Today's Traveller Interviews

Astute Alchemist: An exclusive interview with Puneet Chhatwal

Puneet Chhatwal, MD & CEO, IHCL, has raised the bar for successful leadership with his performance-driven skills and innovative concepts.

Puneet Chhatwal
Puneet Chhatwal, MD & CEO, IHCL

Though the hospitality industry has always had a significant impact on the world economy, today, it faces challenges resulting from a complex and ever-changing global business environment.

When Today’s Traveller Coffee Table Book 2019 spoke to Puneet Chhatwal, MD & CEO, IHCL, the first impression was that of a man confident of leading India’s oldest hospitality brand to new heights.

Chhatwal is known as the alchemist in the Hospitality Industry and ever since he took over the reins of the celebrated Tata Group Company, he has been on a relentless quest for higher revenue and profit growth.

Speaking of his modest beginnings, Chhatwal shares how, as a typical Delhi boy, he attended Delhi Public School and graduated from Delhi University. His parents wanted him to join medicine or engineering, but he decided to pursue a degree in Hotel Management, a choice that they did not appreciate initially.

Nevertheless, right from his first job at ITDC, where he even had to clean the lobby floor, to an assignment overseas and his journey back to his homeland, he has never regretted any decision.

He says, “I learned my most important lessons in the school of life! My early days taught me the value of humility and gave me invaluable exposure in handling tough situations that have remained with me ever since.”

Chhatwal reflects on how it was not the 4Ps of marketing that taught him life lessons, but rather the 3Ps – Patna, the city of his first posting; Pune, the city where he learned the power of language; and Paris, which exposed him to a whole new world. Enrolling in German classes at the Max Mueller Bhavan was a turning point.

He attributes his financial acumen to his MBA in Hospitality, at the Essec Business School in Paris, and INSEAD, where he did his Advanced Management Program, which transformed his outlook towards business and numbers.

Today, Chhatwal heads a company that is over 120 years old and an amalgamation of brands and businesses that offers a fusion of warm Indian hospitality and world-class service. It operates over 190 hotels, including 38 under development, globally across 4 continents, 12 countries, and across over 80 locations. 

Shares Chhatwal, “My first assignment overseas gave me the confidence to move out of my comfort zone.”  Though he intended to return home, fate ordained otherwise. 

He landed a job in a consulting company in Germany and ended up spending 28 years abroad. The multi-lingual hotelier, Chhatwal got his initial break from a German friend’s family, who wanted to restart their hotel business. He grabbed this exciting opportunity to rebuild the group, known as the Feuring Group before moving to The Rezidor Hotel Group-Carlson Hotels Worldwide. Carlson exposed him to the American way of doing things, a lethal combination of German discipline and quality with American packaging and marketing.

Thereafter, Chhatwal shifted to Steigenberger Hotels AG Deutsche Hospitality, as CEO and board member, until he moved back to India in his current role. 

Coming home provided Chhatwal the binary advantage of being within close proximity of his mother, as well as the privilege of heading IHCL, one of South Asia’s most iconic hospitality companies. Under his aegis, the company was re-invented with a comprehensive five-year business strategy, ‘Aspiration 2022,’ announced in February 2018, enhancement of guest experiences, a transformation of brand image, with an eye on profitability and market leadership.

The rebranding strategy paid off rich dividends in terms of the establishment of iconic Taj hotels; SeleQtions, a new brand which is a collection of named hotels; the upscale Vivanta hotels; and the lean luxe Ginger hotels.  

The company’s service retail brands are under the ‘Expressions’ brand umbrella. The market leader in airline catering in India, TajSATS, further strengthens IHCL’s brand portfolio.

Compassionate and supportive, Chhatwal believes in harnessing the under-developed potential of the people in his team. His firm conviction is that a performance focussed organisation needs to constantly cultivate new mindsets and skillsets.

Inspirational and astute, Chhatwal is in sync with the new world order, in which the fast will beat the slow, and the big need to be as nimble as the small – a perspective that is sure to bring the winning edge to a truly iconic brand.

Read More: Interviews

Related posts

Joyjit Chakravorty: Leadership is an action and not a role was my biggest takeaway

Joyjit Chakravorty, General Manager, Hilton Garden Inn New Delhi/Saket

Young-Geul Choi: new and diverse attractions to promote travel to South Korea

Young-Geul Choi, Director, Korea Tourism Organization speaks on the re-opening of South Korea

Rakshit Desai: 2022 has shown signs of optimism with recovery to continue in 2023

In an exclusive interview with Today’s Traveller, Rakshit Desai, CEO, TPConnects Technologies discusses the way forward with strategies to rebuild the travel…

Veer Vijay Singh: Entrepreneurship opens different needs and new challenges

In an exclusive interview with Today’s Traveller, Veer Vijay Singh CEO & MD Trance Hotels shares comprehensive insights on his entrepreneurial journey…

Govind Mundra: Be aware of changes in the industry and be agile to shift gear

Govind Mundra, Head – Development, Eurasia, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts shares his views

Brent Hill: Its an exciting time for Fiji and I look to 2022 with a lot of optimism

In an exclusive interview with Today’s Traveller, Brent Hill, Chief Executive Officer, Tourism Fiji, the brilliant strategist behind the successful campaign of…

Dimitris Manikis: Hospitality is at the cusp of great change-needs to be future-ready  

Dimitris Manikis, President – EMEA, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, in an insightful interview

Madhav Rathore: Opportunities blossom in the wake of change

In an exclusive interview with Today’s Traveller, Madhav Rathore, Founder and CEO, The Indian Bucket List, shares comprehensive insights on the changing…

Neelabh Chugh: We all hope travel bounces back as quickly as possible

Neelabh Chugh, General Manager, Renaissance Ahmedabad, Gujarat shares insights on the changing landscape of the hospitality sector.

Sudeep Jain: We plan to almost double our India portfolio, add another 37 hotels

In an exclusive interview with Today’s Traveller, Sudeep Jain, Managing Director, South-West Asia, IHG Hotels & Resorts shares comprehensive insights on the…