This is not the first time that the succession issue has cropped up at the Oberoi group. Earlier this week, when P R S Oberoi (or Bikki, as his friends call him) took the name of his son, Vikram, when asked about his possible successor at an interview, the matter again came alive.
Despite the clarification, bordering on denial, issued by the group later, Vikram Oberoi, 47, is certainly at the centre of attention. Will he, or won’t he, live up to the legacy and brand that P R S Oberoi and grandfather Rai Bahadur Mohan Singh Oberoi have symbolised for close to a century?
The hospitality industry has vastly changed since 1934, when Vikram’s grandfather had bought two properties — The Clarke’s in Delhi and The Clarke’s in Shimla — from an Englishman. Vikram represents that change in his affinity for new ideas and hands-on business approach, a former colleague points out.
How is Vikram different from his father? While P R S believes in taking the
well-travelled path and maintaining existing processes, Vikram is for new thoughts and ideas. Also, even as his father may like to follow established norms of meetings and deliberations, Vikram is all about quick decisions. Fanatic about details, he is not a white-collar man and does not shy away from getting involved in absolutely anything, his colleagues say.
At present, Vikram is driving the operations part of the business, while his cousin Arjun is in charge of projects. As for succession, both know that it is difficult for P R S to let go of things till he is around to look after the empire, says a hospitality industry insider.
P R S has said as much: He is not ready to hang his boots yet. Even so, grooming must happen, and Vikram is very much into the drill.
The slight accent is quite a giveaway of his education abroad. Vikram completed his Economics degree from the Pepperdine University in California. While he worked in hotels during summer holidays in college, he also had stock market experience, as he subsequently worked as a broker at ANZ McCaughan in Australia.
His full-time training in the hotel chain began in 1991. Since then, he has worked across all divisions of the hotel, including travel desk, reception, housekeeping and sales. But it was as the general manager of the Oberoi Rajvilas in Jaipur that Vikram entered the domain of mainstream management, and showed his skills in turning the property around in a short span.
Ask him about his future role in the company and he says one need not be the head of the company to be a leader. “I don’t consider myself in the hospitality business, I am in the business of creating memories. People check in with some luggage and they check out with the same luggage. The only extra thing that they take back is the memories created here,” Vikram said at the launch of the 5-star Oberoi in Gurgaon this week.
Although not quite media-savvy, Vikram should not be mistaken for not being people savvy. His peers vouch for the fact that unlike the senior Oberoi, he likes to interact with all his employees and staff. He also tries to understand their viewpoints and problems. And, though he insists he will stick to the DNA of what Oberoi group is known for — luxury — he also believes in thinking out of the box.
Critics say Vikram may not yet be ready to take charge of things at the group, but others point out to his flexibility and openness as a big positive. “He is very humble, would not mind carrying a guest’s bag, even if he doesn’t need to do it. It says a lot about him,” says a senior hotelier.
At a time when succession talks are in the air, Oberoi junior is gearing up for bigger challenges. “Leadership is about creating right values. Each one of us is a small part of the big picture,” Vikram sums it up.