Q&A: Kuldip Verma, Author of 'Path Breaking Journey'

Kuldip Verma started as Management Trainee in India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC) and retired as Senior Vice President of ITDC after 39 years. He is an IHM, Calcutta alumnus of 1968-1971 batch and has done Masters in Tourism Management from Madurai Kamaraj University. He has recently come out with the book Path Breaking Journey: Challenging Story of a Hotelier, in which he has narrated real-life situations, moments of truth and challenges that crossed his way during his 39 year professional journey in India’s premier organisation – ITDC.

I chat with him about his book Path Breaking Journey: Challenging Story of a Hotelier, his inspiration for writing the book, anecdotes from his career journey, book recommendations, and much more.

Hello! Tell us a bit about yourself!

I was born in New Delhi. My primary education was in a govt. school in New Delhi and I did higher schooling from Govt. Hindi High School, Calcutta as my father was transferred from New Delhi to Calcutta. I was admitted in IHM, Calcutta as it was my father’s wish that his son should become a hotelier. I did Diploma in Hotel Management, joined India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC) as a Management Trainee, and after 39 years, retired as Sr. Vice President from ITDC. I have worked in ITDC hotels in Bangalore, Aurangabad, Khajuraho, Kovalam and New Delhi. I also became Resident Manager i.e. Chief of Hotel Operations of ITDC’s flagship hotel – 550 rooms Ashok Hotel, New Delhi. With this major accomplishment, I admirably fulfilled my father’s dream. On the advice of my mother, I passed Masters in Tourism Management from Madurai Kamaraj University.

How would you describe your book Path Breaking Journey: Challenging Story of a Hotelier in one sentence?

A pathfinder and an inspiration for today’s youth.

Now tell us a little more about the book, and what inspired you to write this book?

The book has many morals: First, commitment is sacred so do your best to fulfill it. Second, take ownership of the assigned responsibility and do your utmost to accomplish it. Third, think out-of-the-box and take initiative without fear. Fourth, loyalty to the organization is foremost.

As for my inspiration to write the book, on the day of my retirement from ITDC on Dec. 31, 2010, at my farewell lunch hosted by C&MD, ITDC, I mentioned to him that I plan to pen down my experience of 39 years with ITDC. He was pleasantly surprised and said that it would be a great effort.

I have been a workaholic throughout my career journey. After working ceaselessly for so many years, I was not inclined to call it a day yet so I planned my post-retirement second innings. I launched my company; opened a Restaurant in New Delhi; completed hospitality training assignment of 3000 students in Kerala; took up tourism and hospitality consultancy assignments; developed 2 hotel brands and a Travel Portal. I couldn’t get time to think of writing a book about my career journey.

When I completed 50 years of joining IHM, Calcutta in 2018, it prompted me to write my book. I went back the memory lane and gathered notable experiences of my journey. While sharing my journey in this book, in each chapter, I have reminisced the real-life events and situations, challenges and opportunities that crossed my way.

'Path Breaking Journey', published by Evincepub Publishing

You have donned many hats in your career, including that of Sr. Vice President of India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC), and the book also details your career journey. Can you share with our readers some extraordinary anecdotes from your career that find a place in this book?

That’s true, I donned many hats. After working in managerial positions in leading ITDC hotels, I was moved to corporate responsibilities i.e. as GM (Ashok Conferences & Conventions Bureau); Head of National Marketing; GM (IATA Travel Agency); Divisional Head of Marketing/Ashok Travels & Tours; and Human Resource Development, ITDC as VP/Sr. VP.

The book has some challenging situations which are worth mentioning.

1. Right in the beginning, I had to face unforeseen hurdles as the medium of education in IHM was English whereas I had studied in Hindi medium. It was a nightmare to grasp what was being taught in theory sessions. My family was vegetarian but cookery practical sessions demanded handling of meats/fish etc. Pressure of IHM curriculum was so high that at the end of first year exam, the result was very disappointing – I ranked among the lowest 5 students in my class. The Principal called my father to IHM and told him that his son is not suitable for IHM education and that he may consider putting him in some other profession.

My father came back home with a heavy heart as if his dream had been shattered. It was a tense moment in the family. With a broken heart, my father asked my decision and that is when I was jolted, and stirring took place. I knew that my family had made a great sacrifice financially to provide me expensive IHM education (out of Rs. 750 salary, they were spending Rs. 200 on me). I remembered that Swami Vivekananda ji had given a universal call:

Arise! Awake! And stop not till the goal is reached!

I reassured my father that no matter what, I will do my best. In future, I would not give him any opportunity to feel sorry for me. And thus started the awakening of my inner self and I never looked back. I learnt English from my father and cleared doubts in understanding any subject from my classmate Ms. Gogo, a class-topper. I learnt basic hotel operations during internship at the Oberoi Grand Hotel in Calcutta. With my ceaseless efforts, I was successful in passing 2nd year exam and was among the top 5 students in the class. This time, the Principal again called my father and admired the efforts of his son. In 3rd year final Exam, I stood 2nd in class. My father was pleased that his son had passed IHM education with flying colours.

2. I was nominated for 3 months ‘Management Exchange Programme’ in London with Trusthouse Forte Hotels (18 hotels in London, 200 hotels in England and 600 hotels in USA) to learn International hoteliering and Computerised hotel operations. This chapter has very fascinating stories.

3. The day Indian Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi was shot at by her staff on 31st Oct. 1984, I was in Ashok Hotel when I read the news on Teleprinter at 09.30 hrs. My immediate instinct was thinking about what would happen if she succumbs to the bullets. If it turns out to fatal, then the Ashok hotel will be required to accommodate Presidents/ Heads of States from all over the world who would come to attend the funeral. In a few moments, I took several actions to prepare the hotel ready for such an eventuality. My worst fears came out true as the news broke in the afternoon about Madam Gandhi’s passing away. The hotel started getting phone calls to keep the hotel reserved for visiting foreign dignitaries who would attend State funeral. Dignitaries started arriving in the hotel by the next evening. They stayed for 2-3 days in the hotel and were provided VVIP services befitting their status. After their departure, I realised that had I not got my instinct right and swung into action as soon as I read the news of firing on Mrs. Indira Gandhi, and the way the entire Ashok Hotel team was signalled to go into top gear, it would not have been possible to face the challenge of hosting so many dignitaries without any prior notice.

4. Superstar of India, Mr. Rajesh Khanna was a regular VVIP guest of Ashok Hotel. I used to meet him during his visits as part of courtesy calling and I knew him well. One day I received a call from Mr. Khanna from ITDC Kovalam Beach Resort. He was staying there and was quite tensed, being stuck in the Resort and was not allowed to check out without clearing his bill. He said the film producer had not reached the hotel to pay his bill and he had a flight to catch. His total bill was around Rs.75,000. This was the time when his bank accounts were sealed by the govt. He needed help so I spoke to GM (Kovalam) who said that only on one condition he can allow Mr. Khanna to leave, if I take responsibility of bill payment. I knew that it is a temporary moment and therefore, I told GM Kovalam to put the bill in my name. This incident left an impact on Mr. Khanna, so much so that he would tell his guests that Kuldip came to his rescue in his bad times though it was not in his capacity to bear the financial burden with his limited salary. Mr. Khanna used to become sentimental saying so.

When my father died in 1991, Mr. Rajesh Khanna came to my house to offer condolences. He told my mother that she shouldn’t think that Kuldip is alone, she should consider him her son too.

Mr. Rajesh Khanna continued to stay in touch with me even after becoming Member of Parliament from New Delhi. He shifted to his official residence in Lodhi Estate. He often invited me over to his house for social get-togethers. He would introduce me to his guests as a friend in New Delhi.

On the day of Bombay blasts in 1993, Mr. Khanna telephoned me at around 10.30 in the night. He was weeping and he told me that he can see his neighbourhood burning in Bombay but he can’t do anything. I was really moved with the way Mr. Khanna was traumatized.

5. I was called upon by the Tourism Minister to plan logistics for Sindhu Darshan Festival at Leh which was a major challenge. It was a herculean task to organise a national event at a height of 3500 metres where Prime Minister, Home Minister and other VIP dignitaries, diplomats, media, cultural artists etc. were to attend. Based on my recommendations, ITDC operated special flights on Delhi-Leh-Delhi sector, and all hotel and sight-seeing arrangements were made. Successful operation was carried out, and the festival was managed by me as Event Manager for 5 years. This festival provided impetus for tourism promotion to Leh, there was 400% increase in tourist arrivals, and there was opening up Leh for tourists for 8-10 months in a year from 4-6 months earlier. Flights to/from Leh increased from twice a week to 6 flights a day.

6. As Sr. Vice President (HRD), I was instrumental in upgrading ITDC’s Manpower Development Centre into ‘Ashok Institute of Hospitality & Tourism Management’ with ISO 9001-2000 certification as a Strategic Business Unit to avoid disinvestment of this activity. We launched 4 years Bachelors degree in International Hospitality Business Management with 6 months internship in London at the Ashok Institute. This was nominated for PATA Gold Award 2007 in Indonesia in ‘Education & Training’ category.

We also launched one year ‘Diploma in Air Hostess, Travel & Hotel Operations’ in Bangalore for Scheduled Caste under-privileged students on behalf of Karnataka Govt. Similar ‘Diploma’ training was also conducted in Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and for North Eastern States in Bangalore. In addition, ‘Cruise Hospitality Course’ was started in Goa. My efforts to provide skill training to thousands of under-privileged students (about 2300 in no.) with 100% job placement across India, has given me immense satisfaction.

What has the road to becoming a published author been like for you?

Nostalgic, it was my maiden attempt but vivid memories started surfacing when I began writing the book. It was like living the journey again.

How have you been coping with the current pandemic and what will be the new normal for you post it?

The current pandemic has devastated the hospitality and tourism sector which will have its after effects for up to 3-4 years. With more than 50% of businesses shutting down or down-sized in this sector, professionals have lost their livelihood. It is an uncertain gloomy scenario.

Lastly, are you currently reading anything and do you have any book recommendations for our readers?

Currently, I am reading the book In Search of Excellence by Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman Jr. The book is about lessons from America’s best-run companies.

My other recommendation is Dream with Your Eyes Open by Ronnie Screwvala. It is an entrepreneurial self-help book.

The book ‘Path Breaking Journey: Challenging Story of a Hotelier’ is available online and at your nearest bookstore.

From Jammu, J&K; Studied in DPS, Jammu.