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7 Questions with Dheeraj Kukreja

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7 Questions with Dheeraj Kukreja

Name: Dheeraj Kukreja

Current title: Chief Operating Officer

Current organisation: Piccadily Holiday Resorts Ltd

An enthusiastic & high-achieving professional career with over twenty eight years of outstanding performance, based on a formal education consisting of a Graduate Diploma in Hotel Management and a Masters in Tourism.

Currently working as Chief Operating Officer with Piccadily Holiday Resorts Ltd which is part of large business houses having interests in hotels, resorts, cinema, shopping malls, multiplex, real estate etc. The company currently owns and operates The Piccadily, Lucknow, The Piccadily Resort Manali and Kasauli Resorts at Kasauli. As a privately owned hotel we take pride in offering a personal, efficient and competitive service, at all times.

I was earlier freelancing; Consulting for Hospitality Development & Operations, Sales & Marketing, TimeShare & Clubbing as subject matter expert. I also coordinated Management Contract in various formats /Real Estate Leasing apart from Brand Franchising & Development.

My last assignment was with Sterling Holidays as Regional Head. Sterling Holiday Resorts Limited - A holiday lifestyle company which was incorporated in the year 1986. It is a pioneer in vacation ownership and a leading Leisure Hospitality company in India and part of Thomas Cook (India) Limited.

Formerly, I have worked as an Executive Vice President (Operations) with the Country Club India Ltd. where I was instrumental in scaling up and managing the operations as a Profit Centre. I have also worked in senior management positions with Hotel Park Plaza at Jodhpur, Manu Allaya – the resort-spa in Himalayas (Formally known as Ambassador Resorts), Clarks Varanasi Ltd. at Varanasi and Holiday Inn (IHG) at Manali, Ahmedabad & Surat.

I have travelled nationally & internationally, which has strengthened my exposure towards global hospitality and multicultural understanding. I have been successful in building relationships with the upper crest; seizing control of critical problem areas with a customer focused and performance driven attitude.

7 Questions with Dheeraj Kukreja

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1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?

Once you reach the position of CEO or COO, which was the position accorded in my case, you realize that you are now responsible for the well being of the team and their families In-fact this responsibility is extended to the direct and indirect suppliers and as well as all who have been associated with the company. The decisions that one takes at this position makes a difference to the life of all these people. It is growth of the organization that alone can provide the means to ensure all are taken care off. The challenges were to ensure growth in revenues and stature, size of organization and profitability, improvement in guest services and thereby the feedback and overall acceptance, Sales & Marketing as well as improvement of product. All this while ensuring return on investment and profitability to the owing company.

2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?

I worked through the hierarchy. Started my career as a GRE with large Indian Hotel Brand Clarks. Worked as Lobby Manager with IHG Hotels where I rose to the position of Front office Manager. Later I switched to Sales & Marketing and headed the department with an Indian Hotel company having 4 hotels. This was followed with elevation to the position of Unit Head at a standalone Luxury hotel as well as a hotel operated under Carlson Brand. I was conferred the designation of VP by Piccadily Holiday Resorts Ltd. I rose to the position of EVP at India's largest leisure conglomerate Country Club Holidays & Resorts. I was picked up as Head North & West for India's largest lifestyle holiday company Sterling Holidays. I am back with Piccadily Holidays Resorts Ltd where I was invited to join back as Head of the organization.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

One of the primary requirements of the Hospitality Industry is fitness. I therefore ensure to have a good 7 hours sleep. I start my work at about 9 am when I go through all the reports sent by units. This is followed by a joint meeting with leaders in the organization. There are several one to one meetings planned with HOD's, Guests, suppliers, sales & marketing team, Engineering and project team, Human Resources department, IT etc. All the meetings have agenda and time slots, which we all adhere to. The day is pretty busy and organized with short breaks for refreshments and Lunch with the team at the cafeteria. The evenings are spent with family followed with dinner together. I never miss a walk of about 45 minutes after I get back home. There are occasional outings for dinner and generally a day's trip once every month to places close by or just for picnic.

4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?

Learning is a continuous process and it is not limited to what happens at the workplace. During the Lockdown, the hotels were not allowed to open. Our company has been employee friendly right from the inception and this was not merely lip service but real actions. Employee welfare is part of our foundation. When we opened the hotel to accommodate guests coming from overseas for quarantine as well as doctors and nurses working at premier medical institutes for passive and active quarantine, we had our team working with us in full strength and with full trust. Most other companies had difficulty in getting the team to work. We took care of the wellbeing of our team as well as guests by following strict protocols and contactless service. We were the fastest to adapt and had support of our team. We did not layoff anyone and this has resulted in even better repo and goodwill amongst the team. This resulted in generation of revenues, profitability and we could provide employment and pay wages to our team through the entire period of Lockdown and later when the business is picking up.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

While I have always loved reading, it was difficult to spare much time for the same during the regular work days. Lockdown gave us enough time and I used the opportunity to read multiple books on varied topics. This included and was not limited to Indian History, Independence, biography of Father of the nation Gandhi, books on Indian political landscape, hotels, leadership, time management, employee welfare etc. The book which I have read recently and has impacted by leadership are:

1) IT'S YOUR SHIP by Captain D.Michael Abrashroff.

2) CUSTOMER SATISFACTION IS WORTHLESS, Customer loyalty is priceless by Jeffrey Gitomer.

IT'S YOUR SHIP encourages you to take ownership and calculated risks. It also talks about teamwork, upskilling of the team, gratitude and informal ways of leadership by showing real time examples and their effect on the morale of the team and excellence achieved together.

CUSTOMER SATISFACTION IS WORTHLESS, Customer loyalty is priceless is an extraordinary book which encourages people to raise the level and not be happy with just satisfied customers. A satisfied customer would shift to another company when an opportunity arises or because of price etc. A loyal customer would remain with you regardless of the offering they get. The aim, therefore, should be to have a loyal customer and nothing else should satisfy the team.

6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?

Leadership capacity happens at all levels. It starts from the intern and goes right up-to the CEO. While there is so much to be done, some of the things which are necessary are hiring the people with a positive attitude. We should have clear vision, planned goals for short term and long term, KPI, defined parameters, training, regular reviews, decision making, freedom to function etc. There should not be rules. Instead there should be guidelines. This helps and allows leaders to perform and grow. Having a mentor is another essential requirement.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?

I have followed the advice of my father all my life. While he is no more, I continue to follow the principles that he was most concerned about. When I got the authority to hire and fire, my father told me to be cautious in both and certainly in later cases. I was advised that this should be the last of all steps one should take only if very necessary. We should train and work hard on the person and give ample opportunities within the same department or another, same unit or another, same designation or another. We must remember and consider the consequences to the person and the family / dependents. In all the organizations I have served, it has been my endeavor to work with a team. This has all been achieved without losing benefits to the organization. This does increase the work for senior team members but the joy & happiness of having achieved the change overweighs the hard work. Despite the news of mass layoff during the Pandemic, we did not lay off a single employee and this gives me great satisfaction.