Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Ms. Bianca DeSouza - Life comes full circle

My association with Bianca goes back to more than 24 years, we have been batch mates at IHM Mumbai and then Batch mates at the Taj Management Training Program, we worked as colleagues there for over 3 years. Then we got  the offer from our alma mater to join onboard as faculty, we both deliberated over that, she decided to move to Australia for higher studies and then ultimately settle there and I chose to take the offer and get into teaching, learning and development. We moved organizations and job profiles but have been in touch all through. What I have seen about Bianca is her affable nature and very pleasant personality.

She connects with all at equal levels, making friends and associations wherever she goes. She is a role model to many, a thorough professional, a doting wife and a loving mother to her two children. She is a great leader who motivates her teams to give their very best- Always! She works with many nationalities but manages her work and teams very well. She is a training school in herself, her extremely supporting husband Andre and two children complete her world. I thought it would be great to hear her inspiring story and she obliged. Here’s Bianca’s story.

Having grown up in Dahanu, India , as a little girl I was always fascinated by hotels whenever we visited Bombay and I think I was 10 or 11 when mum and dad took us to Gateway of India. That’s when I saw the Taj Mahal Hotel and said to myself “one day I could work here.”

Back then it was only a dream….

At the age of 7, I left for boarding school in Panchgani and spent 8 years in this beautiful hill station and completed year 10. Then moved on to Mumbai and as most parents always push their kids to do science as “it has more scope” I ended up at Sophia college doing Science but never really enjoyed it.

That’s when I started exploring the possibility of studying hotel management and applied to the Institute of hotel management and catering technology. Was fortunate enough to get into the “Dadar catering college” as it was fondly called and since then there has been no looking back.

Those 3 wonderful years were when I not only met the wonderful founder of IWH and my friend Laxmi, but also lo and behold my now husband! My stint in Mumbai only lasted 8 years during which I completed my diploma in hotel management, worked at my dream hotel Taj Mumbai in various capacities and also completed my degree in Arts.

However, I still felt the need to do more so left for Perth, Australia in 2001 and completed my MBA in hospitality management and started tutoring at Edith Cowan University whilst looking for my ideal job. Within 3 months of completing my MBA I landed myself a role as Duty manager at the iconic Esplanade hotel in Fremantle. Putting theory to practice was fun and I loved meeting all kinds of people. I still continued teaching at university for another year until the time came for me to make my next big step- this time when my General Manager approached me and requested I manage the Housekeeping department. I clearly remember calling my brother who was then in Burj, Dubai and saying to him “wow that’s the only department I haven’t worked in” and he said “just do it, it will look good on your CV that you’ve then worked in all operational departments”. So, I took my younger brothers advice and am so glad I did.

Fourteen years later, I’ve been privileged to work with people from over 16 different cultures, build a team I’m proud of and with their support achieved 2 manager of the year awards, was nominated and won Australian housekeeper of the year at the Australian hotels association in 2010 and more recently won manager as well as team of the year in the same year which was so humbling.

I’ve always taken my team as my 2nd family and get this rush when I can keep them motivated to do the best they can. We enjoy bed making competitions, Christmas’s in July, team events, and treasure hunts, celebrate milestone birthdays at work and of course we work hard too! But I live true to my belief of work hard, party harder!!

Being an executive housekeeper and recruiter of my own staff is something I thoroughly enjoy. It’s a joy to see young hospitality professionals flourish. I am always respectful of the fact that hospitality is sometimes a thankless industry as we are always working when others are celebrating and so try to make the work environment lighter and have some fun.

It’s also a joy to be part of this venture IWH,  and so to all you hard working men and women in hospitality, I say… you go people!!!

Her message to the young professionals:

She says, ” Never give up as hard and as tempting it may be sometimes to try an easier option… Perseverance is the key! Follow your dreams as dreams do come true.”


Food Technologist-Ms. Chetali Shah

Being from a kutchi-gujarati community, it was difficult for a girl to even think about working post-graduation as they were expected to marry guys who have family businesses and limit themselves to kitchens. This was about more than a decade ago, obviously the scenario has changed now but I am glad my parents thought differently. While bringing up all the three daughters and a son, they did not differentiate based on our gender; we were all treated equally and provided with equal opportunity to become independent. I was the lucky one to have two elder sisters who guided me on my career front. Learning from their experience, they advised me against taking the Commerce stream and opt for a professional course, which will help me develop a career.

Being good with studies and scoring well in SSC led me to choose the science stream. Like every other student, I was in dilemma what to choose post HSC, given the plethora of career options available. At that time, I had seen my neighbour work in a five star hotel as a hygiene manager and the kind of work she did in hygiene and food safety excited me a lot and I followed her footsteps of choosing food technology as a specialisation course to pursue my career in.

I remember being asked by one of the professors during my college days, “Where do you see yourself five years down the line?” and my answer was “working in a five star hotel as a hygiene manager”. The na├»ve answer that I gave at that time had become a dream without even having the  slightest idea on how I was going to turn it into reality. Since then I knew I belonged to the hospitality industry although in a different field altogether. I worked very hard throughout my college days and topped my college too as I wanted the best internship. Being the topper, in 2004, I was given an option to choose from Cadburys (the organisation which every topper would aspire to join) and Hyatt Hotels (the firm which was taking food technologists as interns for their in-house hygiene lab, for the very first time). My heart knew what I wanted and it led me to choose Hyatt Regency for my internship. I worked hard during the internship to prove my mettle and that resulted in an offer to join their their Management Trainee Program post my graduation.

At that time, the Hygiene Manager of the hotel was Ms. Rupali Saxena, who eventually became my mentor, giving me guidance and helping me develop the necessary skills to succeed in the field.

Just when I was feeling happy with the way my career and life were shaping up, a personal loss struck me hard, four months after joining Hyatt. My father passed away. This put the financial responsibility of the house coupled with the responsibility of taking care of my mother and younger brother (who was still studying) on my shoulders (Since my sisters were already married by then)

The hardships that I faced in my life only made me stronger and mature as an individual. I completed the Management Trainee Program and graduated to becoming the Hygiene Officer. I could not move out of Mumbai, as I had a family here to take care of. So, although moving to a different city would have accelerated my career growth within the industry, I had to choose the more difficult option. But my perseverance paid off and I went on to become Assistant Manager- Hygiene and to finally heading the Hygiene function of the hotel as the Hygiene Manager of the hotel. I spent close to 12 years with the same organisation, which shocked a lot of people, given the high attrition rate in the industry, But I really enjoyed what I did – every bit of it. And this passion for my work was instrumental in the success that I achieved in this organisation.

There was a time when I was told to be mentally prepared to quit the job in case I don’t get married in a family that would allow me to work post marriage. I am grateful to God that I got married into a family who, along with my husband, were modern in their thinking and were supportive of me continuing to work even after marriage.

But it was an uphill task, trying to strike the balance between my personal and professional life. And when I became a mother, I thought it was an end to my career. Again, my mother-in-law came forward to support me and I joined back work, struggling with the guilt of leaving my baby at home. Career growth was not a priority at that point in my life , but the flexibility which this organisation offered to me, in term of work timings, helped me immensely to sail through this challenging phase of my life.

By this time, the food safety and hygiene function had become my passion and I was craving to do something for the betterment of the society. As a part of ‘green team’ of the hotel, I worked for quite a few projects related to environment sustainability and was also awarded the Hyinnovators award for suggesting and implementing the green concept of converting used vegetable oil into an eco-friendly product – Biodiesel.

I also became a part of hotel’s Global Hand Washing Day celebrations along with ‘Sundara Project’(which recycles used soaps obtained from Hotels) where in I was given an opportunity to a conduct training session on Hand Washing and Hand Hygiene for the children living in  slum areas. I got a chance to conduct hygiene sessions for various other children’s home too. I was the one who lead the project of ISO 22000 certification for the hotel and our hard work of almost three years lead to the final certification of the hotel. Being a part of this project, I worked very closely with different teams of the hotel – be it engineering, housekeeping, culinary, service, purchasing etc and integrating the concept of ISO 22000 into the system was not only challenging but also a great learning experience for me.

Being a part of Human Resources Team (surprisingly as I reported to the Director of Human Resources), again for which I need to be thankful to God , gave me an exposure to training, recruitment, payroll, employee engagement activities too  apart from my core Hygiene related work. My thirst for learning was always there which led me take up projects on my own and I kept learning something new every time. I could have moved to HR or Training but my true passion was for Hygiene and Food Safety. I knew that this field will have a great potential for growth in the near future and hence it made me stick to the same career field. As of today, I work with the Reliance Industries Ltd. whose next venture is into hospitality sector with one of the largest convention centre coming up, helping them set up food safety management systems is quite exciting and I look forward to growing in this field.

With the launch of food safety regulations in India, the food safety culture is changing in the country and the scope of growth for professionals like me is very high. It gives you an opportunity in training, auditing, consulting, R& D, Analysis and lot more. I really believe in the adage “If you want to be successful in this world, follow your passion not your paycheck”.

For all the women out there, who are struggling to be a super – woman, I only have one piece of advice, “It’s okay to not be perfect sometimes. You are doing a great job. Don’t give up on your dreams. Who says it’s going to be easy! But you have to keep going! A positive attitude can really make your dreams come true – it did for me”


The inspirational story of Ms. Keerti Nambiar

We have many common friends and she was introduced to me by one of them. She was also invited to be a part of the IWH, which is now an incredible platform that all of us are proud of; where we have reached and all the possibilities that lie in front of us. I discovered that we share many things quite similar and our professional journeys have similar nuances too. She has had a great career in the hospitality industry; presenting the inspirational story of Ms. Keerti Nambiar. She is an alumna of the reputed Oberoi Centre of Learning and Development (OCLD 1999-2001)and has over 18 years of extensive experience in the hospitality sector. She has worked in operations with Oberoi Hotels in Kolkata and Mumbai and later with the Taj Hotels (Luxury Division) in the Learning & Development function at Mumbai, Hyderabad & New Delhi. Her last assignment was with The Leela Mumbai as the Training Manager. She is also a post graduate in HRM from Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and her core competencies include Training & Development, HRM, Employee Engagement, Business Excellence, Coaching and Recruitment. She can be described as a strategic Leader who has shaped high-performing cultures with robust development frameworks; indelible reputation for delivering best-in-class trainings with a focus on building a strong corporate culture for organizational development.

Her upbringing in a defence background has instilled in her values of discipline, professionalism and a strong moral character.  She is married to a banker with Reserve Bank of India; in whom she finds her best critic and well-wisher. They are blessed with two daughters, Shamita and Kimaya . She is a feminist who is a strong believer in ‘Karma’, the work life balance and is a wildlife enthusiast as well as a baking aficionado.
Currently on a career rejuvenation; she wishes to become an academician and contribute to the fraternity as well as the budding hospitality professionals. Having had an illustrious career working with some of the best hospitality brands in the country; makes her a great resource.
The Early Life
Keerti Nambiar was born into a family with a Defence background; her father and his brother were Infantry Officers and so was their father before them. The early upbringing hence, was extremely regimented and disciplined. She strongly believes that it helped to instill the values of discipline, professionalism and a strong moral character in her early formative years.
By the time she and her brother were 10 (they are fraternal twins), they had already moved 4 cities and roughly the same number of schools. So, change, she learned early on was her constant companion whereas flexibility and adaptability were her best friends. Her mother was always very particular about their academic pursuits and kept a strong vigil on her children’s grades at school. As for extra curricular interests, she was almost always spoilt for choice. Living in Army cantonments across the country exposed her to limitless indulgence when it came to sports, libraries, clubs and olympic sized swimming pools! All these and more contributed to a well-rounded development of character and physical stamina to take on challenges ahead of her.
Ironically, Hospitality as a career featured nowhere in her aspirational list in high school. Being an above average student all through, she felt reasonably confident to crack the Armed Forces Medical College exam. But, fate obviously had other plans for her, as she failed to secure a good rank not once but twice! It then dawned upon her that she had no back up plan if this didn’t work. Her mother was keen to see that she pursued a professional course and one of the options available to her was a Diploma in Hospitality. After a brief research and counseling with a few industry insiders, she went along with her gut and decided to take the plunge. After 2 decades ; she now proudly says  that it was one of the soundest decisions of her life. She had stumbled upon her new reckoning for life as a Hotelier!
We had a few questions for Ms. Nambiar and she graciously answered them. IWH in conversation with her.
IWH:  How has your hospitality journey been so far? Pros, cons etc?
Keerti Nambiar: In the past 2 decades, I have had the good fortune of being associated with India’s top 3 indigenous hospitality chains namely, Oberoi, Taj and Leela. Each has its own unique take on the Indian service dharma – ‘Athithi Devo Bhave’ or Guest is God. Their approach may differ but they all have one common goal- guest delight. Exploring and understanding this fine nuance has made this journey albeit, an interesting one.
There is a flip side to this too- a thin line between standardization and customization.And more often than not, there is overlap with disastrous outcomes. It’s fashionable these days for Hotel companies go to great extremes and deploy expensive resources to analyze trends and capture guest data. The entire service philosophy shifts from being guest centric to data-centric and loops into a vicious repetitive cycle.
Another aspect worth mentioning here is the ‘Inertia to Change’. The past decade has seen stupendous growth in room capacity in all major markets to the extent of saturation. Simply put, more people are hungry for the pie and the pieces are getting smaller now! Change in strategy of doing business is painfully slow but the guests and travellers are moving ahead in their expectations and definitions of ‘Luxury’. Unless hotel companies learn to react fast, they will fall way behind the new breed of young, agile and daring start-ups and consolidators.
IWH:  Who has been your mentor or a role model? In what way has that person helped you?
Keerti Nambiar: There have been countless generous souls who have contributed in making me what I am today. I feel a deep and enduring sense of gratitude to those who have given me opportunities and support. But, if asked to single out one then, that would be Mr. Veer Vijay Singh. An exceptional hotelier (Ex-Taj)an industry stalwart, a compassionate human being and visionary is how I would describe him.  One management lesson of his that I swear by is – ‘take care of your people and they will take care of your guests’. With his work and words he has touched many lives and continues to do so till date.

IWH:  What have been the high points of your career? Highlight at least 3.
Keerti Nambiar:
1.    Graduating from India’s most premier hospitality training program – The Oberoi Centre for Learning and Development.
2.    Designing and Executing developmental workshops for the Leela Management Training Program.
3.    Secured a Gold level in the Business Excellence Leadership Program at Taj and qualified as an External Assessor for TBEM.
And of course… every moment in time is a high point when you have positively influenced or touched the life of a person who has reached out to you.
IWH:  What challenges have you faced as a woman in the industry? How did you deal with them?
Keerti Nambiar: Women@work like myself are posed with many ambitious challenges day-in and day-out of their lives: to create the lives we want, to be leaders in our work, to be partners in our homes and to be champions of other women. Learning to deal with them have come through experiences of trials and error over the years. My key takeaways have been;
·         I have learnt to be never pressured into muting my accomplishments. Owning one’s success is key to achieving more success.
·         My desire to be liked by everyone was holding me back from making progress. You can’t please everyone when you want to change things.
·         In order to grow and challenge myself, I have learnt to believe in my capabilities. Never find yourself spoken over or discounted for amongst your peers.
·         Negotiate without inhibition, whether it is a raise or promotion or a recognition rightly deserved.
IWH:  If there was anything that you could change about your life or career what would that be?
Keerti Nambiar: If I could change one thing, that would be my mobility factor. Once you have a family you become rooted down to a place with responsibilities and develop ‘homing’ tendencies. For most women this happens when she is usually at the peak of her career. If you are not mobile, one inadvertently misses out on career growth opportunities offered by the company. I wish I had the conviction and risk appetite to see beyond and take the plunge, throwing caution to the wind!

IWH:  What do you think of IWH?
Keerti Nambiar: I see it as one of its kind; a fantastic initiative to connect and grow as a fraternity. An all women interactive platform to share industry experiences and learn from each other along the way. The younger budding hoteliers who seek inspiration and motivation to break traditional ceilings at work will never be disappointed here. Happy learning and sharing!

IWH:  Your advice to the young professionals and students.
Keerti Nambiar:
·         Be open to different experiences and be on lookout for diverse opportunities that present themselves as ‘challenges’
·         Never stop learning
·         Patience and perseverance towards your goals
·         Be a visionary and always try and see the ‘bigger’ picture, and…
While doing all the above STAY Humble and grounded.
IWH:  Anything else you wish to share with our readers?
Keerti Nambiar: Stay inquisitive to new experiences and learning’s, share without inhibitions, compliment successes without restraint and grow as a force to reckon with.

Link to the story:


Wednesday, 8 May 2019

The Uncommon People by Benaifer Kapadia

They say to grow one needs support and bandwidth, Benaifer has been that in the journey of the IWH, Indian Women in hospitality. She brings in a lot of positivity, enthusiasm and energy on the board. The lady who has worked her way and contributed immensely to the growth of the organizations that she has been a part of.  She heads sales and marketing in her current role, travelling is a passion for her. I can say that a lot of her wisdom comes from that passion. IWH in conversation with Ms. Benaifer Kapadia.

IWH:  Tell us something about you, your growing up years, life through school, college etc
They say “learning is not a spectator sport”. I am a learner till date. I believe “Experience” is the most brutal of all teachers. But you learn & that’s how you grow as a better individual. I have always been an above average student (academically). Coming from an all girls convent alma mater, where rolling your socks down was considered offensive, to the much forward thinking college phase, where bunking was my mandatory right (I did not exercise that much though!) to the hustle and bustle of corporate life... it has been a semi circle! Each phase is and was a learning curve. And it is here where I quote my favourite learning which is “To Be Old and Wise, You must be Young & Stupid!”... I trust I am over being stupid (it’s a habit hard to break for most individuals) and continue being Young!! Old and Wise is yet to come!

IWH:  What made you select Hospitality as a career? Was it easy making that decision?
My inclination to be a part of the hospitality industry started from college. By education I am a Bachelor of Commerce with Honors in Travel & Tourism Management. To be honest, I wanted to avoid a subject that is dear to most of us - “taxation”! Enrolling for travel and tourism was not all hunky dory! Like any other subject I had to prove my eligibility for it. I was always intrigued to educate myself on & about Indian tourism, world socio-economics in hospitality, diverse cultures, languages, maps, people engagement and food and beverage. It is inspiring to note that inspite of the vast disparity in economy, tourism sector contributes 4.6% to the GDP growth of India and successfully continues to grow in near future.

IWH:  What is your current role?
I am currently employed with General Hotels Management Limited (GHM) as Director of Sales & Marketing for The Chedi Mumbai, India. The Chedi Mumbai will be India & the city’s newest and most highly anticipated luxury hotel opening its doors to guests in 2018. Set to transform the Powai region in Mumbai into an epicentre of style and indulgence, the hotel is strategically located in close proximity to the international & domestic airports, to IIT Powai, to commercial business districts established in North Mumbai and Bandra Kurla Complex. The hotel will feature 312 luxurious guestrooms and suites, a Club Lounge for exclusive use by club & suite guests, seven exceptional and innovative dining and entertainment offerings, extensive meeting facilities with state-of-the-art equipment and technology, a holistic spa and wellness facilities. For more information about The Chedi Mumbai, please visit

IWH:  How has your hospitality journey been so far? Pros, cons etc?
I think I am still too young to say I have started my journey yet as such. Or at least I like to think so. Hospitality is an evolving industry where no one day is similar or routine to another. That is the beauty of this sector. Don't take one day at a time and live out your life. Wake up every morning, and live your life right, your way - not the way anyone else would. Make mistakes, learn when you do and treat others (be that guests or employees) like you would like to be treated. There are no set pros and cons for this sector. I see more opportunities arising for an evolving and fast moving industry such as ours.

IWH:  Who has been your mentor or a role model? In what way has that person helped you?
My parents have and always continue to be my biggest mentors. They instilled in me the value of hard work and dedication.
IWH: What have been the high points of your career? Highlight at least 3.
I would highlight the best of 3 to be:
(1) Working with Hyatt International as a pre-opening team member to open the prestigious flag-ship hotel in South Asia, Grand Hyatt Mumbai. This hotel strengthened my foundation of the 4 Ps of sales and marketing
(2) Working with Carlson Rezidor (now Radisson Hotel Group) that excelled my career growth thru the ranks & exposed me to business development and global sales
(3) Now working with GHM Hotels as a pre-opening executive committee member to open The Chedi Mumbai, India that shall dominate Mumbai's dynamic skyline with its sophisticated and thoughtful offerings & prove to be a game-changing luxury hotel for Mumbai

IWH:  What challenges have you faced as a woman in the industry? How did you deal with them?
Statistics from a recent HR report suggest that departments that have been less than successful at promoting women into leadership positions are also unsuccessful at recruiting women. I personally do not support this regressive thought. My sister, Shehrezad Kapadia, Chef De Cuisine, Four Seasons Mumbai is a young, successful, senior lady chef managing and co-working with a team of female and mostly male chefs. I strongly believe that there are many more noted companies in the hospitality world that are doing a good job & creating more diversity in the industry with no or minimal gender inequality
IWH:  If there was anything that you could change about your life or career what would that be?
‘Gardens without dead leaves are not beautiful. Even the Moon has black spots on it’. So while I have a list of to-do’s that I would like to amend and hope that I will be able to do it in my onward and present journey, I am currently satisfied with who and where I am with a hope to be a better version of who and where I want to be!
IWH:  What do you think of IWH?
We have diverse team strength of ladies that bring together years of experience & hard work. It is a great platform to connect and collaborate, to bring new ideas to the world of travel and hospitality, that not only benefit the industry and also the individual(s) associated with this sector

IWH:  Your advice to the young professionals and students
Our industry is well known for its long and rigorous hours of work. My advice to young professionals will be that time is one of your most valuable resources. You use time to make money, but the time will come when you will need to start using money to buy yourself time to do the things you want to do. We have to learn the art of time management.
IWH:  Anything else you wish to share with our readers?
I would like to share the below quote from the great JRD Tata who is the founder of hospitality in India. He says and I quote “Common people have an appetite for food; uncommon people have an appetite for service”!  Athiti Devo Bhava!
We couldn’t thank her enough for her time and having a great conversation. We look forward to another coffee break with her. As we leave we wish her many more fulfilling travels around the globe and meaningful journeys in her professional and personal lives.