Stepping into the world of entrepreneurship had lots of questions. How does a lifelong corporate leader pivot into the rag-tag world of ‘entrepreneurship’ and ‘start ups’? Turns out – as long as there is a shared thread of innovation, there’s really not that much difference. Because what is innovation if not diving head first into unfamiliar challenges, looking to emerge with answers and build solutions that create value and change the world?
I best define my career as the stringing together of diverse experiences – both geographic and professional. From starting in finance in New Delhi, to heading operations for the country, to regional leadership in Hong Kong, and international leadership in Dubai. You name it, and I have done it. It’s one thing to be thrown into deep waters, and another to find them – and the latter has always been my decision. Through my career, I’ve learned that bringing adjacent experiences to each new challenge has allowed me to be a better and more effective leader every time.
By 24, I was the head of Finance and IT functions at one of India’s iconic hotels – the Hyatt Regency Delhi, and subsequently became the first Indian to move out of the country with Hyatt International. For years, I conducted audits in markets across Asia Pacific, living transiently out of a suitcase and building a bank of diversity by navigating through different geographies, cultures, and people.
By 32, I proposed and executed the development of India’s first captive hospitality Shared Services Center with Hyatt. The mandate was simple – find a way to build efficiency and improve the financial feasibility for Hyatt in the region. From raising local capital, to designing floor plans and technology solutions, to eventually seeing India and Singapore’s hotel CRM, accounting, and reservation systems migrated to the center – that start to finish process was an early taste of entrepreneurship.
The success of the SSC put me on a path that saw me grow into the Head of Growth and Development for Asia Pacific over the next decade; responsible for making Hyatt one of the most formidable hospitality brands in the region. But at 45, a combination of my decision to continue to evolve my own abilities, and the UK’s decision to exit from the European Union, the next chapter of my life began.
As the Global President for Whitbread, my mandate when taking the role was to create value by increasing the global presence of the brand. As Brexit happened – we had two choices. Wait to find out the impact on the company, or grab the bull by its horns and proactively create value while markets were still responsive. That hard pivot and resultant success from a strategic exit rounded my set of capabilities to step into my next CEO role.
But whilst a CEO role was the logical step, pursuing a program in corporate innovation (LEAD) at Stanford GSB in that same period sowed different seeds for my future. Sharing classrooms with youthful business visionaries, first-time and established entrepreneurs alike, I clearly knew that our similarities were pointing me to a path of entrepreneurship, and the differences were in fact providing the clarity for that same path.
Of course, in a cohort rich in experiences – we brought different languages, frameworks, experiences, and cultures to the table. But as the course progressed it became apparent that it wasn’t our skills that made us entrepreneurs, but rather our belief. Our belief to change the world.
That experience made me reflect and realize that this entrepreneurial belief was the real thread connecting everything I’ve done – from taking ownership and growing in the face of ambiguity, creating and increasing value at different stages in my career, and most importantly, always looking for opportunities where I can be, and do, better. I’ve always been an entrepreneur.
Today, it may seem that entrepreneurship was a big pivot, but really it was the most natural thing to do.
It may seem that returning to India after a global career was a big pivot, but really it was the most natural thing to do.
It may seem that leaving the world of hotels and hospitality, the world of loyalty perks and sea-facing suites – to create a better mobility solution for Delhi, India, and the world. To create an industry where experience and convenience thrive, was a big pivot, but really – it was the most natural thing to do.
Entrepreneurship, India, and Pidge is my next step in innovation.