K B Kachru, chairman emeritus and principal advisor, South Asia, Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, speaks about his illustrious career journey and shares his wish to leave a legacy of having helped in creating future leaders
Please give a brief background – your hometown and initial education. Who inspired you the most during your growing up years and how did this influence your life and career choice?
I did my initial schooling at Srinagar and later in my hometown Jammu, where I studied till pre-medical. I attended IHM Pusa and did my higher education programmes with Cornell, USA and Carl Duisburg, Germany.
During my growing up years in Srinagar, I realised the potential of tourism in the state. No particular person influenced my career choice. In fact I did pre medical because my parents wanted me to be a doctor. I was probably the first Kashmiri from the state to obtain formal education in hospitality.
What motivated you to join the hospitality sector?
As a young kid I enjoyed eating out in restaurants and thought that a career in hospitality would not only be interesting, but would also provide me a good quality of life.
The highlights of your career journey – what have been the key motivators?
My first experience of leadership came with becoming the president of the Students Association at IHM Pusa. Then, I was fortunate to virtually get to manage a mid size hotel even as a management trainee at the young age of 21. I was later sent by ITDC to West Germany on a scholarship where I attended a hotel school at Hamburg. There I did the Inn Keepers programme at Holiday Inns. On my return I got independent charge of a hotel and was the opening GM of the Aurangabad Ashok at the age of 24. I became GM designate of the to be opened Samrat hotel but before the hotel opened, I was made GM of ITDC’s flagship 500 rooms hotel, The Ashok, at the age of 30.
During my Ashok hotel tenure I had the good fortune to host NAM and CHOGM and be part of the Asian Games Hospitality team. I met all visiting heads of states and dignitaries such as the Queen of England, and was even one of the 40 persons to be presented to the Queen at her reception. It was wonderful and challenging to host over 80 presidents and prime ministers under one roof and at the same time.
India tourism development corporation provided me a variety of experiences like heading its sales and marketing division, Duty Free shopping and OSD to the chief executive. I then became head of Ashok group of hotels.
I joined Carlson in 1991 to initiate the company’s presence in Asia. I relocated to Singapore. One of my greatest achievements was to penetrate the Asian markets in the ASEAN, India and Middle East. The company’s brands, which were unknown and with a zero start, in these markets had over forty hotels opened or under development, when I moved back to India. The Indian economy was opening up and we got full advantage of the timing. Carlson hotels currently has 85 hotels open and 33 hotels at various stages of development. In my current role as chairman emeritus I am part of the company’s strategy and growth story. The relationships I have built in my journey in the hospitality industry in India is my biggest achievement.
Currently I am also chairman of CII North India and an executive member of Hotel Association of India. At this stage it is my desire to add value to the hospitality industry in India.
Your views on how the hospitality industry in India has changed over the decades? What is your perception of the future?
The hospitality industry in India has changed over the years. The quality of our hotels and services are comparable to the best in the world. Even our budget hotels provide good accommodations and services. The rates of the hotels are now at par and if our tourism infrastructure supports the tourist inflow, the industry has a good future too.
How has the quality of talent in the industry evolved in the last few decades?
The government has set up IHMs at various locations, which provide enough supervisory personnel, who graduate to be managers. It is hoped that the new Skill India programme will be a success and will provide the required skilled personnel.
Your advice to the young people who want to make a career in this industry?
A career in hospitality can be tough due to long hours and time commitment. However, it is worth one’s while as one gets compensated appropriately as one progresses in the career. I have firmly believed in our credo “whatever you do, do with integrity; wherever you go, go as a leader; whomever you serve, serve with caring and never ever give up.”
What is your vision for Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group in India?
The company has a vision of being the best in our segment and be a preferred choice for our investors and guests. This will be achieved only by delighting our guests and providing support to our franchisees.
Any other significant factor you would like to highlight.
It is my wish to leave a legacy of having helped in creating future leaders. I am proud to have had a team of many bright youngsters, who have helped me achieve my targets and objectives. I am also proud that some of my mentees are now CEOs of many domestic and international hotel companies.