vehemently against the idea of me working in the travel industry. He wanted me to complete my post graduation and take up a teaching job since it was considered the most respectable profession for women. However, I stood my ground, and received the complete support of my mother to pursue my dreams.”

Within a short span of 4 months at SITA, Neelu was able to drive good business for the company from high-end clients. “My father asked me what the difference between a bus conductor and a travel agent was. Since I wanted it continue working, he pursued to me study literature via correspondence so that at least my education wouldn’t suffer.” However, soon Neelu realised that to grow in her career, she needed to move out of the comfort of Agra, and shift to Delhi. “This decision created a major scene at home. However, I had made my choice and since then there has been no looking back.”

Moving to Delhi, Neelu was exposed to a bigger market, larger goals and a completely different experience of working in a metro city. “I enjoyed my time with SITA because there was a lot of training on the domain. I was handling corporate sales and key account management.” After some years of continuing with the same profile, Neelu wanted to move to a different vertical. “I applied for a job at American Express and they wanted me to move to Manchester. When I spoke to my boss at SITA about my resignation, the management didn’t want to let me go. Instead, they created a vacancy for me in the outbound division to retain me.” Although, the offer with American Express was promising, Neelu decided to stay with SITA “since money wasn’t my sole driving factor”. The year 2000 saw Kuoni buying out SITA and subsequently in 2002, including Neelu relocated to Mumbai, handling the FIT Division as a Business Head in SOTC. However, realisation dawned on her that growth was getting subdued and she started looking for change; this was the year 2005.

Neelu while pursuing course on Senior Leadership at INSEAD


Spurred by the suggestion of a friend, Neelu had a chance meeting Urrshila Kerkar. “I walked into the Cox & Kings office. Urrshila and I got talking, and the meeting went on for 3 years. We spoke about our value systems, our likings and life in general besides discussion on our professional lives. This gave both of us an existential sense of where we came from.” Within days, Urrshila wanted Neelu to join her company. “I was very clear that I didn’t want to join Cox & Kings since I was fighting it for years as a competition to SOTC.” In the meanwhile, Urrshila was in the process of launching ezeego1 and offered Neelu the role of CEO. “Urrshila had the confidence in me and I decided to give it a try. I have always been a very independent person and need a comfortably free atmosphere to function. I was clear with Urrshila that I am not made for a controlled environment.”

In November 2006, Neelu launched ezeego1. com as a B2C model, and the initial phase had its fair share of challenges. “The first three months were nothing short of a nightmare. We had not anticipated that going live would make the platform susceptible to so many factors. For weeks, we were addressing customer grievances and just learning to deal with technology. After a point, the situation started stabilising and we learnt on the job. Reputation management was a key learning.” In 2006, ezeego1.com launched nearly 56 offers in one year, and their flagship ‘Ticket pe Ticket’ promotion saw customers queuing up outside their franchisee stores to buy tickets, while the portal was dealing with massive tractions. “It was exciting as well as an exhausting exercise.” Ezeego1.com had started competing with other players in the OTA space. “I realised that we had the travel expertise, while others in the business were technology players. However, the challenge was to learn and we did. Today, I can completely understand technology and have engaging discussions with technology teams and vendors.”

Team ezeego1 (L-R) - Aroonjit Rosha, VP-Distribution, Neelu Singh, Rakesh Rana, Associate VP, Noel
Swain, COO and Karthik Venkataraman, Senior VP at a recent event in Delhi


Within 3 years of its launch, the promoters of ezeego1.com decided to move to a completely B2B model. “It was a challenge to run ezeego1. com when we were funded with internal resources, and moving to B2B model was a huge shift. I thought to myself the person putting the money is aware of what is right, so the team and I should adapt to the changing situation.” With this, it was a fresh beginning for ezeego1. The transition took 3 years for the functioning of the organisation have a stable look, and since 2013 ezeego1 under the dynamic leadership of Neelu has recorded 50% year-on-year growth. This was also the period when expansion of brand ezeego1 began.

Today ezeego1 has spread its footprints across the Philippines, Dubai, and globally distribute content to the US, Europe, Bangladesh, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Middle East and Australia. “With the B2B model, we learnt credit control and, therefore, didn’t go berserk picking up volumes. We wanted to grow well and the strategy helped.” In 2009, ezeego1 launched Voyager Global Services, its business process outsourcing division, and 2010 saw the evolution of Blue Square Consultants, which is a representation arm, all headed by Neelu as CEO and Group Director. “In 2017, ezeego1 recorded a top line of INR 4,000 crore plus, and I hope to reach INR 6,000 in the coming financial year.”

Neelu credits the success of her efforts at ezeego1 to the Urrshila, “I don’t see her as my boss; we work as colleagues. We have discussions and active disagreements for the benefit of the organisation. It is important that your superiors trust you to function smoothly.” At a conference two years ago in Singapore, a gentleman walked up to Neelu and said, “I am happy to see you have survived in the online business for 10 years, it’s a success and the brand will only grow further.”

The hunger to improve and learn is what drives Neelu today. In 2014, when ezeego1 was shaping up well, Neelu had an aspiration to hone her skills. “I decided to do a reality check and study. I enrolled for a year-long course on Senior Leadership at INSEAD in 2015, and I really enjoyed the stint. It was difficult to manage work, home and education. But, I was clear I want to do it. This course gave me a completely new perspective on how to manage an organisation of scale to make it a global set up. I plan to continue studying further at right intervals to upgrade my skills to manage business challenges more effectively.”

The technology space is evolving at a rapid pace while competition continues to grow. “Competition is natural and it’s good to learn from competitors. My focus is to grow all the 3 verticals. I am now actively working on the future of the company, and it’s an exciting time because technology is disruptive. The only way to survive is to stay relevant and be pragmatic,” she says.

disha.shah@saffronsynergies.in
 
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