The Smart CEO Questionnaire is a series of questions aimed at helping our readers understand the thought process of an entrepreneur or CEO, their areas of passion and the finer nuances of his or her management style. For example, we try to understand what he or she learnt at business school that is still put to use or what is that one question he or she asks in all hiring interviews.
For the inaugural edition of the Questionnaire in 2016, we invited Shruti Shibulal, Promoter, Director and Head-Corporate Strategy at The Tamara, a hospitality venture owned and operated by Infosys’ SD Shibulal’s family office.
Shruti joined The Tamara in September 2012, after completing her MBA at Columbia Business School. She’s deeply passionate about promoting sustainable living and responsible tourism in all the hospitality projects of the Group. The Tamara Coorg, the company’s first resort, imbibes all these characteristics with careful attention to detail. The natural habitation of Coorg is not tampered with; the resort is set amidst coffee plantations and the people in the neighboring community fit in seamlessly into the resort, working either on the hospitality side or in the plantations.
In addition to the hospitality venture, Shruti is also responsible for several initiatives within SD Shibulal’s family office (Innovations Investments Management) and a few philanthropic projects as well.
What are you extremely passionate about?
I think, from a business perspective, what I am deeply passionate about is creating employment. With The Tamara for instance, we have people from different levels across the socio-economic ladder and we try to ask ourselves, how can we help everyone grow to the next level? As we scale up, we hope to hire more and more people, engage with the local community, help them grow in their careers and in the process, ensure their families do well.
“I learnt several little things at Columbia. I took a class on negotiation, which I pretty much use on a weekly basis. I learnt how fighting many small battles and winning each one can be more rewarding that going for that one big win”
What are your top priorities today?
Like in any other business, the primary goal is to grow, both in terms of brand and financial perspective. In addition to The Tamara, Coorg, we currently operate Lilac, a service apartment in Bangalore and a resort in Kerala. We’re now scouting around for opportunities in Europe; We may not operate properties there yet, but we believe, it certainly makes sense to own resorts internationally.
My other major priority is to constantly hire good people. We want to hire people not necessarily from traditional hospitality backgrounds, but those who are able to multi-task, have many interests and are talented in various areas.
Take me through your first day at work at The Tamara
The first thing I did was to introduce myself. We had a team who sort of knew me but I hadn’t spent too much time with them. From being a promoter, I became an employee, so I wanted to make myself very accessible and open. I wanted to be able to go to people and say, how can we collaborate? How can we work together as a team? It was important to create an environment where things can be done in a collaborative fashion.
What is the one question you always ask in your hiring interviews?
While hiring, it is incredibly important to gather some insight about a person’s character. I chat with them explaining the philosophy of what we do, trying to get a sense of their value system. I talk about some social projects they have done. I talk about their needs and aspirations. The goal is to make sure their needs align with ours.
Also, while hiring it is important to understand how people can extend themselves and step up. It is not only about one’s resume and credentials. For example, at Coorg, our head of engineering became the General Manager of the resort. As is often said in the hospitality industry, people are our greatest asset, they must be empowered.
What did you learn at business school that you use today?
I learnt several little things at Columbia. I took a class on negotiation, which I pretty much use on a weekly basis. I learnt about the Napoleon’s Glance, an approach to convert one’s passions into long-term strategic goals, from Professor William Duggan. I learnt how fighting many small battles and winning each one can be more rewarding that going for that one big win; I understood from various case studies, how some opportunities may not be obvious, and ideas come from being open and aware. Of course, as any business school graduate would say, you meet a lot of wonderful people and and make friends for life.
Gut vs. Data. What do you lean towards?
Definitely, data. At the first-level of decision making, I believe having data is critical. Of course, there are many intangibles and an understanding of that comes from the gut. So, one must learn to be flexible.
Tell us what you read.
I read a lot of articles; Economist and HBR are two magazines I follow closely. Recently I read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, and it has influenced me immensely. It is a book, I believe, that will be a great read for men as well; but for a woman, it really helps you deal with how you can grow your professional career while still managing your personal priorities.
Shruti Shibulal: Promoter, Director and Head-Corporate Strategy at The Tamara
Education: MBA, Columbia Business School
Key Responsibilities: Grow The Tamara brand
Involved in the family’s foundation and family office
Explore international acquisitions for The Tamara in Europe
Passionate about: Job creation
Recent read: Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg