Since leaving his small hometown in India for the big smoke of Mumbai, newly appointed 32 year-old housekeeping executive Ankur Ahuja has never looked back on his career in the hotel industry. Ten years on and with his sights firmly fixed onto one day becoming a general manager, Becky Paskin finds out how his grounding in Indian hospitality has led him to achieve industry recognition in the UK at JW Marriott’s Grosvenor House Hotel on London’s Park Lane.
“The hotel industry really fascinated me from the very beginning,” he said. “I thought it was an industry where you get to meet people and make a lot of friends, and there were opportunities all across the country and ultimately abroad, which was really the force behind why I decided to go to hotel school.”
After spending three years studying for a diploma in Hotel Management at the Institute of Hotel Management in Lucknow, India in 1995, followed by a brief couple of months at The Trident hotel in Udaipur, Rajastan, Ahuja moved to The Trident’s sister hotel in Cochin to take up the post of front office assistant. However, it wasn’t long before his enthusiasm and ambition paid off and he was handed his first taste of responsibility.
“The front of house manager left and the decision was taken not to replace him. I had only one year of experience as an assistant but was promoted to supervisor in his place. It gave me the opportunity to lead a team of about 12 people, because in a way I became a department head. I did a pretty good job, and was the only associate to receive an award for outstanding performance for four consecutive years, which obviously made me extremely happy.”
Leader of the pack
Ahuja’s first experience of life as a ‘manager’ provided him with the essential skills to progress both his career and the productivity of his current and future teams. Being given the chance to operate the front of house for a hotel in such a large company (at this point Trident was owned by the Oberoi group, which was subsequently taken over by Hilton) gave him the confidence and hunger to seek new skills in different areas, and different chains.
“I was at the Trident for three years and thought it was time for me to go to another hotel to see what other companies had to offer. I got to know about an opportunity for front desk manager at the JW Marriott in Mumbai, and I had heard how great the company and hotel were and so I tried my luck, and fortunately I got it.
“That was my first position with the title of a manager, and I think I was confident enough to do it. Mumbai is a big city, it’s a happening town, and the hotel was absolutely rocking. We were fully booked every single day and being a flagship hotel in a big metropolitan town there were guests that would appear from all over the world.
“Joining the Marriott was one of the best decisions I made because it gave me not only insight into a hotel’s values, culture and work ethics, but also fantastic managerial skills and a great platform to be more employable. In fact, working at the Marriott helped me with my application to come to England because of its established name.”
Despite such a beneficial and enjoyable experience at the 358-bedroom Marriott in Mumbai, Ahuja once again sought new pastures in which he could develop his skills. With the belief that running a hotel is just the same in any part of the world, he began exploring his options to work abroad and settled on moving to England, mainly for the reason he could already speak English.
Ahuja managed to secure the post of front of house manager at the small-by-comparison 67-bedroom Thistle Hotel in Stratford-Upon-Avon in 2004, but as one would expect from a person with a thirst for personal development, Ahuja developed a case of itchy feet once more.
“I started missing the five-star segment. Stratford is a small town and I had only worked in five-star hotels before, in operations that were very busy, so after spending two months at the Thistle I knew that if I really wanted to be a hotelier and general manager one day I should go back to five-star hotels because that’s where you really learn about the business.”
Luck had been on Ahuja’s side since he first set foot into his hotel school in India. In 2005, after searching tirelessly for the perfect job at a British five-star hotel, it so happened a position opened up for a front desk manager at one of the biggest hotels in London, the Grosvenor House Hotel on Park Lane.
Four years later and Ahuja has stayed with the Grosvenor, which was branded as a JW Marriott last year. He has since risen through the ranks of assistant front office manager and front office manager, to take control of a completely new area of hotel life in the role of executive housekeeper.
Keeping up appearances
“I moved to housekeeping in November because I’ve been in the front office since the beginning of my career nearly ten years ago. Now I have the responsibility of the entire backbone of the hotel, about 90 people who make sure everything is ready for the guests before they arrive.
“I also felt it was very important to work in another area, especially if I want to be the director of operations or general manager at some point. It’s critical that you know more than one skill or more than one area in the hotel, and housekeeping has provided me with a great platform to enhance my skills and get a better understanding of hotel operations.”
Ahuja’s experience working in different areas, in different hotel chains, in different countries, has given him a thorough understanding of what makes a good team leader. So much so that he was voted the Grosvenor Hotel Manager of the Year in 2007.
“Gone are the days that you can actually just be a boss and tell people what to do. These days managers are more like coaches. Your team needs you every single minute you’re at work, and its very important you give your team the support, training, recognition and the ability to make decisions for themselves to do a top-notch job. You need to be somebody that can give something more than just directions, and that’s maybe the reason why I’ve been recognised.”
Little Ankur Ahuja from a small unknown town in India who had the drive and ambition to learn, has now been tipped to step into the role of director of operations in a big five-star British hotel with just a year`s housekeeping experience. With no immediate plans to return to the year-round sunshine of India, Ahuja aims to see through his training and build on his experiences to one day become a general manager, possibly even of the Grosvenor House Hotel.