Indian B-Schools position you for the global platform: Deepak Ohri

Ohri is CEO of lebua Hotels and founder of Luxury Atelier Maison Happiness

100-Deepak-Ohri Deepak Ohri

Q/ How has management education helped you in your career?

A/ B-school education is not a magic wand that makes you a businessman; it is a foundation. It gives you a perfect and solid groundwork. In b-schools we learn from the different case studies, successes, and failures, forecast and broader outlooks of the business environment globally. Management education should engage people in experiential learning like group studies, brainstorming simulations, and should enhance creativity as the first step to innovation. It is an instrumental tool that helps students become successful business leaders and entrepreneurs. With a solid foundation, you will always remember what you have learned, so the chances of failure become very less.

We were the only organisation in Thailand which did not let go of a single employee during covid-19. The strategy course at IIMB taught me not to think of immediate results in times of crisis.

Q/ How do you compare management graduates at the time of your graduation with the more recent graduates?

A/ When I graduated, there were very few startups, and now we have plenty. It is a positive progress because startups have a lot of principles, passion, innovation, and creativity. When the organisation is mature, it becomes the organisation of the rules. When I look at the students from the US institutions whom I work with (he teaches in the MBA programme at the Florida International University in Miami), many want to create startups. There is passion and they base their organisation on principles. It was not the case when I was young. We sought opportunities with mature organisations.

I believe that there is a need for a hybrid management model: 20 per cent principles and 80 per cent rules. Those who work under me are smart, intelligent and ask many questions about how you learn. What I noticed is that they do not have FOPO (fear of public opinion), but, at the same time, some make decisions too quickly or with too little information. I always tell them that life moves at its own pace. It is the same with business. You must make smart decision while considering all the factors.

Q/ How do b-schools create leaders who can manage crises? How has your personal experience been?

A/ I always remember my strategy professor at IIM Bangalore. He taught me that in the case of a crisis, you need to remain calm and think in terms of short-term solutions and long-term strategies. You should plan for one year at least or even five years down the line to predict and understand the implications of your decisions. This helped me during Covid-19. At the time, everyone in the hospitality segment was letting staff go. I knew that the implications would be terrible once we were back and normalcy was restored. We were the only organisation in Thailand which did not let go of a single employee during that time, not even at our properties in India. That strategy course at IIMB helped me to understand that in times of crisis, you do not think of immediate results. You think of the future and the long-term consequences of your actions.

Q/ What more can be done to improve management education in India? How can it be more effective in churning out future business leaders?

A/ India has an excellent management education system. I want to suggest experiential learning as 30 per cent of the curriculum and academics as the other 70 per cent. Such an approach would allow students to meet global leaders, look at real-world cases and learn the reality. Quality is essential for me and not quantity; therefore, it is crucial to add experiential learning into the curriculum to enhance the education system. It will elevate the b-school graduates from India to the top.

Q/ How relevant will management education be in the coming years?

A/ In conversation with a friend I once discussed the construction of a building. He said that two kinds of stones are essential: the stone that is laid as foundation and the other stone that is the elevation―how that building is seen. B-school provides foundation and our work is the building’s elevation, our showcase of what we have learned and achieved.

Q/ Did an Indian management degree prepare you to be CEO of an international brand? And, what about cross-cultural differences and other challenges in the international scenario?

A/ Indian b-schools position you for the global platform. Professors have globalised experience. My request to the young generation is to start learning [while] in the b-school, no matter where it is located. Because the curriculum of b-schools in India is as effective as the ones abroad. There is a necessary demand to add the experiential part, but I am positive that it is progressive change. B-schools open a horizon to look at life and we were well prepared and exposed to deal with international cultures. My school project that won an award was based on a concept where all cultures interact. I learned that in school.

Q/ Tell us a bit about your soon-to-be-launched international venture in the US.

A/ I found my flagship project, something that is my complete passion. When I am in Napa, California, I feel it is my home. It gives me a sense of calmness and respect; people are there with you to make your project successful and the possibilities are endless. The new project that I will start in Napa is based on the hybrid hospitality model that I have designed: wine tourism, art and design district. I will start with an ultra-luxury boutique hotel with fine dining on-site.

The second step is to build a brand representing the world’s most renowned wine regions―Napa, Champagne, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rioja and Barolo.

Management education opened the first door and then I saw many doors I needed to open myself. B-school gave me the courage to keep going and dream big. My brand―Let’s Just Dream―is named so for a reason. To be a successful entrepreneur, you need to start with a dream. And it better be one that scares you. Once you have that you will never stop pursuing it. This is how big things are done in life.