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An interview with General Manager finalist Hemal Jain

 

The Hotelier Awards enjoyed catching up with one of Asia’s General Manager finalists Hemal Jain from Alila Ubud. Find out about the experiences and individuals he believes helped to lay his foundation for a career as a hotelier.

 

“When I was a young boy I could only ever dream of stepping foot in one of the luxurious five-star hotels I would see in India.”

 

1. Can you tell us about your background?

I was born and brought up in Kolkata, India. I come from a very simple middle class joint family in a small town called Howrah. The values and cultural up-bringing that we were taught as kids, are still to this day something that I hold onto dearly, keeping me grounded and values that I will never forget.

At the age of 18, I moved out of Kolkata to pursue my dream of working in hotel management. I arrived in the beautiful city of Lucknow in India, the place where Biryani and Kebabs were born and a place where “Tehzeeb” (Culture) was prominent. It was here where I completed my Bsc. in Hotel & Hospitality Administration at the Institute of Hotel Management. It was somewhere that I made lifelong friends and embarked on an amazing journey into this wonderful industry.

After I graduated, I joined Oberoi Hotels in Agra, India, before moving to Wildflower Hall, an Oberoi Resort in Shimla, amidst the Himalayas. Following that initial experience, I worked in Mumbai, Goa, Doha, Maldives, Bangalore, and up until now where I am on the beautiful island of Bali working as a General Manager at Alila Ubud.

 

2. Where and when did your initial interest in hospitality begin?

We used to live amongst a joint family system, which still remains an integral part of Indian culture. It was amazing to see how my parents treated our relatives and friends who regularly came to visit us. Guests were always given their utmost respect and dignity, they were always offered snacks and treats with the warmest of welcomes. ‘Guest is God (Atithi Devo Bhava)’ is a traditional proverb in India that I always remember and it is something that still holds so much relevance in our industry. Indeed, we are nothing without our guests.

When I was a young boy I could only ever dream of stepping foot in one of the luxurious five-star hotels I would see in India. The thought of it used to scare me, as I believed that only the wealthiest could go inside and only people who were dressed well. Imagining what I used to see in films and read in books, I was often in awe of the level of service and attention the hoteliers would give and always admired the impeccable standards. As you can imagine, it makes me so proud to be where I am now, managing a five-star hotel and meeting and attending to all these special guests who influence my life so much today…I will never ever forget the past and the humble beginnings that I was lucky to be a part of.

 

3. What opportunities have you experienced that you feel have been the most valuable part of your career development as a hotelier?

I have been fortunate enough to experience some incredible opportunities throughout my career and I owe thanks to the people who came into my life and inspired me. During my first ever year as a hotelier when I worked at the Oberoi Trident Agra as a Front Office Assistant, I was sent to complete a task force assignment at the Oberoi Wild Flower Hall, Shimla (a luxury resort). On my return back to Trident Agra, I received a call from the Oberoi Wildflower Hall who were impressed with my work and invited me to move there as a Front Office Supervisor. This would not have been possible if it wasn’t for the guidance and support of my boss Mr. Imran Sultan (the past Oberoi Wildflower Hall- Front Office Manager), who spearheaded this move with his trust and belief. He then mentored me and guided me into becoming a better Front Office leader. He is now the GM of Oberoi Lombok, Indonesia. I will always owe my gratitude to him because I believe he was the one who laid the foundation for my career by transferring me to a Luxury Resort after just one year of experience as an assistant, because he believed in my capabilities.  I still look up to him and we continue to remain in contact, even though we live far apart.

I also had the privilege of gaining valuable experience from the General Manager of Oberoi Wildflower Hall, Mr. David Mathews, who was an incredibly dynamic leader with clarity of thought. Although he is based in Mumbai, I still to this day admire the way that he used to care for and interact with members of the team and guests. When I first stepped foot into the industry at just 23 years old, his actions and positive way of communicating was such an eye opener for me. If I have the chance to visit him in Mumbai, I will offer my sincere thanks.

My mentor who has actually shaped my career, trained me, and trusted me in my capabilities throughout is my current CEO, Mr. Frederic Flageat Simon. He has been instrumental in providing me the right and most dynamic opportunities during my time with Alila. I was moved from Alila Villas Hadahaa, Maldives (a luxury resort) as FOM to be the DOSM at Alila Bangalore in India. These were very dynamic transitioning’s, ones that have aided my growth and helped me to think more strategically. Having also worked in difficult environments and alongside people with varied cultures, it has enriched my life, enabling me to become a strong leader.

 

4. Can you share one particular memory that you have experienced during your time as a hotelier that made you realise this was the right industry for you?

I do not have only one memory but several of them, as this industry is so dynamic. No two days are the same and that is what I love the most. From when I first started my career as a bell boy, to learning and developing as a receptionist, to working my way up with continuous hard work, the memories of my journey have been a significant part of my career. I breathe hospitality, it is not a job, it is my lifestyle. I cherish every moment of my time in the industry.

 

5. What attracted you to apply for The Hotelier Awards Asia and what does the platform mean to you and your team?

The precision in which Simon, the Managing Director of The Hotelier Awards, presented this platform to us signalled a lot of great intent and the result is here in front of all of us. It’s amazing how The Hotelier Awards has grown over these past few years, and I honestly call it the Oscars of the Hospitality Industry. It is recognition that our industry was badly in need of.

During the first year we were introduced to the Awards, I made sure that each of my HODs participated and applied, they were all very excited to partake in this and felt special being involved.

 

6. How are you planning on leveraging this opportunity to inspire the younger generation to work harder at developing their career in the hospitality scene?

I am currently in contact with the Alumni from my previous college in India and I have already committed to host a talk on the hospitality industry the next time I am in the country. They are all very excited to hear about how big and varied the sector is and the opportunities that could be available to them, including Digital Marketing & Sales and Marketing careers.

Once you take your first step into the industry, yes a lot of hard work is needed, whilst also making some sacrifices, but what I can say is that this industry truly shapes you into a well rounded human being. I will also be talking to a few colleges in Bali that we are a part of. We hope to entice their students to pursue their development further by working in the wonderful world of hospitality.

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