Innovation Prevails Within 1500-Year Indian Family Dynasty

The NextWomen Generations & Family Business Theme.

Padmaja Kumari Parmar represents the third generation of heritage-hoteliers at the HRH Group of Hotels, India's only chain of heritage palace-hotels under private ownership.

Headquartered in Udaipur, a city founded in 1559 on the banks of Lake Pichola, the HRH Group is preserving royal palaces as 'heritage grand hotels' and offering authentic regal experiences on island-palaces and historic venues. 

Padmaj is the Executive Director-Business Development of the HRH Group. The Chairman and Managing Director of HRH Group is her father, Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar whose illustrious family are the custodians of the former State of Mewar since 734 A.D.

Now living in Boston after getting married, Padmaja is enhancing the business presence of the HRH Group in the United States, Latin American countries, and in the European Union through active participation in global travel marts and trade shows.

Padmaja is a member of the advisory board for Bulgari, the Italian luxury label, for its London hotel, which is co-managed by UK-based Prime Hotels.

Since 2006, Padmaja has been invited to attend the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summits held every year in the US. She has utilized the opportunity to meaningfully interact with global celebrities, thought-leaders, chairpersons of multinational corporations and media persons during the Summits.

Padmaja's interviews and photo-features have been published in leading newspapers and magazines such as the New York Times, National Geographic (Russia), Vogue Italy, India Today, Hello, The Times of India, DNA, Beautiful People, and Express Travel & Hospitality.

We spoke to Padmaja about the advantages and potential pitfalls of a family business; how the family keeps the ethos of a 1500-year dynasty alive whilst adapting to the needs of a modern business; and the most inspiring woman she met at the Fortune 'Most Powerful Women Summit'.

TNW: Tell us a little about your current role with HRH Hotels.

PKP: I am currently involved with business development and strategy for the HRH Group of Hotels (The Historic Resort Hotels Pvt. Ltd), headquartered in Udaipur, India. We have a chain of 10 palace and retreat hotels in the state of Rajasthan in India. I was doing operations for the hotels until I got married two years ago and moved to the US. Now my brother heads the operations side, whilst I manage global development within the company.

TNW: What do you see as the main advantages of a family business?

PKP: Several, such as the decisions can be taken a lot faster than in a large non-family corporation. Nothing is rigid, hence there is flexibility when required.

A family business is always innovating, which I personally find very invigorating.

There are no two days which are the same; you are constantly pushing yourself to think outside the box, which in a family business goes beyond just a cliché. There is always multifaceted growth within family business; that’s just the nature of the job! All of this of course becomes a disadvantage for those who don’t like unpredictability, and/or change. Both of which exist in plenty within a family business.

TNW: What are the potential pitfalls of a family business and how can they be avoided?

PKP: It is somtimes hard to remove the emotional connect with family members in a professional set up. This can work as an advantage or a disadvantage; it depends on how one deals with it. One of the ways to avoid it is to have a family constitution and to make every effort to stick by it. Every family business has a tradition as its core value, which the non-family business calls the mission statement. In the former, one doesn’t have much flexibility to define or redefine it, especially if continuing the tradition is imperative for the business, which I believe it is for a family business. This may be viewed as a challenge/pitfall of family business. 

TNW: Your profile on the HRH Hotels site states that you are “directing a series of strategic changes within the group”. Can you tell us a bit more about the changes you’re implementing?

PKP: My role usually involves learning on the job and I believe that most family businesspeople would say the same. 

I am putting a lot of my time currently into social media, where the company can grow and share via numerous platforms.

It’s an ever-changing dynamic that requires updating constantly. It’s such an enormous platform that cannot be avoided nor can it be totally outsourced. I am very interested in learning more about It and applying that knowledge to our business and our non-profit. I am proud of what we do within our business, as well as our non-profit, and there is no better way to share and learn than going digital with it. 

TNW: What is your advice for women thinking of working for, or leading, a company founded by a parent?

PKP:

I strongly believe If you can work in a family business you can be successful in any and all other set ups.

The family business throws some curve balls at you, if one can manage those, not too many other environments will seem challenging. 

As women, I feel we have innate way of dealing with sensitive issues that come up within a family business. This is a great skill to possess in any and all professional environments.  I urge women to use this as a strength which is rather exclusive to women and essential in running a well balanced business operation. I feel it trains us well to deal very well with unpredictable circumstances that exist in all businesses. 

TNW: What’s the secret to successfully mixing work and family, whilst maintaining good relationships? Do you discuss business matters in family situations, or keep it strictly separate?

PKP: I personally find it hard not to mix the two.

If one can keep work and family matters separate, I think it's the best way. Unfortunately, I am not very good at keeping the two separate.

It’s a skill I hope to learn and practice. That’s another challenge I find within a family business: when to turn off. Its hard to just switch off. One learns to take time off in order to be efficient. 

TNW: How is the future of HRH Hotels being planned? Do you or your siblings have children who you are hoping will run the business?

PKP:

We are three siblings. I have an older sister, Bhargavi, and a younger brother, Lakshyaraj. We all plan to remain involved and be the best possible business partner to the others.

We bring very different skill sets to the organization. We are constantly thinking of ways and tools to best implement our different sets of strengths. We by no means are perfect, but are very clear on our roles and that helps immensely. 

TNW: How does HRH Hotels balance keeping the founding ethos of the company alive, whilst adapting and changing to the needs of a modern business?

PKP:

The core of our family ethos has been around for the last 1500 years  and it still remains an integral part of how we run our business and life at large.

Based on our ethos, we are clear on the fact that one can't measure the true success of a company on a spreadsheet alone. Having said that, we accept and enjoy change without derailing from the ethos. We have learnt to view time in generations, not in years or decades, so its important to us to make decisions that we know we might not bear the consequences of.  It certainly reminds me to think in a rather selfless manner.  In a business such as ours which is built on a 1500 year old tradition, it is very important to remember “old is beautiful, but not if it is neglected”: Aldo Lorenzi.

TNW: You attend the annual ‘Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit’. Who is the most inspiring person you have met at these events and why?

PKP:

Melinda Gates, for her simplicity in telling her story. It was evident she was speaking to inspire not to impress.

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