My saga with CGH Earth started when I got a call asking if I was interested in a career with the resort group. I always heard good things about CGH within the industry and also I had tried my hand not very successfully at a food business, so my answer was a definite yes. I didn’t anticipate what was in store for me and did not know that it would change my world.
I met the then head of personnel, Jamshed Shruti who was my first impression to the company. I still remember the comments he made on seeing my CV. He said that usually a resume would describe achievements in terms of numbers and stats, but mine did not state those. Surprisingly, he appeared to be happy about it. I was upbeat about the positive reaction, though I wasn’t sure what he meant.
I started out as restaurant manager, which was a climb-down from my earlier position. Jamshed took up the matter with the management and the company upgraded me to the position of Assistant General Manager. I was elated. With the will to prove myself, I joined CGH Earth at Marari Beach under Erine Louis, who was the General Manager at the time and a dedicated CGH-er.
Soon it became clear that working in CGH meant a commitment of a different kind. It was more than just bottom figures. I was here just a week, when I had an encounter with the CEO Mr Jose Dominic. In the absence of the General Manager, it was my responsibility to take him around. At least, I thought that was enough. It was not. One question that he asked still reverberates in my mind today. What is your contribution to this property? At the time, I thought it was an unfair question as I was a newbie. The only answer I could provide was that I was learning.
But it stirred my mind and even today the question still echoes in my conscience, making me feel that I need to justify every day of my being here. At the time of my annual appraisal too, I was asked this question. Again I fumbled and was not able to answer in a satisfactory manner. It made me quite tense, and sensing this, the CEO was gracious enough to change the topic and diffuse the situation. I knew the company’s core values about subscribing to the local ethos, being eco-friendly and about being responsible to the community. But it was about exercising this. It was a turbulent path, because even the General Manager doubted my commitment, which led to several conflicts, but in the end he saw some spark in me and was kind enough to recommend me for growth.
I was ecstatic when I was given the opportunity to lead Bangaram Island. I was happy for the offer in spite of the fact that several CGH veterans told me that it is dreaded territory and though I was concerned about being away from my family and friends. I respect my wife for supporting my decision to go away and grow. As a professional herself, she understood it was important to me, and that I would do the same for her.
So Bangaram it was. My first impressions on reaching the island were one of dismay and nervousness. Bangaram was an extraordinary place with extraordinary people, an experience so different and pure that it shattered all that I had learnt about hospitality. I was already a fan of CGH and was preacher of the slogan less is more and that luxury is not about luxurious spaces, but Bangaram put this philosophy into a more basic perspective. The space was simple, nature was unadulterated and fabulous and the people were extraordinary.
Conventional logic was not applicable and being fair to the local community was my priority. This helped me connect with the people at Bangaram. It was difficult to strike a balance as what I considered simple wasn’t and vice versa. Also, there was always the niggling thought that the lease was coming to an end and we needed to engage with the administration to keep relations stable. Anyhow, it was the best experience of my life as I felt like a king on the island and was able to win the hearts of the people.
The best memories were when I hosted the Indian President who said she had a memorable stay at the resort and to several other guests who were fascinated by the property and to some who didn’t agree with the concept but were stuck at the island.
It was however disheartening that the lease renewal didn’t go as planned and the property is still stuck in litigation. I didn’t want to be known as the General Manager who closed down the property and still I hope we can turn the situation around, but after spending nearly four years there, I was back in the mainland.
My last year at the island was the most trying, when the lease had not been renewed. Guests could not come and the other staff and I spend time on the island with hardly anything to do; I could feel every passing minute. During the time my focus was on sharpening my food skills and understanding. I would never miss a food show on television, I would go on to browse and download stuff in spite of a slow internet connection. I would cook food for myself and try out different kinds of food. It was an exciting time that I will never forget.
I also need to mention about this group of extremely dedicated employees from the mainland deputed to work at the island. In fact, never in my life have I come across such dedication, which truly helped keep Bangaram in the beautiful state that it always operated in.
Back at the mainland, for a time it felt like I was being paid to be jobless and I volunteered to offer training to staff in the food and beverage (F&B) departments. All the research that I did at the island helped me to establish myself as a core F&B person.
In December 2011, I was offered my current job, to head Brunton Boatyard in Fort Kochi.
I am proud to lead a great team of people who are committed and passionate about their work.
Working in CGH has been the best thing that has happened to me in my career. The group’s values have also seeped into my lifestyle; we use a biogas digester at home and also have a garden, where we grow herbs, bananas and a few vegetables.
I remember a statement made by my Director for Operations Michael Dominic when I was at the island. He said “nature will take care of the guest here; you need to take care of the staff”. I can’t imagine another hotelier thinking this way. But it is a great approach, and I have felt the difference in following that idea; it is one of my priorities to have happy staff who will have a positive impact on the guest.
I think every moment about how we can offer our customers an experience beyond just another holiday that would make it a transformational and learning experience as well. More so, how do I make my team of youngsters understand and imbibe this philosophy, as ultimately it is they who will engage with the guest. It is exhilarating as it is challenging. It is a thought that stirs me every morning as I wake up, and I try to make more sense of today than yesterday. I feel that my responsibilities to the company, environment and the community increases as time passes by.
To consistently come up with ideas and original thoughts that will help evolve the philosophy. I do not know what the future may hold. But so far I am enjoying being a part of the philosophy and am enjoying being a committed CGHer.
Radhakrishna Shenoi G is the General Manager of Brunton Boatyard, the heritage boutique hotel in Fort Kochi