From running hotels, Ritu Chawla Mathur is now helping plan and build them and from being a 27×7 professional she is exploring the buried artist within her and is painting a fresh new canvas of opportunities.
Meet the dynamic Managing Partner of Prognosis Global Consulting, a full service Consulting, Asset Management and Advisory Services Company focused on Hospitality, Leisure and Food Services industry in the South Asia Region.
In a career spanning almost 25 years, with 17 substantial years in the field of hard-core Hotel Operations, today, Ritu Chawla Mathur is one of the few senior women managing partners in India’s Hospitality Consulting landscape; and one with an ideal blend of hotel operations proficiency and high-yielding hospitality consulting expertise.
In her new avatar as an entrepreneur, she also made time to revisit her latent passion for Art. Ritu has had no formal education in art, except her art classes that she thoroughly enjoyed while in School.
Ritu Chawla Mathur says “Even though I am a Hotelier by profession, I’ll always be an art fanatic at heart, first. My style is evolving every day, but I enjoy abstract and bold representations of simple things in life. For me my paintings are a reminder of celebrating the ordinary, a time to stop and smell the roses”.
Ritu has been part of the Organizing Committee for ‘Oorja – A redefining expression’ an Art Show for a Cause, in Bangalore, along with being a participating artist.
Ritu Chawla Mathur is also the National Vice President of WICCI Hospitality and Tourism Council that provides an independent forum for Women in the Hospitality & Tourism Industry who can ‘connect and grow’ in their professional pursuits through its goals of networking, communication, education and support.
This is her story:
Does a glass ceiling exist??!! Frankly, I’m not here to answer that for you. But I’m here to share some subtle lessons that I have picked along my journey of 25 years as a career woman, which can help you arrive at your own answers. I’m going to be brutally honest and hopefully inspire and see ourselves less as victims and more as change-agents and rescuers.
Changing the narrative – Success to me
In a hospitality corporate career, defining success seems quite simple. Another step up the career ladder. A larger team. A bigger hotel to run. A better salary.
So when I told my dad, after almost two decades in a thriving career of my dreams with some of the best Hotel chains in the country, that I was going to marry and then quit my hard-earned positions as GM, it definitely came as a shocker not only to my family but to many. Parting a high-flying job in the peak of your career as a GM of an International chain was almost looking like failure! Was I giving up on my ambitions?
It was after 17 years as a busy career professional, that I married. I married very late! But let that be hope for women who have spent more time on their careers first and had to sacrifice personal priorities, because leaving my high-paying corporate job was one of my best decisions so far!
It helped me discover what success really means to me. Today, as an entrepreneur and Managing Partner of my growing Hospitality Consulting firm I still passionately enjoy my cerebral hospitality work, feeling at peace with the right balance between work and relaxation and having enough time to pursue my other hobbies and passions be it art or philanthropy, also helping me connect with my self-identity.
So I would say create your own ‘success-story’, and dare to dream differently. Find your own lane and proceed to win!
Indra Nooyi’s sweetest and shortest route to success for career women resonates with me, “Pick the right husband.” This couldn’t hold truer for me. I did. And here I am. So to be a future female corporate kingpin is to also give more thought to your choice of spouse. If I had one mantra to share it would be to find a man who is a mental match, but who is happy to play a supportive role in your career.
My real journey of growing into who I am today really started with these choices, uncovering parts of me with each new stage of my life and helping me change the narrative.
I am a second generation hotelier. Both my parents have been part of the Hotel Industry from the early years of its advent in India. So there was little surprise that this is all I’ve ever wanted to do and become from as far back as I remember! We lived in Hotels for most of my formative years. I would eat, sleep and dream hotels.
However, when the time came to take up a Hotel Management career my mother was never keen. In spite of herself being a product of the Industry, she had seen the difficult environment of long hours, less pay, glass-ceilings and even a social unacceptance of women in such roles and was hoping to protect me with the discouragement.
However, I was adamant and with my father’s (hesitant) support, I was privileged to join the hand-picked first batch of IHM, Aurangabad (erstwhile, Indian Institute of Hotel Management) run by the Taj Group of Hotels. So I left home, at the young age of 17yrs, never to look back.
I believe my undying passion for the industry, determination to succeed (and maybe even prove a point!), and commitment to hard-work (as I had seen my parents slog long hours, so I knew what I was getting into) was all defining outcomes of my early growing years.
In addition, my choice of a strong educational foundation and efforts to eventually join the Taj Group as a Management Trainee in the iconic Taj Mahal Hotel Palace & Towers, Mumbai in my foundation years, catapulted my career in the right trajectory. I later realised in life that following my passion that also pays me, with an organization that resonated with my personal values, was my very raison-d’etre.
My Success Mantra
With my first employer, they moved me every 2-3 years to new hotels and new roles across the country. In my younger years I grabbed the opportunity to explore new cities and just to experience the adrenaline rush of meeting new people – guests and colleagues, alike.
I was extremely lucky and blessed (humbled and grateful to my mentors) to get my first executive position, as an acting HOD (FOM) in the ripe age of 26 years, leading a team of 30; in 2008 I was one of the youngest GMs of the Taj Group – at the Taj Fisherman’s Cove, Chennai – in those days, viewed as a very challenging position by many, owing to its aggressive labour union.
I was also selected for the first batch of a sponsored Executive MBA at the SP Jain Institute, Mumbai while working almost 14-16 hours a day as the EAM of a Luxury hotel, leaving me to burn the midnight oil while working a demanding full-time job, sacrifice a lot of my personal life to upskill myself and complete the program, at any cost.
The point I’m trying to make is that there were many firsts and I volunteered for them all! I am of the opinion that every woman, if she makes the choice for a long-haul career, can succeed. You must have the grit, commitment, dream and you will.
The game is to work hard, stay resilient and get into executive positions early, so you can exercise flexibility and work-life balance that helps you push right to the top.
Give it your all! Work hard, take initiative, be fearless, don’t just lean forward – plunge in, at every turn embrace the opportunities that come your way — raise your hands and let people know you are up for challenging roles!
Be persistent, be resilient and be purpose-driven.
In the People Business
With each leadership role, I faced a unique set of challenges. In the initial years, as I became a manager at a very young age, it was simply to be taken seriously and have my team execute instructions (you must be aware of the rant : Boss ban gayi hai toh attitude dikha rahi hai).
As I grew into my senior roles, the challenge became the ability to influence positive outcomes by motivating diverse teams for maximum impact and managing the various stakeholder expectations.
However, whether dealing with my hotel gardener or my ownership team, some of the people-management skills that have always held me in good stead were: leading by example; empathy; never making it personal or below the belt; not seeking the spotlight but helping others become the stars of the show; respect and transparency while dealing with people across all levels; and never relying on favours but letting high standards of performance and work-ethics talk for me.
My Vision for my Industry
While we women have all that it takes to make good leaders in the Hospitality and related Services industries, from the time I joined and quarter of a century later, we continue to be under represented, especially at senior levels.
Diversity must not just remain a feminine agenda but become a business agenda! Having women leaders in our teams, yields unparalleled opportunities and competitive advantages. And as smart leaders of tomorrow, to have winning gender-balanced teams – we must be aware of these advantages and support it!
It is time to shift the discussion away from a lingering women’s problem or an issue of equality or glass-ceilings and instead focus on this as a massive business opportunity.
Notes to my younger self
If I could give my younger self some advice it would be that some traits that we women bring on to the table cannot be undermined – well-organized, full of compassion, spiritually aligned and well-balanced (between task & people).
The best women leaders I’ve worked with and role-modelled are well-rounded people. These women are master multi-taskers and highly collaborative (though not afraid to get territorial to protect their domain!). So my two-penny advice would be to spend the earlier days honing and capitalizing on these very traits that give you an edge.
I believe, theoretically, every woman could be capable of reaching the top of her organization. Right? What sets women such as Indra Nooyi and Ginni Rometty apart from the rest of the similarly talented women are: they embraced opportunities, benefitted from their higher emotional intelligence; sought out the right mentors at various stages; grew their teams along with them, looked for respect more than recognition, had supportive families and dreamt big!
As women, we do not have to “fit in” we just need to wear our superhero capes and don our superpowers of the strong-willed, purpose-driven, and passionate women that we are.
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