Some people are blessed with positivity and infectious enthusiasm. You connect instantly with them and feel as if you have known them forever. One such person is a lady with the brightest smile that I have come across, a seasoned hospitality professional who is truly inspirational. IWH in conversation with Ms. Heena Shrivastava, Founder Director at Turnkey Hospitality Pioneers Private Limited. She is also President, IWH power League – Sri Lanka. Connecting with her has been one of the boons of the lockdown. In fact being indoors having time and technology at our disposal gave us many avenues as well as opportunities to unlearn, learn and relearn. All these along with creating positive connections and bonding with other people. If it was not for the pandemic I don’t think I would have met some of the most wonderful people from around the globe. We remained in the physical cells but our minds opened up to the world and numerous possibilities.
IWH : Tell us something about you, your growing up years, life through school, college etc.
Heena: Hailing from simple roots, I grew up in a family that encouraged expressing talent from childhood. For someone who was aiming to do stem cell research in a private lab; I ended up being in the most populous environment snazzy and buzzing all around. Having been a classical Kathak dancer since childhood, I had overcome any fears of being in the spot light and crowds early on. Consequently, transitioning into Hospitality came quite naturally and successfully!
School and College days are some of the best times and quite memorable. Early leadership signs showed when I was nominated as the General Secretary of the Students Council of my college.
On the personal front; being visibly different looking carries its own anxious impediments, however my family and a trusted bunch of friends became the rocks that molded me into the confident and self-assured person I am today!
IWH : What made you select a career in hospitality/ tourism? Was it easy making that decision?
Heena: This was a chance encounter! I was aiming to study stem cell biology and ended up selecting Hospitality & Tourism. I missed my initial seat for post-graduation to pursue Microbiology and went into a bit of a shell. My father, as usual had the foresight to gauge I needed to be engaged mentally and pushed me to enroll in post-graduation in Hospitality. The initial skepticism was quickly overtaken by some remarkable experiences along the journey.
During my internship at The Oberoi, I realized I had a natural flair for Hospitality and chose to develop a career in it. I had some great learnings and foundations rooted during my time at The Oberoi and Marriott, learnings that became a backbone to a successful journey.
I realize most people have pre-conceived notions about what they want to achieve; I did too. However, having an open mind and evaluating your talents can help you write an unexpected but equally or more interesting story!
IWH : What is your current role?
Heena: I am the Founder Director of my company Turnkey Hospitality Pioneers Private Limited. Our company offers turnkey solutions to owners looking at setting up White Label hotels, luxury villas and boutique resorts. We currently operate properties in South East Asia and are considering expansion into Middle East and UK.
IWH : How has your professional journey been so far? Pros, cons etc?
Heena: Overall, very memorable and satisfactory. Unlike many professionals pursuing linear
growth in one stream, I chose to take calculated risks which proved worthwhile.
Graduating as a microbiologist followed by pursuing post-graduation in hotel management had given the initial courage to test new waters. After the initial years at The Oberoi and Marriott, I ventured into Business Process Outsourcing working with market leaders like American Express and Capital One. Some of my strongest commercial and business learnings came from my time heading luxury retail and associated commercial real estate at the Grand Hyatt, Mumbai. I realigned with Marriott thereafter again, before spending some time in real estate focused e-commerce industry understanding the start up space and associated ventures. The change was at times difficult to adapt to, especially when you unlearn and re learn new things.
However, in this particular COVID-19 affected year 2020, I am witnessing first-hand how immensely those chances have shaped me to create Turnkey Hospitality Pioneers “THP” like we fondly call it!
To me, professional success comes with having an open mind to explore new opportunities, creating synergetic teams and taking accountability and responsibility for decisions. Life has been quite generous in offering me all of them frequently.
In truth, the weight of your role simply lies in the chair you occupy. The real test is the friendships and bonds we form once the chair is emptied! I feel abundantly blessed to have forged some excellent bonds along my journey
IWH : Who has been your mentor or a role model? In what way has that person helped you?
Heena: It would be unseemly to say the impact was made by one particular person. The first mentor at the inception of my hospitality journey, taught me an invaluable lesson -Enhance the lives of people around you! Moving on, another mentor taught me the value of driving business finances with integrity, a lesson I have upheld always.
Though it may sound clichéd; my family has played the most impressionable role in shaping my early career in hospitality. Being visibly distinct has a different anguish of its own however, my family inculcated the strength so I could deal with it so assuredly from day one!
IWH : What have been the high points of your career? Highlight at least 3.
Heena: The journey has been a very interesting and soulful one so far. My personal valuation of the high points may be slightly varied from the awards and felicitation style. I hold in pride the times when we have achieved recognitions for being the best hotel or topping the win as the global chosen vendor during my times at the BPO. Most recently forging partnerships even during these trying COVID 19 times have definitely added to the list of achievements.
Having said so, my comprehensive experiences in hotel pre-openings, remodeling approx. a 100,000/- sq. ft of space into a profit center and creating Turnkey Hospitality Pioneers are very close to my heart, to highlight 3.
IWH : What challenges have you faced as a woman in the industry? How did you deal with them?
Heena: There is an inherent gender bias in the working world and women are expected to follow a secondary stature and adhere to guidelines set by a male dominated society. There is also a variance in compensation and the underlying fear of losing opportunities when changes take place like family etc.
One thing that definitely helped me was instead of fencing the bias aimlessly; I explored opportunities laterally, exploring progressive opportunities like business process outsourcing, brand auditing and e-commerce. This in turn enhanced the spectrum of multiple business’s understanding and helped navigate through culture and change management more competently. Today all of these efforts and experiences cumulatively have helped create Turnkey Hospitality Pioneers.
IWH : If there was anything that you could change about your life or career what would that be?
Heena: I have tried to make cognizant choices as far as possible and consequently have navigated well with the outcomes of those choices. The only thing that comes to mind is the possibility of being able to spend more time with my family more often!
IWH : What do you think of IWH?
Heena: To me personally; IWH is a story of what one person’s grit and vision can create. Laxmi Todiwan saw this much ahead of everyone else and construed something on hope and faith. It picked momentum over time and has now become a global platform offering a network of support system to women across different zones. Though focused on Indian Women in Hospitality; IWH is turning into a forum of recognition transitioning boundaries and a force collaborating with the most basic sentiment – Grow Together. IWH resonated with me early on since we share a common belief – Elevate the lives of people around you and very little can really go wrong, intentionally.
IWH : Your advice to the young professionals and students.
Heena: “There are no failures in life; just experiences and our reactions to them”. In this tech savvy world young minds get highly influenced with pressure (both social and peer) and competition. I would strongly advise our young professionals to focus inwards and work at building your core talents and strength. Comparisons bring discontent whilst working on self-achievement will help you grow with a team.
Trust but verify, every information publicly available is not necessarily factual. One of my best learnings through my experience’s, time and wisdom has been – “This too shall pass”. Choose your battles wisely and learn to let go.
“Smiles and Silence” at the appropriate moments, can mend and bend many roads to happiness. Elevate the lives of people surrounding you to the best of your ability.
Most importantly – Become financially independent, save for a comfortable old age!
IWH : Anything else you wish to share with our readers?
Heena: I feel like I have said too much already! However if someone wishes to chat more I’m happy to connect on [email protected]