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Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Ms. Sonal Holland, MW - The Wine Master

My association with Sonal goes to IHM where she was my senior. We didn’t have much interaction though, I got in touch with her recently after seeing her work and the kind of adulation she had acquired from the industry – wine experts as well as wine lovers not just in India but around the world. Found her to be an inspirational woman who has had an equally illustrious career. I wanted to share her story on this platform that has been sharing the journeys of the most accomplished female leaders in the Hospitality Industry; thought she had to be there among the innovators. Finally I get to speak with her and my recent dream gets checked! She has been busy travelling around the globe and working tirelessly on the upcoming India Wine Awards, which has emerged as the most authoritative wine competition in the country. She and her team is working actively towards the 2018 India Wine Awards at the moment.
Ms. Sonal Holland, MW is India’s most accomplished wine professional. The first Indian to have been bestowed with this prestigious global title, she has won numerous awards in her incredible journey to become the only Master of Wine in a nation of one billion people!
Sonal’s professional achievements include her role as the former corporate head of wine and beverages at home-grown luxury hospitality conglomerate, ITC Hotels. Currently, she is the Wine Buyer and Consultant for luxury food retail chain Foodhall, and is also the Director of the wine program for the rapidly expanding restaurant group, Gourmet Investments.
The Early life
Sonal is a Mumbai Girl, did her schooling and later hotel management from the prestigious IHM Mumbai. She then got her MBA from the University of Mumbai; post which she joined The Oberoi Hotels and Resorts as the Sales Manager- National Sales, handling Mumbai Area. She has also worked with Kelly services as Director of Sales – India. Her last stint before she founded the Sonal Holland Wine Academy in 2013; was with the ITC Hotels as the Divisional Head (All India) – Wine & Beverages.
She has studied Wine and Viticulture at the Institute of Masters of Wine and has earned her Diploma in Wines and Spirits at WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust). In 2016, Holland was named Master of Wine (MW) from the London-based Institute of Masters of Wine. Prior to the MW, Holland received Level 4 Diploma in Wines & Spirits from Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET)
Wine Education: India’s foremost wine-centric institution, The Sonal Holland Wine Academy has distinguished itself as a world-class educator in India’s beverage scene. Founded in 2009, Sonal Holland Wine Academy is a licensed collaborator with Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) headquartered in London, offering the most sought after wine qualifications across India.
Her refreshing, jargon-free approach to demystify vino has endeared her to budding oenophiles in a land of whisky lovers. An initiative spearheaded by her in 2017, The India Wine Insider (IWI) is the most ambitious and comprehensive survey on the urban Indian wine consumer.
India Wine Awards: Powered by Sonal, is the most authoritative wine competition in the nation, led by India’s most qualified wine professionals. The inaugural edition of India Wine Awards in 2017, established itself as the ultimate consumer-guide to ranking the best wines (domestic and international), available in the country.
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Monday, 1 October 2018

I can - Ms. Ranju Alex

I connected with Ms. Ranju Alex, a few days ago when one of my colleagues spoke about her being a very dynamic lady, a super achiever and someone who had contributed so much to the industry. I was told that she deserved to be featured on Indian Women in Hospitality. I had heard of her but didn’t have the opportunity to meet her or interact with her  and this was the perfect opportunity to connect with the lady. She was extremely warm and she liked the IWH platform and the kind of work we were doing, it was truly humbling. What I liked about her was that she is extremely forthcoming and someone who can be called the ‘take charge‘ person. It’s a pleasure to share her inspirational and incredible journey here.
Ms. Ranju Alex is the Multi-Property Vice President, Bengaluru & Kochi and General Manager for Bengaluru Marriott Hotel Whitefield. It is a dual role and she looks after 18 hotels. Prior to this, she served as the General Manager of the JW Marriott Kolkata and Multi Property Vice President for East India, Bhutan and Bangladesh. She is a true champion of the values and commitment towards service excellence which encompasses taking care of associates and their career development plans. She enjoys the diversity of dealing with guests, meeting individually with department heads, exploring opportunities for improvement, solving concerns and moving forward together as a team.
Ms. Alex is very passionate about women empowerment and advocates it at her workplace. Her work towards gender diversity has resulted in her being invited by several countries like Sweden, Netherlands, UK and the US as a key note speaker on women related issues. After 17 year tenure with The Oberoi Group, Ranju moved to Marriott International. Over the years she has received various accolades to her name, despite being a super achiever in every realm of her professional career, her commitment to work has never come in the way of her leading a fulfilling personal life. She acknowledges that her husband and children are her greatest treasures. A firm believer in ‘health is wealth’, she is a health and fitness conscious person who loves her sports; tennis and swimming, as much as she loves cooking for friends and family. Travelling is another  hobby that she follows, as it allows her to spend quality time with her family. Ms. Alex is an avid reader, having a home library of 6000 books; she is also passionate about charity. She believes in living life to the fullest and maximizing every moment of her time to it’s full potential and capacity, be it professionally or personally.
The Early Life
Ms. Ranju Alex says that she is a Bihari by birth but was born and brought up in the Steel city of Durgapur, West Bengal by virtue of her father being posted there. Though she was from a conservative background, she was blessed to have very modern parents who believed in education for girls and their subsequent financial independence. She was educated at the prestigious Carmel Convent School and was an above average student. She was never the topper but strangely she never aspired to be one! Her aspirations were very different right from her early days. She was  interested in doing something that her heart and mind wanted to do and not something that the society expected her to. She was not very clear on the exact path but one thing she was certain about was that the path had to be very different. She did try to take the much trodden path of taking up Science hoping to be selected for Engineering but the destiny had different plans. She was struck by a serious neurological disorder which forced her to the hospital bed for over two years with slim chances of survival. Survive she did and that experience reiterated her belief that she needed to make something of her life; where she was given a second chance! and hence started her journey in hotels- a world that attracted her but a world that she had absolutely no clue of!
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Friday, 28 September 2018

Many things- Ms. Vipula Gandhi

We were batchmates at IHM Mumbai. She was friendly, lively and a fun person to be with. Her speech used to be ‘many more words per minute’ than most of us because she was a fast thinker. She worked hard and was ambitious; she was one of the toppers all though the college years. Focused on what she wanted and achieving not just that but much more. She has lived a life probably just the way she had planned it to be. She is one of the fittest women I know and also a great parent. She keeps giving people around her many professional and personal goals; making her a complete package!  She is truly a star, an inspiration to many men and women. Presenting to you Ms. Vipula Gandhi, Managing Partner at Gallup Inc, and is based at the company’s headquarter in Washington DC. IWH in conversion with her.
IWH: Tell us something about you, your growing up years, life through school, college etc.
Vipula Gandhi: I am the youngest of 3 kids born in middle India to highly educated and middle class parents. I spent my early years in a steel city, Bhilai, where my father worked as an engineer. My parents had difficult childhoods in strained circumstances common to many other  refugees from Pakistan. By the time their only daughter arrived, they had built a reasonable life for themselves. My father bought a car the day I was born to celebrate and ensure that his only daughter comes home from the hospital in a car! As I look back, I am in awe of my forward thinking parents, they raised me just as they did their other two boys- I rode motor bikes and was introduced to the concept of independence very early on. We were not rich but a wholesome and loving rearing made up for a great childhood for all of us. They ensured that I studied in good schools and was supported when I requested help.
I did very well in school and then met my first big failure in life – inability to become a doctor which was my father’s dream! My late father always meant a lot to me. I was lost. I knew from early age that I get energized by delivering great customer service, I applied for IHM because one of my other friends was applying and suggested I would be a good fit. So really not a thought through strategy at that juncture in my life. I just wanted to start doing something to get myself going after the big speed bump. Hospitality was an emerging industry in 1994 and not a place where many middle class parents saw their daughters working.

IWH: What made you select Hospitality as a career? Was it easy making that decision?
Vipula Gandhi: IHM, Mumbai and OCLD years shaped who I am. Hospitality industry taught me basic fundamentals of business that I still hold dear in my heart – customer is the reason why businesses exist. Everything that we do must have customers’ interest at its center. Having spent 4 years in hotel operations and Sales, I realized that my calling was elsewhere and when offered a sales role in Financial sector I made my move. Then followed 7 years in Banking sector that led me to a Corporate Banking Director role in London with Barclays Bank. In spite of success in this role and an MBA in Finance, I soon felt I needed an intellectual challenge and when head hunted for management consulting role, I changed industry again. I now feel fulfilled helping organizations grow; growing businesses have huge impact on building successful societies. This is my contribution to making this world a better place. When I look back, the industry changes make complete sense  but they looked risky and out of comfort zone when life presented those doors of opportunity. I have lived and worked in Mumbai, Delhi, London, Dubai, Singapore and Washington DC.

IWH: What is your current role?
Vipula Gandhi: I am now the Managing Partner for a management consulting firm, Gallup Inc, and based at the company’s headquarter in Washington DC. My teams and I help  C- Suite leaders of Fortune 1000 companies on designing and delivering on business strategy through advise and analytics.

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Wednesday, 12 September 2018

The answer is ‘YES’ what’s the question!!

My Association with Ms. Nandita Lad Deora goes to more than 20 years now. We worked at the Taj Mahal hotel, Mumbai as colleagues. She was a great professional, extremely passionate about her work but made things look really easy with her great sense of humour. She did not come from a hospitality background; she is a commerce graduate but learnt the ropes of the trade and the finer nuances with her dedication and hard work. She won everyone’s appreciation. The journey that began in 1996 has had interesting benchmarks all along. She started her career in the Housekeeping department but went on to become a  General Manager at the Gordon House Hotel in 2007, the company that she joined in 2001 as the Executive Housekeeper.  In 2016 she moved to head the  Sales and  Events for the Banqueting Division of  K-Hospitality .K-hospitality currently leads  high quality banqueting ,catering services and F&B .  Copper Chimney , Irish House, Blue Sea Banquets and The Palace Halls are just to name a few under the K-hospitality umbrella .
She has had an extremely enriching career pre- opening properties, handling design  as well as positioning of various brands that she was associated with. Learning has been an integral part of her professional journey. She is a Certified Hospitality Administrator from the American Hotel and Lodging Association Educational Institute. She also acquired “CHHE (Certified Hospitality Housekeeping Executive)”,a Certification course (exclusively for Executive Housekeepers) from AHLEI. She earned her certification for completion of ‘Introduction to Global Hospitality Management’ course offered by the prestigeous Cornell University, New York, USA  in Feb 2015.
IWH in conversation with the extremely talented Ms. Deora.
IWH: Tell us something about you, your growing up years, life through school, college etc.
Nandita: A Daddys Girl, Mommys best friend and brother’s pet Sister best defines me as a child. Born and raised in Mumbai in a  simple Maharashtrian family set up,I grew up with practically no ambition but a deep desire to live in the moment and seek happiness in whatever I did. I completed my schooling from St.Columba School and then graduated in Commerce from Elphinstone College . Childhood meant fun filled  and carefree days right until a point when it hit me that everyone around me had a plan when drafting one for myself wasn’t even on my To-do List . It was only then that I strove to hold on to anythimg that I got and decided to make it work for me. Once I had a job at hand .. the aim was to make a career out of it .
Hosting was in my blood. I had pandered to my family remember likes and dislikes and catered to every visitor’s wish all my life. Whilst unconsciously I was absorbing these practices at home I consciously began my first course of training  as a Graduate Trainee with The Taj  Mahal Palace and Tower. This convinced me further that Hospitality begins at home . I feel deep and act with intensity but I am a peoples person at heart.
Married to a Chef  for over 13 years now, professional discussions are very much a part of dinner conversations and this has helped us get a trusted perspective to any issue. Understanding our professions has only helped us build an emotional connect as well . As parents of two children who deserve our  time and attention ,we often  find ourselves struggling with finding the right work-life balance. This is always at a Work in Progress stage. Nevertheless, for someone who couldn’t even boil an egg correctly, marrying a Chef has been one of the best decisions !
IWH: What made you select Hospitality as a career? Was it easy making that decision?
Nandita: Hospitality chose me. I just wanted A job ! It seemed fast paced and the glamour that it is always associated with ,made it easy to grab the opportunity. Making the decision wasn’t as much as a challenge anymore. In 1996, it wasn’t common for a girl to take up jobs at hotels. It was the era where the bank jobs were considered the best you could have . My parents were supportive and that’s all that mattered to me.
IWH: What is your current role?
Nandita: Currently,  I manage business at The Palace Halls ,Luxury Banquet venues located at Worli in Mumbai as the Sales Head  for Events since its pre-opening phase in 2016.
My role primarily involves  leading a sales team to bring in business and manage premium events for clients .We manage premium weddings, corporate events , award functions and social gatherings .Meeting happy people at happy occasions and helping  them create happy memories is something I totally love about this role.
IWH: How has your hospitality journey been so far? Pros, cons etc?
Nandita: I actually consider Hospitality as part of my Lifestyle. I think of it as selling a product that is “Experience”. Experience in itself being subjective and unique to the various elements in every circumstance, there is not a standard formula to excel in it. I think the better one is at problem solving the more rewarding Hospitality gets.
My journey began as a job at The Taj Mahal Palace which is one of the most revered places in this sector in India. It created a strong foundation for my career in hospitality. You realize what you learn early on really goes a long way in shaping the rest of your career. The only way to enjoy this journey is to love what you are doing and do it well. Humility and professionalism are the key factors towards making “Hospitality” a success. Having learnt this with the Taj, I was quickly able to move ahead with confidence which led me to taking up larger responsibilities at every role. In this journey thus far, I have been able to learn from effective leaders and also lead teams who shared the same level of passion and enthusiasm.
After  2 decades of being  so passionately engaged at work ,there did come a time when I felt short on energies to manage what I was meant to do, professionally and on the home front. Its never easy to realize or accept the need to “recharge our  batteries “ until even positive events begin to feel overwhelming if they take energy to enjoy !
Playing  a 24×7 Mommy  at home was the best reward  I could have give myself then.The psychological space from the demands of life and the attachment to the other identities you worked so hard for didn’t really seem difficult to be kept aside.Afterall ,It didn’t mean  shrinking responsibilities , it simply meant taking care of myself. I spent dedicated time ,almost a year , to decide which direction I wanted to go next .Analysing my  preferences, strengths, values, experience, goals and what is  more  important now,   I am back into the journey to keep moving forward.
Pros – There is a considerable amount of glamour that people associate with the industry and and that can totally drive your motivation. The atmosphere at work is vibrant , lively and bright, no matter how busy it gets. The energies and synergies that surround you can keep you on a consistent high.  There is enormous scope to diversifying into a variety roles which lead to a rapid horizontal expansion of experience and maturity in this career .
No major cons …just long days. Extended working hours especially on weekends does get a little disturbing especially when you have a family. It is not uncommon to miss out on your family or personal time on occasions. Finding a work- life balance can be challenging especially if you are married to someone who works on a similar routine.
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