There are some people who you meet and connect instantly, she was one such lady. We met at a Reunion function, an event put together to get the ex-employees of the prestigious Taj Group of Hotels. An annual event we all look forward to. Had met her the first time there, we introduced ourselves and carried on with exchanging pleasantries, it’s a high to meet senior colleagues! I never miss an opportunity to hear their story from them. We got along well and she shared many things that I didn’t know of. But then I wanted to hear so much more from her, we connected and have kept in touch. I wanted to get her inspirational story to be shared with others on the IWH platform and finally the time is now; I could get her to talk. She is doing exemplary work in learning, training and development, given that she has been an integral and enriching part of the industry for over 30 years. It is my privilege to share the incredible journey of Ms. Gauri Kher, Corporate Trainer and Coach at her company the HQ.
IWH: Tell us something about you, your growing up years, life through school, college etc.
Gauri Kher: I grew up in Mumbai and it was home right till I got married. I am an out and out Mumbaikar! School was good. Academically, I was an average student, more interested in extra-curricular activities than academics. My parents brought us (my sister and I) up in a very holistic way, in the sense that along with academics, hobbies were encouraged too.
My alma mater is the B.K.Somani Memorial Polytechnic’s Hotel Management department, also known as HAFT. Yes, I am a HAFTie! I loved the course from day 1 and excelled in academics here. Graduated at the top of the class!I joined the Indian Hotels Company’s Hotel Taj Mahal, Mumbai, on 15th July 1985, through campus interview.
IWH: What made you select Hospitality as a career? Was it easy making that decision?
Gauri Kher: My father has always been a very passionate foodie, decades before the term was even coined! Food was always the focal point while growing up. It was simple, home-cooked stuff. My mother was, and still is, very particular about how food should be dished out, even when dishing out everyday food in a thali. Every item in the Indian thali has a particular place in it and my mother actually practices the Japanese philosophy of the eyes being larger than the stomach.
Little wonder then, that food fascinated me. I wanted to become a chef. It was easy making the decision, but difficult to convince my parents. They wanted to me take a safe job, like banking, with regulated hours. I could not visualize myself sitting all day behind a desk, crunching numbers. Since I was adamant about what I wanted to do, they finally gave in.
IWH: What is your current role?
Gauri Kher: I am now into corporate training. My company HQ, provides end-to-end learning solutions for personal development of employees of companies. That includes Training Needs Identification, Facilitation and Coaching. I am also an Extended DISC© certified coach.
IWH: How has your hospitality journey been so far? Pros, cons etc?
Gauri Kher: Joining hospitality opened up a completely new world for me and working for the Taj was an extremely enriching experience. I worked there for four years and left only to get married and my husband was posted out of Mumbai.
After marriage, we moved cities every few years due to the nature of his job. When posted in Nagpur, I joined L.A.D College for Women as a lecturer. Here, I found my true calling. From 1990 to 2008, I taught in various Hotel Management colleges in Nagpur and Mumbai. While working at the colleges in Mumbai, we used to impart hospitality training to various companies. This sparked my interest in training, which then, was a very nascent industry.
IWH: Who has been your mentor or a role model? In what way has that person helped you?
Gauri Kher: Every person we come across can teach us something – how to be or even how not to be, is my belief. I have not had one mentor or a role model. I try to learn, and to the extent possible, imbibe, the good values and qualities that I come across in different people – whether at work or outside of it. Observing a 90 year old family friend go to work, even when his business does not require him to do so, I learnt that you do not have to ‘retire’ if you do what you love. One retires from a job; not from life.
IWH: What have been the high points of your career/ life? Highlight at least 3.
Gauri Kher: A very different query came to us at the Taj Banquet office. It was January 1989. A scion of a reputed business family was to get married in the month of May. Pre-wedding dinners, hosted by various family friends, had begun. One of their close friends, an industrialist himself, came to the Taj and wanted to host a party in the Ball Room. Since the same crowd moved in the inner circle, he too had attended many such dinners. He was tired of eating Rajma and Paneer and did not want these items on his dinner party menu. Could we make an Indian vegetarian menu without Rajma and Paneer? We suggested south Indian. It was shot down as most of the crowd was north Indian and some form of ‘roti’ was a must. Also, coconut as an ingredient in many items did not get his approval. He finally settled on a Maharashtrian menu. His thought was ‘we live in Maharashtra, our businesses are in Maharashtra, so why not have Maharashtrian menu?’ Now came the biggest challenge for us! At that point of time, I was the only Marathi in Banquet office and there was only one Marathi cook in the main kitchen! Also, there was no documentation of Marathi dishes. Sadly, for most, Maharashtrian food, ends at Mutton Kolhapuri and Vada Pav. What followed was innumerable food trials, approvals for service crockery for snacks, thali design for the sit-down dinner service and what not! We finalized a Brahmin wedding feast menu with ‘panch pakwanna’, practically without onion and garlic, which got a thumbs-up from the host.
The event was on 1st of May. While the hotel did the food part of it, Mrs. Vimla Patil, then the editor of Femina, designed the décor. The Ballroom, decorated in mogra and marigold flowers, looked resplendent. At the entrance were two banana trees, forming an arch, the traditional décor for all Marathi weddings. The ladies of the house, draped in Paithani sarees and wearing a traditional Marathi ‘nath’ (nose ring), stood at the entrance with haldi kumkum and rosewater sprinkler to welcome the guests.
I was on tenterhooks throughout the day, but the event went off without a hitch. The host’s family was the last to eat, after all the guests had left. They invited me have dinner with them. The host mentioned that going forward, they would like to have all their functions handled by me. It was with great regret that I told them that I had already resigned and that day was actually my last working day! 30 years later, the memory of that meal is still freshly etched in my mind…
In 2001, while working at the Naval Institute of Technology in Colaba, Mumbai, the students had catered to the VIP section of the invitees at the International Fleet Review (IFR). A prestigious event, the International Fleet Review is a parade of naval ships, aircraft and submarines, and is organised by nations to showcase their naval capabilities. To be involved in the service section was a very, very small part of the entire exercise, but was a great learning experience. The meticulousness and are detailed planning was exemplary.
The bonus was the lunch invite that came for the faculty members from INS Angre as a thank you gesture. Since it is a restricted area, civilians cannot enter without prior permission. We felt very honoured and also, privileged because we got to see the place, which otherwise as civilians, we do not get to see.
Another highpoint is the Ab-initio training that was done for the cabin crew of the then Indian Airlines. I was working at the Hospitality Training Institute, where we had both activities – student operations (academics) and industry operations (training). One of the directors of the Institute, Mr. Dominic Costabir and I had gone to Indian Airlines to meet the persons concerned and to make our pitch. There were other prospective training vendors too. In the face of intense competition, in form of celebrities imparting ‘finishing’ training, we were apprehensive about our chances of bagging the project. And when we did, we just could not believe it! There was jubilation in the staff room! HTI did the Ab-initio training right till before Indian Airlines merged with Air-India. This training also helped us to get other trainings for their middle managerial level employees.
The bonus of this project was awesome too! The training used to happen at the Indian Airlines’ facility, the Central Training Establishment, in Hyderabad. It has a beautiful campus, with training facilities for pilots, cabin crew and other managerial and admin employees, on one side and accommodation and cafeteria facility on the other. We were offered a ride (?) in one of their aircraft simulators. It was a thrilling experience, which, if not for the training that we were doing with them, I would not have experienced.
My work has taken me to some very interesting places. Having worked at the Naval Institute and also having conducted trainings for the staff at the Western Naval Command, I was invited to Port Blair to conduct a training project by the Defence Wives Welfare Association and ANIIDCO. The project had different modules for different participants – DWWA members, mess employees and hotel employees. A 5 day project, this was very different one from the usual and very interesting too.
Port Blair is a different world, altogether. Poor internet connectivity, and being far from the mainland has its disadvantages, to say the least. It had until then atleast, a very ‘untouched’ air about it.
IWH: What challenges have you faced as a woman in the industry? How did you deal with them?
Gauri Kher: When I joined the Taj, there was already a strong female working force. My department, F&B, was headed by Ms. Shirin Batliwala. There were enough lady colleagues around too, even in Food Production. Education also has more than a fair share of women working in it. So, I have never actually faced any challenges on account of being a woman. I can truly say that I have been blessed with some very good colleagues in the span of my working journey.
IWH: If there was anything that you could change about your life or career what would that be?
Gauri Kher: Nothing! Happy with the way things have turned out.
IWH: What do you think of IWH?
Gauri Kher: You are doing some great work here, Laxmi! Getting all ladies from the industry together and giving them a platform to connect with each other, share their stories with each other, is really very empowering. You a great Enabler!
IWH: Your advice to the young professionals and students.
Gauri Kher: Give it all you have! Get your hands dirty. The initial slog will pay rich dividend in the later years.
IWH: Anything else you wish to share with our readers?
Gauri Kher: I think each one has her own interesting journey. Be happy and make others happy!