Priya Paul Shares with EO, New Delhi

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EO New Delhi’s learning events are getting better by the day. Recently, Hotel Baroness Ms. Priya Paul spoke to the members of the Chapter on her experiences in the Hotel Industry, her childhood, on being a woman entrepreneur and how to manage business and family simultaneously.

She began her talk with reminiscing about her childhood, of the carefree days when her parents treated her as an equal to the boys in the house and remembering that they never set limits on what she could or could not achieve. She remembers being ambitious from the tender age of 10 when she decided she wanted to study abroad. In 1988, she returned to India after having pursued Economics at Wellesley and started to work, upon her father’s insistence, in the family business.Her first position was of the Marketing Manager at The Park, New Delhi; the very hotel in which the learning event was held. The next one and a half years she said was a period of mentorship under her father as he dedicated quality time to training her. She said she learnt by doing and was guided not only by her father but her co-workers as well.

In 1990, her father, Shri Surrendra Paul was killed in one of the family’s tea gardens. Thrown into a position of responsibility at a very young age, Priya charged forward to make the family business the bigger success it is today. One of the first things she did when she took over was to realign the family’s hotels (three at that time) to function in synergy rather than as independent institutions. It was a process started by her father and one she gathered much learning and experience from. The second big project for the time was the renovation of the Chinese restaurant at The Park in Kolkata. This project in particular changed Priya’s ideology and was a turning point for her. She knew clearly that she didn’t want to adhere to the clichés of Chinese restaurants using red, gold and dragons for their decor. She wanted black, white and a ‘zen’ like ambiance, an idea that worked brilliantly. Being a visually inclined person, she then sure that the future of The Park Hotels was in differentiation in design and service through groundbreaking innovation.

Interestingly, for Priya the gender issue was nonexistent. Having grown up in a family that didn’t discriminate and having studied at ‘all-girl’ institutions her entire life, she never had the chance to experience the social distinctions. She went on to say, that not having had to work her way up the corporate ladder and having in a sense ascended a position of authority and ownership from the very start, there was little scope for discrimination. On the other hand, being a woman, people were probably more polite to her than they would have ordinarily been with a man.

On balancing family and work she said that she was fortunate to have an understanding family and she was capable of prioritizing and balancing the needs of both as the occasion demanded. According to her, effectiveness and relevance of a youngster in a leadership role within a family business can be ensured by the individual’s willingness to learn and accept challenges. She said that she didn’t consider succession planning extremely important in family businesses. In her opinion, while it is important to be prepared, the learning through experience in unbeatable.

On talking about the importance of Brand Priya for Brand Park, she made a remarkable observation of how the personality of the CEO often filters down in the personality of a hotel. She said that she didn’t want to marry her work and instead wanted to groom managers who could help take forward her ideology of innovation and differentiation. Priya’s opinions were very insightful. In fact, on being asked the viability of the hotel industry in the present condition of India’s real estate market she said that on the average, a staggering 30% of the investment in a hotel project in India is real estate. In some cases, this cost can go up to 50%, pushing the desired returns much higher. However, she suggested that collaborations with developers who may have purchased the land at historic prices are a good solution. She also mentioned the need for land reforms in the country to increase the permissible constructible area to make real estate investments more viable at their current costs.

Towards the end of her talk, on being asked about her experience with her YPO forum, Priya spoke about her fellow forum members as her 10 brothers who sometimes forgot she was a woman! She mentioned her husband being a member of the spousal forum, probably a first of his kind and thoroughly enjoying himself as well. All in all, there is a much to learn from a woman with her experiences and accomplishments.