We met in 2007 when I had come to visit the Hotel School, it didn’t have the current name then. She took me for a show around and we struck a great conversation. I was working at my alma mater, was doing well, had a great job and the security of it being government and pensionable. I was a young mother and the hotel school was going to be closer home; being the only reason for the job change. I had many doubts in my mind if it was the right decision for me. She was one of the factors in me deciding to join the organisation as a pre opening member; that explains the rapport we have shared. We had a great experience working together building our departments and the institution. She was the ‘go to’ person for me as she had walked the similar path a bit earlier than me and her advice came in very handy. She helped me not just cope but make my personal firsts as the best. More than colleagues we became great friends. In fact the whole team was an incredible one – each one of us had a role and we did the best we could. I have enjoyed working with that team, I was the representative for most of the things as they all wanted me to be the face and handle events, PR or be the emcee; none of them would trade that role. They encouraged me to move from being good to better. In fact each member of the team felt the same I guess; we all grew as professionals. It was truly a ‘Wonder team’ and we all achieved many milestones and rejoiced in each one of them. But a small hotel school could not sustain so much of awesomeness; keeping the jokes apart the team had to branch out and thus we had some of them leaving us. In fact it was a personal loss that I felt when she left the organisation, though I was happy for the decision she took. It gives me immense pleasure to write about a very dynamic person, a thorough professional and a great human being Ms. Ujwala Sonawane, Associate Dean, ITM Institute of Hotel Management.
The Early Life
Ms. Ujwala Sonawane grew up in a service class family. She says that, “Growing up in an Army background, discipline, timely routine, setting goals and achieving them, watching dad doing the same, Value for money, idealistic thoughts, doing what seems right, and always going by my own instinct is what I learnt from Dad”. Her mother was a homemaker and took care of the family, but once her two children- Ujwala and her brother were done with their schooling, she decided to work even though she was in her mid 40s then. Ms. Sonawane says that has always been a big motivation for her. There were times when she had thoughts of quitting her job but her mother motivated her to move forward. Her mother was an inspiration as well as a cheerleader for her.
Her father was in the Army and she wanted to pursue a course which would give her job opportunity immediately after studies, she felt it as her morally responsibility to support her father financially after his retirement. Hotel Management happened to be one such course. She was happy to get a seat at IHM Mumbai easily, not knowing how tough others found it. Living in the Hostel then wasn’t easy for her but she happily sailed through the three years of Hotel Management course.
Currently she is working at ITM IHM as the Associate Dean, responsible for academics of their Mumbai and Navi Mumbai campuses. Churning an updated syllabus is the need of the hour as she feels that hospitality studies is a skill oriented and a technical course which needs to be updated from time to time to guide students in the right direction and in sync with the Industry. Imparting education through varied pedagogy keeps the young generation students interested as they would in a game of pubG.
She has about 25 years of experience in the industry; she has motivated and inspired generations of hospitality professionals. She is a mentor and a role model to many others, IWH had a few questions for her which she graciously answered.
IWH: How has your professional journey been so far? Pros, cons etc?
Ms. Sonawane: My professional journey has been a combination of Industry and Academia. Starting off as a professional in the Food and Beverage Service department from campus placement, growing up to Banquet Manager. I took to academics to maintain a balance in my personal and professional life almost for a decade. Then moved back to the Industry as Manager Training and Development, then joined Apeejay Institute of Hospitality as a member of the pre opening team at the Hotel School, this experience has been different as it’s tagline goes Leadership Through Differentiation. Further worked in the Industry to challenge myself and self check if I would be able to sustain an Industry Job and I did it very well in the capacity of Manager Training pan India at a Chain of Hotels, further a challenging opportunity came up at ITM Institutions. I have enjoyed the journey till date by redoing syllabus, setting systems and processes, to make the work environment system driven rather than person driven.
IWH: Who has been your mentor or a role model? In what way has that person helped you?
Ms. Sonawane: I have been lucky to be working under best bosses at every stage, I have tried to inhale positives of them and exhale negativity. Mr. Arunesh Maiyer and Mr. Lemuel Herbert, have taught me a very professional approach towards education. I learn a lot of system and process driven work in a positive workplace with my present boss.
IWH: What have been the high points of your career? Highlight at least 3.
Ms. Sonawane: Updating and imparting value education to young students and professionals. Driving a varied workforce with calmness and with a lot of dignity to bring about positive change. Also, undoing old school of leadership, setting an example of being the best through doing things differently- happy faces make a happy workplace.
IWH: What challenges have you faced as a woman? How did you deal with them?
Ms. Sonawane: It is difficult working in a male dominated workforce, I have had best friends and mentors as women, Laxmi Todiwan being one of them as we have worked together for around 7 years. I have experienced both how women can help each other in their growing careers and have also seen some being quite the opposite! As a woman I believe we must help each other than create competition amongst us, more than women try to be more human first.
IWH: If there was anything that you could change about your life or career what would that be?
Ms. Sonawane: I have enjoyed all phases of my career; it has been an enriching experience till today. Hope to do much more creative work and impart value to the Academic and Operational Hospitality Management.
IWH: What do you think of IWH?
Ms. Sonawane: IWH is a great platform to exchange views, interact with women from hospitality at all levels. This platform should be used to bring in change and value to women in the hospitality sector. Laxmi Todiwan has created a wonderful platform respected by the industry. It is continuing to garner support and is growing phenomenally.
IWH: Your advice to the young professionals and students.
Ms. Sonawane: Today information is available at the top of a fingertip to young professionals, while doing so a good research on superficial versus original is required. Popularity needs to be measured with good work not just the number of followers on social media. Information should not be misleading but must provide facts and knowledge.
IWH: Anything else you wish to share with our readers.
Ms. Sonawane: With a huge talent base at IWH, we must come together to create the hospitality sector the world would look up to. We are always there and would support in all ways possible.
As always it was a pleasure to connect with Ms. Ujwala Sonawane; this time the purpose being formal and getting to know more of her professional side. She is much respected among her colleagues, contemporaries and the students alike as an academician par excellence .