FORTUNE INDIA: Have you achieved all you set out to when you joined the Taj, three years ago?
RAKESH SARNA: Of course not. There' so much that was needed to get done. We achieved short term goals but it wouldn't be honest to say we achieved everything. Negative financials, the sentiment and other metrics were reversed and I'm grateful for that. Of course, I came here under a five year contract, and even if if today was the 1st of October 2019, I might be saying there's more to get done.
What remains incomplete in terms of your overarching objective?
There are a number of things that come to mind - the renovation of all the hotels in the face of formidable competition. We need to implement our concept of hospitality - Tajness - holistically and physically build a robust pipeline of inventory, make sure we never lose focus of talent building, gender diversity and work-life balance, and the concept of mutual respect. The servility in our culture is a cancer and needs to be eradicated. Servility doesn't equal good service. I'd rather employees make eye contact, have good posture and be respectful.
Why are you leaving in three years when your contract is for five?
I’m leaving because of personal dimensions in my life and family that require I do so. That being said, the contract had a three year plus two year extension built in. In India, people just don’t like to retire because their identity is restricted to their business cards. That’s not the case for me.
There's chatter that your departure may be collateral damage as the result of a fallout between the two former chairmen of the Tata Group.
I'm quite taken by the attention by my departure gets but I have no idea how to comment on that. There are so many more rumors and theories that I wouldn't know where to start. Lets, please leave it at that.
What do you think the Taj’s Achilles heel was?
I don’t know for sure. Maybe, too many acquisitions that unfortunately didn’t work out.
And under your strategy what would have happened?
We realized that it made more sense to be a branded house than a house of brands. We also had a lot of anecdotal data that showed us that top talent wasn’t interested in working for Vivanta’s or Gateways. So, In the big picture we would have become a group of globally reputed hotels with optimum value. Everything was measured in a matrix over a three and then a 5 year time-frame. Net worth, market cap, employee scores and dividends.
The IHCL stock is down some 7 percent since news of your exit a few months ago, which means the markets haven't reacted too favorably?
People like me come and go but the Taj has been around for 113 years. What I know is that the entire Taj board constructed the direction and the strategy of the company and crafted it over two whole days. What I also know is that the staff is committed to making Taj globally competitive and that gives me a lot of comfort. Of course, I cant say if the strategy will remain in entirety because you cant expect a new leader to say nothing changes and that person must be allowed to learn and express their views.
So, would you do it again – working for the Tatas?
You know, this may sound corny, but I see the last three years as a blessing to be able to stand under the shadow of Jamsetji Tata. I'm grateful for having been given that chance and would I do it again? The answer is yes. There are many ifs, buts, and whys. The answer is mostly yes.