In a recent interview, Tarun Kalra, the General Manager of The Warehouse Hotel in Singapore, talks about his journey from being a little boy growing up in India, star-struck by the lavish fixtures and fittings of a hotel, to running one of Singapore’s top five-star properties and being a Hotelier Award finalist for 2018.
“A General Manager is not able to achieve much alone, we need our army of commanders to trust and believe in the vision and stride forward together.”
My childhood was spent growing up in India. I was born in New Delhi and lived in various cities from Mumbai to Visakhapatnam, where I experienced a range of Indian cultures. Amongst our family of four, some of the most important values for us were, discipline, details, punctuality, respect and humility. Still to this day, these are the values that continue to be of high importance to me and drive my passion for what I do.
I remained in India throughout my education after deciding to go to one of the most recognised Hospitality colleges in the country – the Institute of Hotel Management (IHM) in Mumbai. I decided to take this step as I was in awe of the industry and intrigued by what goes into managing and executing the experiences that make hospitality shine. I had this never-ending desire to learn and wanted to be trained and mentored by the best. Having a solid foundation was the way forward for me and I realised that attending this school was a natural choice.
My interest in hospitality grew stronger whilst in Mumbai. This passion inspired me to delve in further and venture down to Australia to complete a Master of Business Administration (Hotel & Tourism) at the University of Western Sydney. My year and a half long stint in Sydney was a true eye opener, with a huge focus on innovation, technology and finance. Hospitality was at a point of fast growth and design, and concepts were rapidly coming to the forefront.
My career has taken me on one of the most exciting journeys, from when I first worked behind the bar and waited on guests in a restaurant, to sales, operations, hotel management and now onto my current role, working as the General Manager for The Warehouse Hotel in Singapore.
Since my childhood I was fortunate enough to be exposed to the hospitality industry through dining at some of the best properties and concepts across Asia and India. Inspiration to join the industry always came from the spaces I visited. The grand building facades, the shining lobby areas and the luxurious marble finishing always had me in awe. The feeling of being in a hotel made people happy. I believe that the exquisite surroundings and environment often bring the best out of people, including guests and the hotel staff. This sense is what attracted me to want to understand the industry further and find out more about all the things that go on to make that feeling of happiness come to life.
Each opportunity that I have had the pleasure of experiencing has its own privilege. One of my fondest memories was when I actually took my first step into hospitality back in 1999 and started out as a Management Trainee at The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore. This was truly my foundation, where I worked tirelessly to learn and grasp the true meaning of hospitality.
I have been fortunate to have had many mentors to guide me along the way, but to choose one in particular, I would say Mr. Octavio Gamarra, a fine engaging hospitality professional, amazing father of two boys and loving husband. We have known each other since 2004 and he has been by my side ever since. Mr. Gamarra mentored me, pushed, shoved and pulled me up in times of need. He never gave me answers, instead he provided me with the foundations to help me think and come up with my own solutions. It is a privilege to know him, he is a true inspiration and the experience that I have gained from his advice has really helped to shape the person and hotelier I am today.
In my early career as hotelier, I came to a realisation that making others happy was my number one goal. Their happiness is my happiness and I always want to be a part of this journey that make a positive difference to other people’s lives.
My trusted colleagues from the leadership team of The Warehouse Hotel nominated me for this award. Honestly, a General Manager is not able to achieve much alone, we need our army of commanders to trust and believe in the vision and stride forward together. Today, I can proudly say that I have that team…the dream team, where mutual respect for one another takes us places.
When I received the news that I became a finalist for The Hotelier Awards Asia, I was happy and humbled to be among some of the industry greats. It is wonderful to be alongside these great leaders and this is an absolute honour for me. My passion is often fuelled by my team and I am sure they are raring to fuel me up even more!
I am a strong believer that all professionals should seek inspiration and guidance from those mentors willing to support them. I myself have a mentee and I always ensure that some of the leaders who work with me have mentors too. As industry Stalwarts, it is our duty to ensure that we treat the younger hospitality generation and interns with respect and integrity and give them meaningful and purposeful training. We need to welcome the future hoteliers with open arms and provide them with all the support they need.
A career in hospitality can often be challenging where holidays, weekends, festivals and family occasions can become second priority. The younger generation and their families have to be ready to accept such a working culture, before we can really give them that long rewarding career. Being a role model helps, being a servant leader helps and most of all being that engaging leader who leads with respect and dignity will inspire the younger generation to foster a career in hospitality.