Meet Zubin Songadwala – GM ITC Maurya 28/07/2015 in Expert House

If you don’t enjoy what you do, you are going to be miserable !

You don’t need to work long enough to feel like that, however you do need to be candid enough to say that.

It was one of the most frank conversations I’ve had, with a man standing tall, over looking his achievements and of course the fact that he really was around 6ft !

Driving to ITC Maurya Sheraton is always an alternative experience. Burrowed in the Diplomatic Enclave of Delhi, its juxtaposed in a way to assert its dominance over the power heads as the venue of choice given the elegant locational advantage.

Meeting Zubin Songadwala, who recently acquired the position of General Manager at this stately property, would be one of those cosmopolitan experiences. A property inspired by the Mauryan dynasty, refined artistry of contemporary India and now a spirited, frank & effervescent head of the hotel was like bringing all the parts together!

In your words how would you like to describe your journey over the period of years ? 

An alumnus of IHM, I joined the Welcomgroup and have stayed on. If you ask me today, I’ve not worked a single day or I’ve worked every single day of my life. Each posting and position has been a slew of memories for me. Today when I look back each property has marked a series of big and small episodes for me to remember them as memories. ITC Windsor for instance was my first posting and where I got married with a third generation hotelier herself! It was ITC Mughal Agra where we spent the first few years of our married life. We had our daughter during my stint at ITC Maratha and Grand Central was my first posting in the capacity of a GM. Later it was at ITC Sonar Kolkata, the corporate HQ of ITC Limited, when the company celebrated it’s 100 years. So you see each of these locations and beyond have been extremely special to me and held a close association in my life in one way or the other.

What is your typical day at work like – Glamour vs the sweat !

A friend once said, you must come home sometime, I replied, I know, my wife says that to me as well ! The life of a hotelier is to be on the job all the time. I have not spent a single Christmas away from the hotel celebrating with friends. The glamour and sweat move hand in hand. There is detail, experience and value delivered as we walk through the corridors each day. Looking back now I wonder if Christmas would be christmas without being in the hotel. I live and love this chaos now.

Whats been the best experience that you and your team have put together/ created so far, for a guest ? 

My endeavour is to add value to anyone, it could be the guests, the staff, my co-workers, as long as I’m adding value in my own way, it’s an experience getting delivered and a conclusion towards satisfaction and thats my belief !

What would be the newest trends in the F&B world ?

Many things have changed and few have not. For instance versatility of spirits given the number of cocktail innovative bars has still not grown exponentially and there is some work, hence a big opportunity there. However the good thing is that people understand brands now, they also have an eye for detail, like what water to put, nature of water used in their drinks, asking for brands by their names. Something which was a limiting factor in the past – The Glens, consumers tend to ask for Glens and beyond. It seems that Laphroaig truly broke the shackles of the Glens in the minds and the palates of the people.

In 2002 it was the 25 years of ITC and we had showcased and co-launched the ITC reserve Glenfiddich 25 Year Old as part of our Rare Whisky Collection. It was the first time we did something as big as that with a malt. The brand flew off the shelves. Thats when we realised that the opportunity was big for rare editions !

In today’s world how does a hotel decide, how many bars and what concepts – the Ideal way ?

While there maybe a lot of thought which would go into conceptualising at the project stage, changes of restaurant and bar concepts or formats are relatively few and far between in a operational hotel. The standalones are where the action is. They are the ones who are re-engineering concepts, designs on a regular basis. If they are unable to perform, they shut shop and make a come back in some time with a bang. The people who stop by at the hotels generally do that for an emotional connect and 60% of course are resident guests. Thats how the revenue apple pie gets rationed out.

Are hotels still perceived to be the most expensive places to drink out ?

Most certainly, yes

What in your opinion is the toughest part in managing a hotel today ?

The fact that its corporate driven and eludes us from making too many changes

The following section is purely about what you savour or simply put few of your favourite things….

A rather tricky one for you, however, which one is your favourite hotel ?

After having been around a slew of hotels, what I relish the most is time spent with family. Home is my unconditional holiday mode and hence preferred location !

Which one would you pick as your preferred holiday location ?

My Family and I we keep going back to Goa, its a place reminiscent of a lot of associations that we as a family have with that place !

If I were to ask you to tell us a whisky of your choice, which one would that be ?

For me brands and their choices are driven by who you are with and hence evoke a strong sense of association. I have few brands very close to my heart with which I have some great memories with. There was a time while bonding with my father-in-law over great conversations and between the two of us, one fine evening, we finished a bottle of Auchentoshan. That was the first time I had heard of the brand and never forgotten it since. Ever since that day the brand has remained with me, as special. For me Ardbeg 10 Year Old is a fantastic brand which in fact was the brand that broke away the cult of the Glens in my head. There are many other whiskies that I continue to enjoy like Black Label, Chivas 18YO….

What would you call is a cuisine of your choice to go along with your whisky ?

I must tell you, I’m a purist, I can’t enjoy whisky and food together. Hence, there is none, since its only whisky and no food to go along with it!