Rakesh Sarna - Hospitality Expert and Visionary Leader

Rakesh Sarna has been all over the world in an almost 40-year career in the hospitality industry. After high school, he left India for Canada. Rakesh attended Algonquin College in Ottawa, graduating in 1977 with a diploma in Hospitality Administration. Two years later he joined the Hyatt family of hotels, holding various roles from Regional Director to Vice President of Operations, to COO and Group President until late 2014. It was these experiences that taught him everything he knows and has made him who is today.

After 35 wonderful years with Hyatt Hotels Corporation, Rakesh had an opportunity to work with the Taj Hotels, a 113-year-old company with a tremendous reputation, character, and integrity. Rakesh spent 37 months with Taj Hotels, making meaningful progress in a career that he discovered an interest in at age 16.

Rakesh Sarna and his wife live in Miami. They had always planned on Miami, not to retire, but to begin whatever the next chapter may hold for them. The two are looking to possibly pursue more education in the fall of 2019. Both Rakesh and his wife are life-long learners, with both having an interest in history and International Affairs. With no set plans and not seeking formal degrees, Rakesh Sarna and his wife would be free to study subjects of their choice. Rakesh believes he would fit well in an advisory position, one that centers around hospitality and tourism, as that is where he holds the most experience and expertise. Rakesh Sarna and his wife are looking forward to seeing where life takes them next!

What do you think has made you successful in the field of hospitality?

That’s a simple question, but a complicated one. There are so many things. First and foremost, applying the principles of mutual respect in life. Looking at every human being around the world as who they are, without worrying about their titles and places in society. Second, to be successful, someone in my position needs to look after the people that look after the guests, or the customers. Third, the passion to be involved in hospitality and trying to be different, but authentic in the way that it’s delivered.

Unfortunately, hospitality has gone missing from the hospitality world. It’s become commoditized and sometimes soulless . Not for all companies, but it is getting that way. The things I focus on are mutual respect, dedication to the guests, and leadership. You build a team and make sure that communication channels are open so that you can define success together. Once that success is defined, as the leader, you get out of the way. You delegate, but you don’t abdicate . There are a lot of things that come together to achieve success.

What are some of the strategies you’ve used to create the right environment for your team to succeed?

First, you listen. Go into a situation, assess it, and do not jump to conclusions. Then, listen hard and reflect. Never make the mistake of sitting in a meeting as a leader and proposing a solution. One habit of mine is to first go around the table without showing my hand, letting my colleagues feel free to openly express themselves. You must support them. Empathy is so difficult to find. You have to put yourself in others’ shoes. I am not the best chef or the smartest wine connoisseur, I don’t build the best buildings, but if you get the best people around you and share your aspirations, you will find success. Support, listen, give them resources and let them get on with it. Delegate, but don’t abdicate.

What is one strategy you’ve used to help grow business for yourself or people you were consulting with?

In today’s world, there has been a proliferation of revenue management  strategies, different platforms that have changed the way customers buy products, and technology to make sure that your search engine optimization is the finest in the world. All work together to help you get out there and find the customers that you need. Then comes the business of finding people to come into your restaurants, and that depends on the your relationships with local neighborhoods . Make sure you do your job properly because word-of-mouth will show that you’re a good hotel company.

What has been your most satisfying moment in the hospitality business?

When the metrics come out and you see the employee happiness or sense of satisfaction is as high as guest satisfaction. It’s a very sweet moment when you can align that. That means your employees are committed to your customers. That without any doubt leads to sustainable profitability which is paramount for investors who have placed their faith in you and your brand.

What does the future hold for you and what are most excited about?

The future is well-defined for me and my wife. We plan to enjoy our relaxed lifestyle in Miami, while still learning. We both have insane curiosity around so many things and we want to learn. We want to learn to speak Spanish. We’d like to get into a routine, not studying 30 hours a week, but a few and just enjoying our time here. My wife always challenges me. If someone was to come up with a great job offer tomorrow, what do I do? I just say, “You never say never, right?” If there is a very interesting and intriguing opportunity, I certainly would not shut the door.

What books have inspired you?

Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom

Margaret Thatcher: The Autobiography

The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Life of Mahatama Gandhi by Louis Fischer

What is a recent purchase that you’ve made to help with your goals for improving your education?

The investment would be the time when we get started with our continuing education.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about your career in hospitality?

My experience is in managing brands. That brings with it a host of areas of focus that are critical in order to be successful. It starts with positioning, marketing, and revenue optimization; getting more hotels into your system. Very importantly, making sure that you are developing the leaders of the future. You’ve got to have gender diversity because that’s a huge problem right now, within every industry, every company. Strong commitment to the environment, and a strong focus on making sure that the guests are sincerely cared for. You can have the best meal in the restaurant, the most beautiful restaurant, delicious meal, but if you detect a lack of sincerity from your server or staff, it will be a terrible experience. These are the areas of focus that have been my mantra for the last almost four decades.

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