This is India’s Time


Rajiv Tewari, Consulting Editor,
Based on an interview of Puneet Chhatwal, CEO, Steigenberger Hotel Group.

About Puneet Chhatwal

Puneet is the first immigrant to be the CEO of a European Hotel Company. Puneet fondly remembers his days at the Delhi Public School, Mathura Road where he excelled as an all- rounder be it by captaining the school cricket team or participating in debates and dramatics or by serving as a school Prefect. On leaving school, Puneet decided to pursue a career in the hospitality industry and joined IHMCN to further his education in this field.

He started his career with the India Tourism Development Corporation where he worked in several managerial positions before moving on to study for an MBA in Hospitality Management at ESSEC Business School on a French Government Scholarship. Puneet worked for the Feuring Group, Germany after completing his masters and subsequently moved on to work with the Carlson Group and the Rezidor Hotel Group.

Puneet has been honoured by several accolades and awards including the prestigious Carlson Fellowship and was selected as the honorary President of the AAIMHI (Alumni Association of IMHI). He was the first Alumni of IMHI to be inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame together with its founding Deans from Essec and Cornell. Further, he is a Fellow of the Institute of Hospitality and has served on Advisory boards for several international hospitality conferences.

Puneet is a global citizen but remains deeply connected with India.

This is India’s time
“India is the largest democracy in the world with relatively strong laws and a comprehensive constitution. It is a safe haven in the longer term versus other emerging economies” said Puneet. His belief in the India story is reinforced by the fact that the Steigenberger Hotel Group, where he is the CEO, has recently signed a joint venture with the education and hospitality company MBD Group to open and manage 20 luxury hotels in India in the next 15 years.

India has become the World’s largest Remittance recipient in 2014 and 2015, attracting about $69 billion in remittances. India has also become the top FDI destination, replacing China by attracting $63 billion from FDI projects announced in 2015. With 356 million 10-24 year-olds, India has the world's largest youth population. This makes India a great source for talent and also makes it a huge market for products and services.

More than 65% of India’s population is below the age of 35. It is expected that, in 2020, the average age of an Indian national will be 29 years, compared to 37 for China and 48 for Japan. On the question of how India can leverage this advantage, Puneet’s reply was “India can do it by teaching its youth to be open and innovative. We need to play on our strengths like unity in diversity. We need to play on our education system, our culture and differentiate ourselves with the will to get the job done.”

India needs to be more pro- active
“To be able to ride the tide which is highly in favour of India currently, India needs to be more pro-active to stay ahead of the competition. As a colony under the British for 200 years, it is natural that the Indians tend to follow rather than lead. The time has come when it has become necessary to learn and master the art of balancing on where to take lead and where to follow” said Puneet. India needs to be pro-active in creating its own models of growth and governance instead of sticking to what was handed over by others during the foreign rule.It’s time to review and retain what has worked; and to discard what has not worked.

India needs to experiment more with the indigenous models of growth
There is a debate going on in India and also in various parts of the world about a new model of growth to solve some of the most pressing problems of the developing nations like India.

There are several examples of new ways of thinking, such as that of the NDDB (National Dairy Development Board) in India which converted India from being a milk deficient country to the world’s largest producer of milk. Another good example from India is of the bare foot college created by the poor and for the poor which has been running successfully for over 40 years. “On being asked, if India needed a differentiated model of growth based on the principles of social entrepreneurship, Puneet’s reply was, “Absolutely. India does need something different. Winners don’t do different things, they do things differently.
Unfortunately there is not one magical formula that fits all. Therefore India needs to uncover more opportunities like the NDDB and bare foot college type of experiments in several other sectors too.”

“This can come from outside India as well as by just looking at our internal resources. We’re a huge exporter of talent. There are NRI’s around the world that are captains of industry and are shining examples of entrepreneurship in their chosen sectors – tapping into this resource to explore how NRI’s can contribute to India’s growth through social enterprise is a huge area of opportunity. This could mean importing ideas, experience and best practice gained from the global stage to design and implement skills and training programmes, to creating international internships, job-swaps and secondments to ensure that the transfer of knowledge happens” said Puneet.

“One example that I can speak of, where this is happening in practice, is the Steigenberger Academy. The Steigenberger Academy in Bad Reichenhall is a prime example of our commitment to providing comprehensive theoretical and practical professional training for young people, both from Germany and abroad, to prepare them for the many different challenges and responsibilities in the hotel industry” added Puneet.

Social Entrepreneurship
India used to have a very strong system of supporting the weaker sections of society but over the centuries, this system has become totally disorganised. The concept of charity and the spirit to volunteer for social good is still there but it needs an organised platform to make a large scale impact. On being asked if it is possible to re-ignite the social spirit of India through an organised effort which will have transparency and accountability through an IT interface, Puneet said, “Maslow devised a pyramid many years ago called the ‘hierarchy of needs’. Most Indians would welcome the opportunity to contribute and participate in such systems whether living in India or as NRIs as they transition from being egoistic to the self-actualisation stage.”

Given the success of NRIs in different parts of the world and their increased faith in the India story, this is the right time for India to open up the social entrepreneurship sector for attracting investments for innovative solutions to India’s problems related to energy, environment and the weaker sections of the society. The weaker sections, unfortunately, now also include a large population of farmers from even prosperous states such as Punjab and Haryana. If our farmers are committing suicide then the model of economic growth certainly has a huge problem in its framework which needs to be corrected.

India’s situation on the energy and environment front is alarming. Metros are choked with pollution and energy sources are scarce. The youth have very limited job opportunities. All these are tell-tale signs that India needs a different model of growth which will not be based on the industrial age model alone. India requires a balanced model that will suit India’s requirements. Fortunately, there is an acknowledgement of this major area of concern and the government seems to be determined to correct the fault lines in the growth model for India by taking initiatives through major plans like Skill India, Digital India and StartUp India. If these plans are implemented well, the India story would become much more attractive.

While discussing these issues, Puneet shared the trend in Europe and the US where Millennials don’t like to see government running businesses, documented by the rise of social and sharing economy enterprises such as Uber, Airbnb, Facebook, Google, etc. This is accompanied by a growing 'buy local' movement, where social entrepreneurs are finding novel ways to create businesses that thrive on and support local economies.

One example shared by Puneet, is of the growing popularity of the local food movement, which sees Millenials visiting the farmers’ market or signing up for a community supported agriculture (CSA) subscription. Thriving examples of this can be found in London, Washington, and even in japan and Singapore. In Germany, there is the Prinzessinnengarten – an urban farm nestled in the shadow of the former Berlin Wall. Inside vine-covered fences the community grows a wide range of vegetables, all planted in easy-to-move containers — recycled Tetra Paks, rice sacks, and plastic crates — that allow the entire operation to be moved if needed. Visitors can pick vegetables, learn about seed harvesting and vegetable pickling, or visit the café to enjoy snacks made from the garden produce.

Huge employment opportunities in the services sector
Based on his vast experience in the hospitality sector, Puneet sees a huge potential for the Indian talent in the services sector. He said, “make it easy, simple and promote incredible India continuously and consistently. Make India a destination to do business with – easy and hassle free – the rest will follow automatically.”

On being asked if India can become a source of human resources for the services sector world-wide, Puneet’s response was very encouraging. He said, “If there is one country that can do so due to education, age of population, adaptability as well as a will to make it happen – then India can do it. We have the people not only from an age perspective but also from a numbers perspective who themselves also need some perspectives for the future.”

“In the hospitality sector, India can capitalise on its huge natural resources and cultural diversity without adversely affecting its environment for tourism across the country but it needs to get bold. Some decisions are central whereas others are regional. India needs to play and set the centre stage with a will to make a difference. Diversity is a strength and not a weakness and therefore let us play on it pro-actively” added Puneet.