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Wednesday, 04 April, 2018, 15 : 24 PM [IST]

The Turnaround Woman - Nirupa Shankar, Director, Brigade Hospitality Group

For Nirupa Shankar, growth is the only milestone and to reach that position, she would trudge miles before she sleeps. The young director firmly believes that focusing on the twin issues—employee satisfaction and customer delight—could easily facilitate achieving that growth. These two factors have virtually transformed the Brigade Group to what it is today.
Prasenjit Chakraborty

Nirupa Shankar has created a niche for herself in the male dominated hospitality industry. Interestingly, working in the family business was not always on her mind neither there was any pressure to do so. She studied Economics at the University of Virginia. Every summer, she used to visit to India and do different internships, be it in advertising, research or a hotel internship at The Leela Palace Hotel, Bengaluru. Shankar ended up taking a consulting job with Ernst & Young in the US after her graduation though—those are the kind of companies that come for jobs on campus. But she was clear that she is not going to do something like this for the rest of her life. So Nirupa started taking evening classes in hotel operations at New York University. She absolutely loved it—it just clicked with her. After that she applied to Cornell University’s Hotel Management School, where she pursued her Master’s and had the incredible opportunity to intern at Four Seasons, Singapore.

Shankar completed her hotel management degree in the year 2009 and subsequently got couple of job offers. By this time Brigade Group had already started the first Mercure hotel in India (eventually rebranded as the Grand Mercure). That was the time when her parents tersely told her that the opportunity in the hotel business was right there with their company. At that point, Brigade Group had eight to 10 hotels planned for the future. Shankar wasted no time to join the business and she also knew that her parents wanted her to come back and help support the business. She wanted to be a part of hectic phase of their business and believed that there was no point of joining elsewhere after all the hard work had been done. This shows her tenacity, passion and dream to take the group forward. Today, Brigade Hospitality Group is one of the most reputed groups in the hospitality industry of India.

Shankar never looks at challenge as a challenge rather she takes it as situations or problems that need to be resolved. According to her “challenge” can either be external – something not in one’s control or internal – something within one’s control. “The problems within one’s control are easy to resolve with hard work and the “will” to get it done. External issues are the “challenging” ones like macroeconomic policies, changes in customer sentiments, approval time for various licenses etc. For these, we have to do our best to keep the situation under control but if not, we need to keep a positive mindset and take things in our stride,” she exhorts.

For Shankar, her father M R Jaishankar, Managing Director, Brigade Hospitality Group has been her role model. She learnt most during her interaction with him. Interestingly, her father doesn’t have a hoteliering background despite that he is able to have the vision and determination to create hotels and other products such as malls, office buildings and residential townships that are way ahead of their time.

Talking about her career milestones she says that growth is the main milestone for her. “We would like to create a portfolio of high quality and high performing hotels, malls and office buildings across the country,” she says. Shankar strongly believes that employee happiness and customer delight are the cornerstones of growth for any business.

Shankar initiated a unique initiative called the Brigade Real Estate Accelerator Program (REAP) which is first real estate accelerator in Asia and perhaps in the world. REAP works with startups with a technology focus whose end product or service can be applied to the real estate space by providing solutions to the need/objectives of high performing hotels, malls and office buildings across the country.

Shankar has been working in the hospitality industry for almost 10 years now and has witnessed a sea of changes. Some of important changes she witnessed from a developer’s perspective are- hotel development, Food and beverage, entry of brands, digital age etc. Talking on brands she says that the number of brands entering the market has significantly increased. “Some have come in strong and some have entered weak. Operators are more open to tweaking brand standards to suit local market requirements. Entrants like OYO and AirBnB are also changing the nature of the game by enveloping a large section of the unorganized market and converting it into the organised sector,” she concludes.

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