Anagha and I go back to 21 years when we were work colleagues and of course have remained friends for life. We met at the Taj Mahal Hotel Mumbai, when I was posted at the Housekeeping for on the job training. We were three in a group, Arti, Anjali and I, who went for training to the department. We followed our own schedules consisting of both theory classes and on the job training. During lunch breaks we’d meet the lively ladies of the Housekeeping department then. They used to have so much fun, we’d envy them …. waiting to see when we could be a part of the gang and they in turn never used to leave any opportunity to pull our legs; I was the favourite…. the chosen one! They’d find ways to pull a fast one, be it my ‘perfectly draped saree’ according to them….. they’d say so much about my matching bindis. Infact my bindis and other apparels are still spoken with so much fervour, we have a good laugh whenever we think of those days. I worked at the Taj Mahal for about 4 years but the learning and Tajness is something that I have always carried with me. Anagha has kept in touch, we exchange notes and thoughts often. She has had an incredible journey with the Taj. An amazing person that she is, she is a role model to her colleagues and associates. Loved by her seniors, teams and subordinates equally. She is a star in the gatherings, her love for the mountains is also something to look up to, a passion that she has been committed to for long and it has continued to grow.
IWH in conversation with the dynamic lady Ms. Anagha Phadnis.
IWH: Tell us something about you, your growing up years, life through school, college etc.
I was born and brought up in Mumbai. Did my schooling from ‘Nadadeep Vidyalaya’, Goregaon, in Marathi medium school. Fortunately till then education was not considered as a ‘business’ and our school was great with all senior teachers around, who felt that it was their responsibility, to not only educate us, but also groom us to be better citizens.
After 10th board exams, me and few of my friends started going to different colleges to see the best suitable institution for us for further studies. As a youngster I was not sure of what to do next. Somehow I was feeling that I didn’t want to do the stereotype Science, Commerce or Arts. But then ‘what to do’ was also not clear. Suddenly one suggestion came from, one friend’s father, to check ‘Home science stream at SNDT College at Juhu, Mumbai. And we went to see it. I fell in love with the college campus. Huge campus, hostel building, three grounds, modern facilities, smart girls and teachers around, lovely laboratories. Suddenly felt some connect with it. Then we read the syllabus and understood the course. A couple of contacts also gave references of some professors there, and I decided to join the home science stream for my higher studies.
I had to put in a lot of hard work in the college since there were no tuitions and no Google to help; 80% of our submissions were presentations and references. We had to sit in the library for hours to get presentations going. But I loved it since this was my type of learning, mugging up and only studying from books was not my idea of learning. Along with studies, I got addicted to trekking. Every 2/3 months I would crave for mountains. That was a big learning canvas in my life. People are very genuine in the mountains. I also started working with theatre group for intercollegiate competitions. Both these activities were shaping up my personality unknowingly and I was thoroughly enjoying it all. My work efficiency was at peak in those years, I was managing submissions, attending classes, exams, theatre and trekking all at the same time. I guess work life balance of my hotel career must have come from there!
During last three years of our graduation we had to select the major subjects and I chose Hospitality Management and Consumer Studies. This was my beginning in the service industry.
IWH:What made you select Hospitality as a career? Was it easy making that decision?
As said earlier it was a pure accidental decision to go for home science. I chose hospitality for my major studies since I liked subjects like interior designing etc. No one in my family had ever got anything to do with 5 Star hotels, hence no one was there to advise me on this. As a part of college internship I got training at the iconic ‘Taj Mahal hotel.’ The new glamorous world attracted me and my decision was fixed after my internship with Taj.
IWH: What is your current role?
I am currently working as Executive Housekeeper at the Taj Santacruz, Mumbai.
IWH: How has your hospitality journey been so far? Pros, cons etc.?
My journey of 24 years in hospitality has been with Taj and it’s wonderful. I am extremely proud to work with such a noble brand like the TATA. Taj has been a family now. I worked with only one company so far but got opportunity to work on many different projects like opening ‘Taj Club’ Taj Mahal Mumbai. Did a lot of renovations at the Palace and Tower wing as well as a few restaurants and other public areas. That gave me good knowledge and I worked as a pre-opening team member for two other hotels of Taj and operated it further, successfully. I also opened Imperial club by Taj, a small project of club. These are few to name.
Of course hospitality industry has its own merits and de merits like every industry. Let’s talk about positives first as we always do….it’s great fun to work in operational department since each day is different with full of activities. There is learning every day in communicating, convincing people, getting the work done through them, teaching them and much more. You learn the latest trends , meet great people and celebrities, gather some unthinkable moments. Its amazing to learn from millennials about their expectations from career as well life.
Talking about some cons, work life balance is much a challenge here. But if you have a great support team like we have at the Taj, then everything gets managed well. Long working hours and constantly being on the helping end for others can be taxing at times.
IWH: Who has been your mentor or a role model? In what way has that person helped you?
There is no one mentor as such, but every single lady I have worked with, right from the general manager to room attendant has taught me something. Every lady working in this industry makes me think that if she can do this or manage this why can’t I? All my bosses at the Taj were having great knowledge and personality and I have learnt something from each one of them. Like one of my ex boss used to say that even a worst person has at least one quality which we can learn. I learnt different skills from different people Ms. Shirin Batliwala, Ms. Celine D’souza, Ms. Saldanha, Mrs. Rege, Ms. Fiwiger, Ms. Zornerger, Mrs. Bakshi, Mrs. Mahadik, Mrs. Nagar, Ms. A Matcheswala ,Mrs. Singh were a few to name, but there are many more like all you friends. Not only these great ladies but all my general managers were also great source of energy and learning.
IWH: What have been the high points of your career? Highlight at least 3.
Difficult to pick any as such however I think best as
1. When I was pregnant and still worked till 3 days before delivery. This was only possible because of the trust of my bosses at that time and great team. While working hard, the team took care of me like family.
2. When I moved to the Taj Wellington Mews as a pre opening team member. I had immense learning and very different learning than my experience in Taj Mahal. Pre-opening is a must experience to all.
3. When I first became head of the department. Of course you feel a sense of achievement then.
4. I did my masters, 10 years after graduation. I was feeling the need to update myself with the latest knowledge. When I did my masters, my daughter was 1.5 yrs. And it was only possible to study then, with the support of my Taj team and my family.
IWH: What challenges have you faced as a woman in the industry? How did you deal with them?
I do not think in today’s day and world there are any challenges which you face specifically because you are woman. There are few challenges in general, and not as a woman, however you may feel it more as woman, being more sensitive. I think work life balance it the first and foremost. Men and women both have this issue but unfortunately we feel more stress of this. Attending school open days, unwell family members, helping kids with their homework projects etc. gets challenging. Also if are emergencies in the families. I recommend that every lady should have her own support system which might consist of parents, other close relatives, friends, Maids etc. they can reach few places in given situations in place of you and be a saviour. Very important is not to act like superwomen and challenge yourself to do everything by yourself. It’s absolutely ok if you are not best on all fronts at the same time. Be best where its required at that point. Decide your priorities and sometimes you will have to give more importance to family and sometimes to work.
That could be actually reason for having less ladies on Top most leadership roles. Unfortunately you don’t see many ladies in our industry who have managed personal and professional life well, one has to choose either/ or.
Working in this ever demanding industry can really get on to you and best way to deal with this is to have your own world. By ‘own world’ I mean your hobbies, likes and your passions. With my career I continued with my passion of trekking and travelling. Each year I make sure that we as a family explore at least one new place on this earth. I plan all my trips on my own, do a lot of study about the place, travel arrangements, stays etc. on my own and never hire agency for it. That gives us real quality time to spend with each other and unwinding from our busy routine.
IWH: If there was anything that you could change about your life or career what would that be?
If I could change something, I think I will choose to take more risks than I did it in the past. Somehow due to many reasons I could not do this but given a choice again I would take smaller risks like changing city for better opportunities or changing departments in initial stages to learn more.
IWH: What do you think of IWH?
IWH is great idea that came from Laxmi. The response is unbelievable and she is such an incredible person, so full of life and positivity. She has created some amazing stories and brought out the life and times of stalwarts that not many common people knew about, like Ms. Camellia Panjabi and Ms. Shirin Batliwala. Great work ….keep going…it’s a nice platform to share, learn and get noticed.
IWH: Your advice to the young professionals and students.
I am working more with millennials now a days and I notice that their way of living and expectations are very different from us at that age and time. Their energy, enthusiasm, knowledge, exposure and understanding is probably much better than what we had. My only advice would be to have patience and work hard . ‘There are no free lunches’ so you will need to earn it. Unless you get your hands dirty initially, the foundation will not be strong, don’t hesitate to work in any area.