I know her for over 22 years now, we were colleagues at the Taj Mahal Hotel. She’s been a lady who believed in consistency and worked diligently towards her goals. I have learned a few ropes of the trade from her and the finer nuances that she taught us as a senior. She also demonstrated great people skills and was loved by all. She used to travel quite long on her way to work but that never dimmed her enthusiasm. I also remember we gave a professional certification exam at the same time; she valued learning and acquiring knowledge. Though the tenure wasn’t very long but we have stayed in touch and I have kept a watch on her professional journey too, I must add that I have always been proud of her achievements. She has had a rewarding career of about 25 years with many much- deserved awards and recognition that she has achieved. I wanted to have her story on this platform; was in constant touch with her and I am so glad that it’s finally happening! IWH in conversation with Ms. Ashwini Walawalkar, Regional Account Director at ISS.
IWH: Tell us something about you, your growing up years, life through school, college, etc.
Ashwini Walawalkar: Born in a middle-class Maharashtrian family; I had a very normal life like any other kid as in those days. A nuclear family of 4. The elder among 2 siblings and my brother 5 years younger than me. My mother was a homemaker till I was in 6th grade and both took the best care of both of us as much as they could in limited resources. Life changed when mom started working and I suddenly become elder sis and mother to my little brother. I was an average student in academics but high on extra-curricular like dancing, singing, drama, scouts and guide and playing team games. For some strange reason, I wanted to become an engineer and in 10th I got a distinction ( it was a big thing then?)and got through VJTI, I was on cloud nine. But then my dad explained that he won’t be able to afford to pay those fees and my dream of becoming an Engineer came to end. Though today, when I look behind I, think it was a blessing in disguise. I graduated from SIES in commerce stream but started working at the age of 18years. Hence degree college was just for namesake. I didn’t attend college much; as I was working but cleared every level very well. As a kid went for classical dance Bharatnatyam and over the years it became a passion with 12 years nonstop learning. Hence after the engineering dream not happening I thought I will make my hobby my career in Dance & Music but during my first year in my NCC I broke my cartilage and that was end of another dream; as dance after that was not possible.
Later my work became my passion, during work I also completed my Post graduation from NMIMS in HR and didn’t know some point of time in my career I will get to use it.
IWH: What made you select Hospitality as a career? Was it easy making that decision?
Ashwini Walawalkar: To be honest, I joined the hotel industry by chance. My mother knew the owners of a 4-star hotel which was the first hotel in Navi Mumbai back in 1992 and as I was in commerce had a full day free due to early morning college, she asked me to join them. I worked there for 4 years till I was done with my graduation and had learned the hotel industry well but never thought of making a career in it. Then when I left and joined as admin in another company I realized that I was not made to work on desk jobs. I loved to interact with people and that became my passion going forward and Taj (graduate trainee program) came through as a first professional break in Hotel Industry. Those days around 25 years back it was not common for anyone to join this Industry, especially women. Then coming from middle-class Maharashtrian family was strict no! Relatives were never happy seeing me working in shifts, marriage would become out of question was their concern. There was a lot of negative pressure but my mother supported me in taking this up and always stood by me. Her confidence helped me sail through.
While Working at the Taj Mahal Hotel also the training was tough and our floor attendants ensured that we are taken to task often. It used to be long 13-14 hours of work, full time on the toes and sometime I would feel was my decision right to change back to this industry but today I’m so happy that I took this decision and I remember the quote “tough times don’t last but tough people do”
IWH: What is your current role?
Ashwini Walawalkar: Currently I’m the Regional Account Director at ISS for a foreign bank. I head the account which is biggest Global account of ISS, India is a separate region worth 250 crores with more than 2 million sq ft catering to 20,000 plus employees of the bank with 2200 employees of ISS. We provide end to end facility services including Transport, Engineering, Security, Cleaning, Catering, Curated experience, technology to name a few of the services.
IWH: How has your hospitality journey been so far? Pros, cons etc?
Ashwini Walawalkar: I think it’s the tough industry and if you work here, you can work anywhere. Behind the glamour of this industry, there is a lot of hard work. it makes you tough by doing things practically. This Industry is for those who love to serve others, who can keep smiling in spite of hardship, ready for untiring long hours and above all have a positive attitude towards work and people.
The service industry doesn’t have any product, our services are our products and our assets are the people who work with us. You need to genuinely care for people both your customer and your colleagues. You can’t fake for long. I have high regard for all services and every work has its pros and cons but I love this Industry as you get to serve and help people in so many ways.
IWH: Who has been your mentor or a role model? In what way has that person helped you?
Ashwini Walawalkar: You need a guide and mentor at every stage. My mother was my first mentor. Who taught me to fight odds and believe in self. The second was my father who taught me to excel in whatever you do. Throughout my journey, I met so many people who taught and inspired me in various ways, to name a few; Mrs. Rege, who changed my career forever. Ms. Saldana who pushed limits to excel. and Mr. Jolly, who believed in my strengths and gave opportunities for growth.
IWH: What have been the high points of your career? Highlight at least 3.
Ashwini Walawalkar: I would put them as 3 Es Excel, Efforts, Efficacy. Whatever you do, give your best and Excel in the field. Don’t get into the rat race. Make yourself above the competition as there is no substitute for hard work. Your Efforts and hard work will pay. Create your own value. As to how you’ll make a difference in other’s lives and to the Industry. Your every act matters. Bringing Efficacy in the however small act it may be, it will make a difference.
Also; Firstly taking up Hospitality as a career and giving your 27 years to it. Being in Operations for 19 years is tough and I’m glad I just didn’t sustain, I could make a difference. Brining many innovative and creative programs in this Industry through L&D.
IWH: What challenges have you faced as a woman in the industry? How did you deal with them?
Ashwini Walawalkar: Like every woman who wants to create her place, faces challenges I too faced all of it. I’m in the industry which is men dominated. In the corporate world, I see ladies’ majorly engaged in all support functions and not much in operations. Even if they are in operations they don’t get to senior positions. I don’t think it’s not only men who should be blamed for it, but it’s also we who should be blamed first. We think we won’t be able to do it, what will society say, sometimes we ladies draw our own limitations, the ladies in our life needs to be on our side to support us. If we want to compete with men in the workplace it has to be equals, not thinking of Flexi times, work from home, it has to be equals in all respect. Don’t ask for empathy.
In fact I had men in my life who helped me to make my career, my father you gave me freedom, my husband – I tweak the saying to “behind every successful woman there is a man behind her”, my husband has been the solid support and motivates me to keep going and of course my son, who become independent so early for his age and took charge of himself that I never got bothered or distracted from my work.
IWH: If there was anything that you could change about your life or career what would that be?
Ashwini Walawalkar: Hahaha……that’s a good question but honestly nothing I want to change in my career as it has been such a fantastic journey, but now I feel if I could have started even earlier then this as so much to do.
IWH: What do you think of IWH?
Ashwini Walawalkar: I think it’s a great forum for all women and to get inspired by each other’s journey. Every journey is special and has lots of learnings, through this forum we can share it with others and it really helps, motivates us all which is really required.
IWH: Your advice to young professionals and students.
Ashwini Walawalkar: Your journey is special. Find your purpose and once found work towards it. Don’t think of shortcuts. Shortcuts may give you temporary high but success is long marathon race and consistency is the key. Don’t shy from any work that comes your way when you are at the start of your career. It helps at some point of time in your journey. Do all the hard work when you are young so you enjoy the benefits once you are senior enough.
IWH: Anything else you wish to share with our readers.
Ashwini Walawalkar: You may not always get to work (make your career) in whatever you wish to or love to do, but love whatever you are doing, give it your 200% and success will be yours!