'Be so good at your work that gender stereotypes are shattered'

Suma Venkatesh, Executive Vice President - Real Estate & Development, IHCL, believes in finding the opportunity in every adversity.

Hotel Development is a very diverse and complex field, especially when compared to any other type of real estate investment or property development. While there are broad guidelines on evaluating a deal in terms of the attractiveness of a location and market assessment for development of a particular hotel brand in that location, every deal differs in terms of both financial structuring and the ground-level challenges. But this is what makes it interesting and drives me to think of different ways to approach a transaction.

Today, I head IHCL's Development, Technical Services and Projects functions and oversee its initiatives for growth through greenfield developments, acquisitions, licenses and management contracts. It's, indeed, been an eventful 17 years with IHCL, with us succeeding in signing more than 50 hotel contracts with approximately 7000 rooms, over the last two years.

What keeps me going is the belief that “Adversity is a good thing, as within it lies an opportunity”. That thought keeps me motivated to push harder to succeed. As Sheryl Sandberg has said in her book, it is about not taking your foot off the gas pedal in your career. It also means leaning towards opportunities that may seem risky or uncomfortable at first, but offer great exposure and a chance to learn something new and challenging.

In order to effectively manage teams, it is critical to have empathy and self-awareness about how one’s behaviour and beliefs can affect decision-making within an environment. One has to imbue the organization with creative new ideas and perspectives, informed by the diverse backgrounds and experiences within the team. Honesty and transparency in all dealings have helped me in keeping my team’s focus on the challenges on hand, to find workable solutions, thereby increasing accountability. Focussing on the longer-term interests of the company rather than shorter-term individual aspirations, has always guided all my actions and decisions at work.


IHCL is one of the oldest companies within the Tata Group and 'Taj' is one of the most revered brands that the Tata Group, and probably the country, has ever produced. Our pivotal programme, Aspiration 2022, is based on the three-pronged strategy of re-structuring, re-engineering and re-imagining the company’s portfolio. The strategy is aimed at margin enhancement and growth to fulfil our aspirations of becoming the most iconic and profitable hospitality company in South Asia. Therefore, it will focus on exploring new markets, expanding existing properties, monetising non-core assets, optimising costs and simplifying the group structure to grow the bottom-line. The five-year programme will also include leveraging the digital channel to strengthen the brand and generate more revenue.


The real estate sector globally, especially in India, is heavily male-dominated. I have rarely met a woman real estate/hotel developer. There also exist many sub-conscious biases against women – a lot of men are uncomfortable with women sitting across the negotiation table. They are unsure of discussing all legal challenges openly with women and often feel that women are too averse to taking risks and in taking the final decision.

Being the only woman in the country heading Real Estate and Development for any hospitality company, I am at the forefront of challenging these gender stereotypes. I believe the only way to address social attitudes and stereotypes is to not be intimidated by cultural mindsets and instead focus on being so good at your work that you get the respect and recognition that you deserve.

My message to young women starting their career is this: Life is not a destination, but a journey of experiences, where success is not final nor is failure fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts. So never give up and let the journey go on until your work is done. Nothing is too hard to do, if your faith is strong and your purpose true, as life is run by faith and won by grace.

This article was published in BW hotelier issue dated '' with cover story titled 'BW HOTELIER THE WOMEN SPECIAL ISSUE VOL 6, ISSUE 2'


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