Power List 2017, Rakesh Sarna, MD & CEO, Taj Hotels Palaces Resorts Safaris
Rakesh Sarna has almost four decades of global experience in the hospitality sector in different leadership roles. Prior to joining Indian Hotels Company Ltd (IHCL), Sarna worked with Hyatt Hotels Corporation, where he developed and managed all owned, managed, and franchised hotels across all Hyatt brands as group president, Americas, and as chief operating officer for Hyatt International for five years before that.
At IHCL, he has sought his inspiration from Jamsetji Tata and his vision for the Tata group. Sarna has helped strengthen his legacy and has redefined the Taj brand to truly celebrate India’s hospitality heritage while building optimism about its tomorrow.
As managing director and chief executive officer of Taj Hotels Palaces Resorts Safaris, Sarna successfully accomplished a financial turnaround for the group, by focusing on an asset right strategy, being globally reputable as against globally present, digital transformation of the group, and empowering teams apart from a renewed focus on its food and beverage offerings. During his tenure, Sarna’s robust turnaround has delivered strong results for all stakeholders. Following divestments of its loss-making properties and reducing the debt burden, the group has emerged financially stronger with a positive EBIDTA and has significantly pared its losses.
Sarna has led the company in articulating Tajness, its holistic brand and operations philosophy that now binds together all Taj hotels, and is “inspired by the nobility of the heritage and traditions of India”. Tajness assures a sense of authentic heritage and leads to Taj’s brand promise of sincerely caring for all stakeholders. With this vision, Sarna has also restructured the Taj brand architecture, focused on creating value for the entire stakeholder ecosystem. The new structure has brought the 98 Taj hotels across 61 destinations in India and around the world under one branded house identity – Taj Hotels Palaces Resorts Safaris.
Under Sarna’s guidance IHCL has created a strong pipeline of ideas and plans to take advantage of prevailing growth opportunities. With a renewed focus on India and its adjacent fast growth markets, the Taj brand has expanded to new geographies in the sub-continent and beyond – Amritsar, Shimla, Jim Corbett National Park, the Andamans, Chitwan (Nepal) and Dubai. Taj’s industry-first alliance with Hong Kong-based Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, Warmer Welcomes, is aimed at mutually widening their reach, and offering guests a wide choice of destinations in the two biggest outbound travel markets – China and India.
Sarna’s tenure has also seen the culinary offerings of the Taj at its best, with differentiated food experiences for guests and setting benchmarks through a series of culinary experiences. From the most recent events created by Taj’s own Michelin stars to bringing back an era of nostalgia by unveiling the new avatar of Shamiana and launching a new gastro pub at Taj Lands End, Mumbai, Taj hotels continue to indulge guests with gourmet experiences.
To connect with its evolving well-travelled contemporary guests, Taj has enhanced its focus on building and expanding its own robust digital infrastructure. For Taj, the traveller experience begins with the company’s digital touch points — the all-new tajhotels.com and the new mobile app Taj.live, the company’s new social media command centre that enables it to organically engage a wider audience through omni-channel trend tracking and analysis.
As Hotelier India went to press, IHCL announced the appointment of Puneet Chhatwal as the new CEO and MD on August 29. Sarna steps down later this month, leaving Chhatwal to strengthen and expand Taj’s position in the market.
As Sarna moves on, many people will remember him for many different reasons. I have my own: Sarna was a man who was never afraid to speak his mind and someone who went beyond the call of duty to reach out. Here’s wishing him all the very best in his future endeavours. Wherever he may be, one thing is for sure: we will remain friends.
By Shafquat Ali