International Hospitality Consultant
Madhu Azad’s story began in the small sleepy satellite town of Sonipat near Delhi. After winning an All India Scholarship, she made her way from Sonipat to the prestigious Sanawar school in Kasauli, before relocating to Delhi and joining Mother’s International school.
“I loved the school and its attached Ashram. It not only provided me with education but also guided my integral development including spiritual growth. I was even invited for the foundation ceremony of the World’s first International City, Auroville, near Pondicherry,” says Madhu.
After schooling, Madhu studied Mathematics Honours at Miranda House College, Delhi University, and passed with first division while securing a University rank in her first year. Thereafter she joined Chartered Accountancy where she was the first and only woman in a firm of 35.
An extrovert and gregarious personality, Madhu found her accounting work boring and straight-laced. A chance encounter led her to apply to the premium hotel chain – Oberoi Hotels, where she joined as a financial analyst; thus began her journey in the world of Hospitality.
Interestingly, it all started with, “What is the lady doing?” A year after she started working, Madhu received the above summons from the Vice Chairman’s office while her boss was away. Realising that the VC remained unaware of all that she had accomplished, Madhu went to meet him armed with all the analysis and reports she had prepared, based on which key decisions had been taken. Once the VC realized her competence, he promptly asked Madhu to report to him directly.
“I was asked to proceed to Oberoi Hotel, Bhubaneswar, and discuss ways to stabilize the newly opened hotel. Soon I was being sent for similar trouble-shooting assignments to hotels in Kuwait, Sri- Lanka and Egypt, and was included in the team that conceptualized the Trident brand. I was suddenly pitchforked in the big league,” shares Madhu.
Following her very successful stint at Oberoi, Madhu worked her way around the world, first at the Imperial hotel in Singapore followed by the St. George hotel in Dubai. In 2004, she joined Roya International – a Global Hospitality Consultancy Firm, where she started as a financial consultant and in three years, was promoted to Director – Asset Management.
“Roya gave me wide exposure and confidence as I interacted with people from various nationalities from around the world, gaining wide multinational and multicultural exposure, travelled around the world on assignments, and participated in meetings and negotiations with mostly men on board,” reveals Madhu.
So impressive was her work that a very high profile client, who was the minister of tourism in the Gulf, wanted to reward her with a generous gift. Madhu declined the gift and offered to extend her advisory role for his upcoming hotel. This was the beginning of her career as an Independent Consultant.
As a Global Hospitality Consultant, Madhu was involved in negotiating and setting deals for approximately 50 branded hotels with international chains in the region. Some of these include The first W hotel in Doha, a Nikko in Dubai, a Melia hotel in Dubai, Frazers apartments in Doha, and many more.
Speaking about the passion that drives her, Madhu says, “My passion is meeting people, travelling to new places, experiencing new and different brands of hotels, and above all, constantly handling new challenges and learning. Furthermore, this is a glamorous industry; one is dealing with exceptional services, best products, great food and beverage services, and spa facilities. This becomes your lifestyle.”
She adds that for a woman, the work-home struggle is also real: “When my daughter was barely eight, I was working in Singapore, my husband was in Thailand, and our daughter was with her grandparents in India. Without my husband’s support and open mindedness, I would not have been what I am today.”
A born leader, Madhu didn’t even let the recent pandemic upstage her personal or professional life. During Covid 19, she completed a certificate course from Cornell University (USA) on Hotel Real Estate Investments and Asset Management, a course from Yale University on the ‘Science of Well-being’, and a Doctorate in Professional Studies in Hospitality Management. On the Social work front, she became an active participant in Punar Jagran Samiti, a charitable body providing free meals, education, masks and other accessories to street children and slum dwellers in Delhi. Lastly, she joined the WICCI (Women Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry) Hospitality and Tourism Council.
The industry is notoriously male dominated. What challenges did Madhu face in breaking the proverbial glass ceiling? “It was often hard to get my point across with any degree of real conviction. You have to make extra efforts, be an expert in your field, and contribute with tangible inputs,” answers Madhu.