Interview with Shruti Shibulal
As a child growing up in the US and India, Shruti Shibulal unknowingly inherited the travel gene. In fact even today it is part of her DNA and this worked wonderfully well for her as she is the promoter of The Tamara, a luxury resort in Coorg apart from other hospitality ventures.
After completing her high school in Bangalore, she armed herself with an MBA from the Columbia Business School after doing her undergraduate degree from Haverford College. She began her career with Merrill Lynch in New York in the year 2006. “I graduated with a major in Chemistry but could not see myself as a science nerd in a research lab without connecting with people. And one of my other skills was Finance which is what I choose when I worked in New York. After working for a year, I realised that for my career to be fulfilling I need to work for myself and make a positive impact on the lives of others. This is what prompted me to return to India in late 2007.” Her passion for the hospitality industry led her to establish Fava and Caperberry, two of Bangalore’s premier restaurants under the umbrella of Avant Garde Hospitality. So I ask her why she chose hospitality especially as her family (her father was one of the co-founders of IT giant Infosys) had nothing to do with the sector. “Hospitality felt very right. In fact after I came to India I remember somebody asked me what I would do and I immediately said I would start a restaurant and it was like a beginning of sorts. Growing up of course we ate out once a week and travelled once a year so I interacted with a lot of different cultures and it was natural to lean towards hospitality. And once I started the people aspect really attracted me to it; it’s about employees and guests and another side is operations as a lot of things have to go right together and the combination has kept me glued to hospitality. Again, I do not think I am doing anything offbeat as everyone in my family does something different and has chosen a path that is driven by passion.”
Doing It Right
A Star Youth Achiever Award winner Shruti believes that learning never stops and admits that she constantly tries to learn from experiences and people around her. She set up The Tamara Coorg, a luxury resort located in a 170-acre, fully functional coffee and spice plantation amidst the scenic Western Ghats designed to ensure that the natural topography and ecosystem of the surroundings remain unmarred. Other functional properties under The Tamara brand include a European themed hostel Lilac situated in Jayanagar, Bangalore operated like a service apartment and Palma Laguna, a five bedroom villa set amidst the picturesque backwaters of Alleppey in Kerala. “We are looking at launching a 150-200 room 4 Star business hotel in Trivandrum shortly and are also launching a luxury resort in Kodailkanal. This apart we want to work on more service apartments in the Lilac model and are looking at geographical expansion by acquisitions in the German-speaking part of the Europe market. The idea is to build a company that is financially stable and offers a bouquet of options across categories.”
Shruti also admits that hospitality is male dominated which is kind of tragic as women can contribute so much and says she is actively trying to hire more women in her organisation. Again she says she has been lucky that she has personally not faced any challenges as a woman. “But I am aware women need to work hard to break the glass ceiling. And we are working hard to ensure that talent is not compromised. In that way the industry needs a bit of a shakeup. We have hired people from other fields like IT and Customer Relations. My resort manager at Tamara Coorg is an IT engineer and he is doing a fabulous job and I would love to see diversity in the industry.” She reads a lot and tries to travel which is a source of inspiration. “My husband and I were in Japan and we were walking around with a book on sights to see and we bumped into a woman who happened to be a volunteer tour guide with YMCA. She was on her day off and she was hanging out and she ended up spending the next 4 hours showing us around town and showing us places we would have never seen. She was so kind and all she cared about was to show her community in a genuine way. That inspired me as I want people to treat guests be genuine and comes from the heart and not trained. People should be proud of the place they work in and work with.”
Shruti is on the board of fashion incubator Trendseeder.com, which helps emerging designers build their brands and grow their businesses. “I keep a very strict calendar and try to prioritize what is urgent and decide on a list of things to be done and at what time. Life is tough and if we are not organised nothing that you want to accomplish will ever happen. Like every other year my goal is to go for some sort of a course maybe like a management course as I want to keep learning and refocus on how to build on my skills. I travel as often as I can as I enjoy it a lot. I am also a huge movie buff and cricket buff as well. I also love to spend time with friends and family. I try to stay active and do yoga. I love to try different hospitality experiences and like eating out.” She also counts on her supportive family. “My family is extremely supportive and have not questioned me on most things I have done as they trust my judgement. We are very close to each other so it helps and we are also balanced and we want to accomplish for each other and which each other. It continues to be good after marriage. My hope is that my work speaks itself over time and I feel very connected to my organisation probably like every entrepreneur feels. I hope we can make an impact in terms of the kind of life we lead. I would love to see more responsible tourism happening in India and would be able to revolutionise the way the industry works,” she concludes.
This story appeared in the Feb-17 issue of New Woman here: