Kunal Chauhan is the General Manager at Leela Palace and Resorts. Kunal has the experience of working with some of the leading names of this field. An alumni of Oberoi School and Learning and Development, Kunal has previously worked with Oberoi Hotels, Trident Hotel.
How you would describe your experience at Institute of Hotel Management?
My experience at IHM, was excellent it kind of made the foundation, however i think that it was not really industrially relevant at that time, it was, more bookish but still considering you joined IHM after intermediate it laid down a good foundation.
Apart from academics did you involved yourself in other extra curricular activities?
Yeah I was participating in almost every event that was happening at the institute, apart from that while I was still graduating I went for my industrial training at Oberoi Rajvilas.
We have interviewed various personalities from this field, and we found that most of them have been to Oberoi Centre for Learning and Development. And this is the case with you too. So how much do you think the curriculum of the institute helps a student to get good job?
Let me explain, out of most of the hotel institute in India where you take admission and where your pay money and study. Oberoi School does not work like that Oberoi school is a Oberoi Hotel University, it’s their own college, students are paid to study there, while you are studying at Oberoi you end up getting monthly stipend. The selection criteria is basically, there are 5 stages of interview ,what happen is people from various Institute like IHM and other apply there, anyone who is found suitable is selected. There are various benefit in studying in such colleges, first is, you start with good people around you, two Oberoi Hotel teaches them very very specific Information about present day hoteliering. When you join the company you work with them for many years and this makes the basics of the students very well and that is why there is a great demand of the students who graduate from Oberoi School. There are other such Institute also but people don’t mention it by the name but they are called Management Trainee Programs of various others hotels like Leela Hotel Taj Hotel or ITC.
What kind of attribute do you think they look for in the interview at Oberoi Centre for Learning and Development?
It was a very long interview. It basically involves group discussion, extempore then a tentative knowledge test followed by the interview with Mr PRS Oberoi the owner of the company itself. So I think they do not look for extraordinary people but if you close your eyes and imagine that boy tomorrow being in your lobby and handling the guest in the lobby, so does that profile suits, so primarily this is attribute they look for in a student. So they look for overall personality of the candidate. They look for somebody who can speak well and can communicate with others, somebody who knows the basics really well because their institute focus on the more on basics, so that is more of a test of personality.
Did you indulge in any internships throughout your graduation? What was you most memorable internship experience?
Yeah we had 3 compulsory internships, so you do those internships and basically get industry experience. As far as the most memorable goes I think its the internship I did at Trident Hotel where I worked for almost for almost 6 months and just because the Trident work at very low man power ratio to rooms, so people end up getting a lot of handle on experience. So you basically know before you join back the industry as manager, exactly what every person below you does. So I think for every job where you work with the people it’s very important to know your trade well. So this is what I learnt while interning at Trident
Please tell us about your first job.
So the moment you are selected in Oberoi Institute, you are employed by them. Then you are simply given a posting which I have got at the Oberoi Grand, it was a great posting at that time because Oberoi was going through a period of manpower transition which we call as VRS the voluntary retirement scheme and due to this new employees were joining the hotel. So at that time there were lesser managers and fresh employees to work with. Due to this I started with a bar, then took on a coffee shop, then took on a room service. So what generally a manager in food and beverage take 6 year to learn I kind of got a crash course of that in 3 year. Secondly you are dealing with manpower, your understanding, your attribute as a manager becomes much sharper so does your organizing abilities because these are operational fields, you basically have to plan your operation, your day , how it will go and just because you have a eye on man factors in a day you tend do become a very well grounded manager who knows the basic operation very well. And that is what Oberoi grand did to me.
What according to you is the best part of the hospitality?
Hospitality job should be taken by the people who first of all have seen what hospitality really is. Most people who join it, think it is about either you become a chef or front office assistant or a waiter, so they just understand these 3 level, which is not true. So I think the most important factor is, if you enjoy working with people, if you like talking to them, if you like understanding them, because this basic attribute could not be copied or imitated and if you joining without that, then basically you are not going to be an happy person because you will still have to interact with people all the time. So that i think it is going to be the foremost quality if you are going to be an hotelier then do you enjoy this. Two, do you enjoy food, do you enjoy knowing new things. Just knowing food of various countries what they eat, what they drink, what is the culture of every place across the world is very important. So there is lot to learn but you don’t necessarily sit in a class to learn these things, so these experience matters, so the most important attribute about the hospitality is,are you interested to go out and meet the people and talk to them. Then comes discipline, unlike various other field hoteliering involves a lot of discipline its like army, if you are supposed to be at some place at six o clock then you have to be there no matter what the situation is. Let me tell you in my case we work on three shifts, so there is going to be night shift, there is going to be morning shift there is going to be break shift, so hotel take a longer time to build a career in and a lot of hard work. So if you enjoy all the other things then hard work can be done but if every thing is going to be feels like hard work to you then its not the right thing for you.
You have worked with some of the big names of this industry. How is working at Leela Palace is different from the others?
So, the very big difference between the Leela Palace and the other hotel chain is that, Leela Palace does not believe in making hundred small small hotels everywhere around India but it has believed in making the best quality and the biggest and the most fanciest hotels in India. Which means that my hotel is doing more business than 4 or 5 Trident put together or 2 or 3 Oberoi put together. So the focus on quality, delivery and product has been much higher in this company. Thirdly I think we are very big in terms of food and beverage, and by food and beverage I mean the restaurant the dining experience, we employ much more chef, we employ better quality of chef, we employ anybody who is expert in his respective field, that is why we are able to deliver such a high quality. So Oberoi Hotel is a great place to start your career but then it mature at a particular level so at the next step when you want to learn better things, finer things it becomes difficult because those are still basic hotels but Leela Hotel is a truly luxury hotel. So where my competition hotel Oberoi has one coffee shop, one bar and one Chinese restaurant and Thai restaurant, we are not limited to just one or two varieties, we have diverse range of food varieties, we have a full fledged Indian restaurant which is unlike any other, most of the restaurant are limited to just north but we have experts of south cuisine also. Other hotels have a very small banquet hall, on the hand I have 25000 sq ft of banquet hall because we are doing things on larger scale. We have a Le Cirque which is a international New York based chain. So quality of food and beverage is far superior.
Most of the student from this field look only at the bright side of the job. Is there is any not “so bright” side?
Its a very-very tough job, it is tougher than any job in India available today because when you begin your career you have work like a waiter or front office assistant or house keeping attendant, make room and clean bathrooms, look after the guest, clean their dirty place and these are the basics of the job, if dont learn this then you can never know how many people are required to organise a dinner for 2000 people. If you dont learn this then you cant be a manager. There are two kinds of problem which people face, first they think that after finishing their academics they will all become managers without knowing the basics so when they have to physically do it they fail to do that hard work. Secondly, in India there is a habit of looking down upon certain jobs, people say “arre waiter banega”, you might be more knowledgeable to that person or you might be earning more than that person but you have to face these kinds of things. So my advice on that factor is there is lot of hard work and lot of negatives of working in a hotel but the only people who are able thrive in this field are the people who are patient, who are consistent and hard working, these people have a very bright career ahead of themselves.
What would be your parting message to the students of hotel management?
A lot of people join hotel management without knowing what its all about, I will advice them, be a chef only if enjoy cooking not because you see some chefs on Master chef India. Dont join hotels if you just see one general manager as a hotel. Join hotel only if like talking to people, you enjoy working with people, creating experience learning about food and beverages because that effort will have to run through 10 years and if you are putting that effort then there is no ceiling, only sky is the limit. So hotels have a tremendous demand for very talented people but many people join hotel because there are has been a medical or engineering casualty, they couldn’t reach there so they join hotel management. This is wrong way to look at the hospitality, because there is lot of hard work involved in this and if you dont enjoy doing this you wont be able to stay here for much longer. So my paring message would be that, hotel is a great career and lot of people after joining hotel management when see the amount of hard work requires, then they decide to run toward retail and airlines, so my message to those kinds of student is that there are two kinds of job, first there are jobs which leads to jobs and second there are jobs which leads to a career. So its up to you what kind of job you take. Join hotels only if you are willing to do hard work and when you will work hard you reap the benefits.
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