Taj Hotels

Top Decision-Making Tips From The CEO Of Indian Hotels Company Limited

Taj Hotels
Puneet Chhatwal explains why a clear, holistic strategy is now business critical and how innovation, boldness, and diversity combine to drive growth

The Art of Smart’s pillars for smart decision-making are boldnessinnovationdiversity and growth and Indian Hotels Company Limited (IHCL) – South Asia’s largest hospitality company and owner of the Taj chain of hotels – has built on all four impressively since the start of the coronavirus crisis.

In an exclusive interview with Art of Smart, Puneet Chhatwal, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of IHCL, offers industry-agnostic tips for business leaders seeking to make smarter decisions and to help organizations to create lasting value now and in the coming years. Here are the highlights from the discussion.


The app was the first step and we recently opened the first Qmin shop - there will be five in total in the coming months, in Delhi and Mumbai. We are also launching the Qmin food truck and are always evolving to see how better we can serve our customers.

Puneet Chhatwal
Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer 
Indian Hotels Company Limited

Art of Smart (AoS): How would you define growth in 2021?

Puneet Chhatwal (PC): Growth is a mindset, in my view. It inspires action, whether it is growth in brands, growth in top line, growth of talent, or growth in new forms of doing business. I think growth is a very important component of managerial decision-making..

In 2017, we embarked on the journey of growth when we launched Aspiration 2022 and announced a very aggressive target of 50 percent growth in our portfolio. Since then, we have added 70 new hotels to our portfolio. Primarily, this has been driven through strategy, focus, a change in business model, and a culture of rewarding performance. As the company grows, we are strengthening the culture of the company. To do that, you also have to be disciplined so that you are not rewarding growth that should not have happened in the first place..

AoS: I was very interested in what you said about measuring and metrics. How have they changed?

PC: I can give an example. For an international franchise, maybe just counting a lot of rooms is very important because they want to get into so many geographies and be the largest in the market. But, in our industry, we have not spoken or emphasized much about profitable growth. Scale backed by profitable growth is more difficult..

So when we embarked on the journey of growth, we said we will not follow a model of asset heavy or asset light. Instead, we decided to follow the basic principle of asset SMART wherein we would grow when we think a project is Strategic and Margin-enhancing. Even on your existing portfolio you have the opportunities to Asset manage. Keep building Relationships with all of your stakeholders, current and future. Continuously Track what you said you will do and what you actually achieved..

That principle evolved and changed even more rapidly during the pandemic, because the more asset light you were, the more difficult it was to make important decisions across the portfolio. If you have a more hedged portfolio where you own some assets, you lease some and manage some depending on the geography you're in, you're able to navigate through difficult times in a more structured and strategic fashion.

AoS: Since the start of the pandemic you have sought to innovate - for example by launching food-delivery service Qmin. Please could you explain more about your approach?

PC: To innovate, first you have to have a very clean platform and clarity in your thinking. In recent years we introduced a very wide brandscape  - Taj, Vivanta, SeleQtions, and Ginger - and created very distinct differentiation between them. Once that clarity was there, it was easier to innovate in redesigning and repositioning each of these brands.

When the coronavirus crisis hit, there was a need to offer home delivery as there was a complete lockdown. We took the plunge and launched the Qmin app within the span of a few weeks with the help of Tata Digital as the technology partner. With margins shrinking across the industry, it was important to defend our position and not outsource this development.

The app was the first step and we recently opened the first Qmin shop - there will be five in total in the coming months, in Delhi and Mumbai. We are also launching the Qmin food truck and are always evolving to see how better we can serve our customers.

AoS: Considering the four pillars of smart decision-making, according to the Art of Smart - boldness, diversity, innovation and growth - how do these influence your strategy?

PC: For us, the four pillars are interlinked. We are an inclusive group, and we have developed diversity over many years - some of the leadership positions in the last few years were taken on by women. But for me, diversity is not just race, gender or nationality. It's also about complementing the group or company skill set, which creates diversity within the organization's culture. Greater diversity enables us to innovate, which achieves growth for us on all parameters.

AoS: Given the importance of company culture, please could you explain about "Tajness"?

PC: TAJ is an acronym for Trust, Awareness and Joy, and "Tajness" is the very soul of our culture across all of our brands. Tajness is the DNA of the company and it defines the way we treat our customers, the way we treat our employees, the way we treat all of our stakeholders. Our founder, Jamsetji Tata, had the philosophy when he established the Tata Group also. He said that the community is not just another stakeholder; rather, the community is the very purpose of the existence of any business.

Tajness is essential, especially in times of crisis. During the pandemic, for instance, with governments struggling to provide complete support for frontline workers, we had to keep the doctors and nurses going, given the population and challenges we have in India. We hosted almost 70,000 room nights for medical staff  - all subsidized through the Taj Public Service Welfare Trust. Additionally, through the same Trust, we were able to supply more than three million good-quality meals to migrant workers, to medical staff, to the hospitals.

AoS: Many people within the hospitality sector are hoping for a quick recovery. What advice would you give to business leaders operating in this space?

PC: I personally feel that hope is not a strategy, whereas perseverance and resilience is. This industry has a very bright future because it's, possibly, the most resilient. Now though, across industries, it is clear that there is a greater need to collaborate and for togetherness. There is no substitute for a culture of collaboration. And collaboration does not happen only within a group or even within an industry. We need to look further for partners who also believe that collaboration is a very important basis of success and will help humankind go forward quicker.

We should use this pandemic as an opportunity to drive businesses, to drive humanness, to drive what I would call our version of Tajness across businesses and across cultures. That would lead to the world being a better place.

Thinking, finally, about Tajness: whenever society has needed us, as our forefathers have demonstrated, we have been able to create an entire culture of collaboration. If you position society as the most important stakeholder, business success automatically follows.