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Conscientious Crusader: An Interview with Nakul Anand

Nakul Anand's dymic leadership and passion for business has been universally acknowledged. In charge of Hospitality, Travel & Tourism and the Lifestyle Retail Business Division of ITC Ltd, he is at the forefront of ITC Hotels, which abides by the Indian ethos of ‘Athithi Devo Bhava,’ with the ‘Namaste’ as the symbol of its brand experience. Committed to the chain’s abiding principle of ‘Responsible Luxury,’ he has ensured that Luxury with a Positive Footprint resonates at all ITC Hotels.

When asked what ‘Passion for Excellence’ means to him, the distinguished hotelier says, “The most important part of excellence is never being content with where you are. We constantly try to raise the bar. I don’t think that there’s any end to excellence. I think the best example that I can give you is that of Responsible Luxury.” Continuing, Anand informs, “Within six months of being introduced, it became a case study on Harvard Business Publishing. For us, this was just the beginning, we know what began as a thought could be actualised into a reality that all our stakeholders could become partners in. The distinguished ITC leader shares, “Today, we are globally recognised for Responsible Luxury. Each day brings with it new opportunities. We could, for instance, have lowered the footprints of our food procurement process. Assume that the food is being procured from a distance of, say, 200km. Could we reduce it by 40km? This idea came to us sometime back. And, how did we do it? By ensuring that the luxury experience was never compromised in our quest to work in harmony with the environment and community. The integration of luxury with these two elements became a single minded focus at ITC Hotels.”

Thus, began the journey to create unique, enriching Responsible Luxury experiences. Anand outlines his concept: “We said we would introduce the ‘local love’ in every ITC hotel, which translates to the Kathi Kebab in Kolkata, or the fish curry or Macher Jhol. In Mumbai, we offer Bohri biryani. In Delhi, we serve Chaat or Chana Bhatura. In short, we provide local fare or comfort food that is good for everybody’s palate.” Touching upon experiential takeaways, Anand adds, “You want to experience what is local to a place. You just don’t want stay in a hotel. You want to experience the city and carry back the city with you. Yet, for hygienic reasons, you shy away from street food. Our job is to recreate the best that the city has to offer and present it in a safe, hygienic environment.’ This enriches customer experience.

How is it Responsible Luxury? It’s the luxury of the experience combined with the fact that this initiative reduces carbon footprint through local sourcing and gives us an opportunity to work with local farmers and vendors. Enumerating sustainable measures that ITC adopts, Anand informs, “A few years ago, we strove to minimise the use of plastic in our hotels. SunyaAqua is an endeavour that ensures that the water we serve in our restaurants is in glass bottles. The water is bottled at the hotel’s bottling plant that boasts the latest filtration technology. Through this endeavour, we have not only reduced plastic, but also minimised carbon footprint. Anand observes that with every passing day, they learn something new. “We realised the importance of sleep to a person’s well-being. Our responsibility was to deliver good sleep, and we found the correlation between sleep and wellness, which is very strong. Focussing on the factors that affect sleep, we realised that the bed alone was not a significant factor, but the involvement of all the five senses, namely, the sense of touch, sound, light, and so on. We dovetailed all these into scientific numbers, including the decibels of sound, the amount of lux in light, the whiteness of the linen, good showers, what the PSI ought to be, etc.”

Anand ponders over the Green Initiative he conceptualised and started at ITC Maurya decades ago and the all-important issue of having to choose between luxury and sustainability. “When we started the Green Initiative at ITC Maurya, we came to a point where we asked, ‘Should we go green or stay with luxury, since the two are seemingly incongruent. The consensus was that one would have to make sacrifices in order to go Green – not to change the towel or sheets, and so on. We therefore decided to combine the two and created what we called Responsible Luxury. We resolved to innovate and came up with new ideas and new areas where we could evolve. This is a true example of excellence.” Continuing, Anand observes, “Even today, and it is a fair admission, we feel we are nowhere near excellence. We are well on our journey, but the day we sit back and rest on our laurels, we will stop being at the top of our game. Remember, good is the enemy of great. If you are content with being good, you’ll never be great. So, we are good, but always aspiring to be great. We always seek to question the gap that exists between us and excellence and then aspire to fill it."

When queried about some of the challenges he faced during the journey that defined his career, Anand responds, “I think, when we were striving to establish ourselves as the greenest hotel chain, it was easier to stand by those standards. But, once we embarked on the sustainable journey, we had nine old hotels and one new hotel under construction that were to reflect this core philosophy. Though the ITC Gardenia received the LEED recognition, ITC Grand Chola was still three years away.” Anand commences, “We could have been happy to say that ITC Gardenia was Asia’s first LEED Platinum building and only the second in the world, and said that it was not possible to convert the older hotels. But, where there’s a will there’s a way. Accordingly, we did some brainstorming to find ideas, involved everybody, from the bottom up, to identify the deficiencies in converting the existing hotels. And, I think, only pure team work could have made it happen. It is a struggle to build to LEED specification, but here the team had converted nine old hotels, some like the ITC Mughal, which goes back to 1977, and ITC Maurya, which goes back to 1976 – so, hotels that go back to 30-40 years have been converted into LEED Platinum certified buildings in less than a year’s time. And, this was over six years ago. Today, the US Green Building Council recognises us for leading the green building movement.” The intrepid hotelier lauds his team, saying, “We could have been discouraged and given up. But, the ITC culture believes in a never-say-no attitude. I think, it is the sheer team work, the sheer dedication of everybody that made it happen.”

Anand identifies the brand’s collective vision, where every obstacle is surmountable, given the will and determination to do so. “So, I think the moral of the story is that once you identify the paths to it, you have identified a vision for yourself. The company has identified a vision – a collective vision that you and your team have put together. There will be many obstacles in the way, but if there were no obstacles, there would be no achievements. The word ‘achievement’ implies that one would have to contend with an obstacle. So, every time there is an obstacle, you can’t look back and say, ‘I can’t move forward.’ There’s ample opportunity to cross that obstacle. Anand signs off by confessing to his love of music: “I love music and was a DJ in my youth. I still like the music of the sixties, seventies and eighties. I am not too much into today’s music.”

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