Hotelier Vikram Cotah talks to Ticha Tilokani about his meteoric rise to the top of the Radisson and GRT Chain in Chennai.
1. Your journey to the top of the Radisson and GRT chain in Chennai
It was love at first sight! I was 14 years old and went to see an uncle from America who was staying in The Taj Coromandel Hotel. I fell in love with the lobby of the hotel. The sight of pretty ladies sailing with low-hip saris smiling as though they have no worries in the world and the gentlemen in smart dark suits strutting very businesslike not aware of the great ambience surrounding them but are out to accomplish something big. The exquisitely presented food and blood red wine in clinking glasses- I could feel the luxury and the glamour shaking hands everywhere. This extraordinarily experience created my dream to become part of this one day. Later on, after graduating from IHM Bangalore, I joined the same hotel as a Management trainee. The love at first sight turned soon into a passion. Love happened again when I saw a front office trainee from across the same hotel lobby where I was the Asst. Restaurant Manager at the IndianRestaurant. I married Sowmya after a year’s courtship in the same hotel. My journey took me around the world to exotic locations like Maldives and also into some popular Indian and International Hospitality and QSR brands and finally I joined the Radisson Blu GRT Hotel as a General Manager. I upgraded my skills with certifications from the Ivy League Cornell University . In 2010, I was nominated as for the prestigious award: ‘General Manager of the Year’ for the Carlson Hotels Asia Pacific.Today, I am a Senior Vice President with Multi- Hotels responsibility and also responsible for the new Hotel projects of GRT Hotels and Resorts.
2. You are a social celebrity yourself. Tell us about that.
I am not a socialite, though I seem to have a reputation for being one as I love people! I happen to have some good friends who happen to be in the so called ‘Society’. Being in hotels you come across fascinating people and some very successful and interesting ones too! I am fortunate to rub shoulders with some accomplished celebrities as part of my profession. I have dined and entertained Heads of State, Top Business heads, Fashionistas, Film stars, Writers, Sportspersons and many more during my journey in this profession. I was a pioneer in food styling for food photography in Chennai and this brought me in contact with the media and famed photographers like Sharad Haksar and Venkat.
3. The current state of the hospitality industry in India.
The hospitality industry is a true indicator of the economy. If the economy is on the high, the hospitality industry booms. I have seen such cycles already during my career. Unfortunately, in the last ‘high’ many players invested into the industry and all these hotels are getting ready now and we having over-supply with limited demand which is adding to the woes in most cities in India. But I always see the ‘glass half full’ and I think this industry will see glory soon again. After all in this global age people have to travel, stay, eat and have fun!!
4. We heard your daughter is a fabulous combination of intelligence and beauty. She was a topper in school and is now making her entry into the world of modeling. What plans do you have for her? What are her aspirations?
I am not taking any credit for my genes! Nevertheless, Ramya is an all- rounder and I am proud of her. She stood first in the state in her 10th football at district level for the school, city schools level athlete, School Head Girl, excelled in debating and acting and finally scored 97.5% in her 12th .As part of her growing up experimentation she is also modeling now after she won “Ms Photogenic” in a talent hunt “Megamodel” by Prasad Bidappa last year in the city. She has done quite a few assignments for top brands and seems to be enjoying herself. But finally she also wants to be an Hotelier and is going to do a management degree in Hospitality.
5. How do you balance work life and family as your work involves so much travel?
Hospitality as any service industry is hard on family and social life. But I try and balance it and also get some family & ‘me’ time after all. I love travel and in the past few years I have been to more than 20 countries and many cities on work as well as for holidays. My wife Sowmya also travels with me during work-travel sometimes. My idea of chilling is the bi-annual holidays always with family and friends. Hoteliers go through a crazy lifestyle & I am writing my first book on first hand hotelier’s experiences and customer service and call it “Serve Love”!
6. We know you are also fitness-conscious. Tell us about your workout and diet regimen. How tough is it to head a hospitality chain that is well known for the quality of food and resist the temptation of bingeing every day?
Fitness is a lifestyle for me. I have always been physical and did a lot of sport before hotels came by. With the crazy work schedules now my fitness time is 5.30 am in the morning 5 days a week. I try and get 90 minutes of workout –mostly functional training of cardio and strength training. To keep the body fit you also need a fit mind and I live a positive life as stress free as possible. Diet is 70% of your fitness and I try and eat clean but it is difficult sometimes when the chef cooks up some tempting lunches or when we are making new menus when I have to taste all the food or when I am entertaining. I am quite a foodie and have a Facebook Foodie page. I also take pride in my cooking skills !
7. The work culture at your group of hotels. Tell us about how you nurture and identity talent
People are the most important factor for hospitality service. GRT Hotels realize this and has invested a lot into nurturing, training and development of this asset. In Hotels if customer is God, Employees are Angels and have to be revered as much! We have several programs for people recruitment, retention and growth and some of them are benchmarked by International brands from our policies. We try and engage employees at every stage so that they have a fulfilling career with us.
8. A few words for RITZ on our 10th anniversary.
RITZ is a lifestyle magazine I have been personally following it for the past 10 years. I always look out for Ritz magazine among all my subscriptions as it sets the perspective on the many lifestyle concepts and is also entertaining. It has carved out a unique space in this niche and reaches out to a great audience. I try and get our hotels advertised in it often. I wish Aruna (one of the most inspiring entrepreneurs I have met) – a great friend, all the best for the next successful decade.