“Don’t get blinded by the glamour…”, says Nitin Putcha

“…it is also a lot of hard work,” Nitin Putcha, CEO – ITM Group of Institutions, tells hotel and hospitality management aspirants, in a discussion with Shraddha Kamdar.

One afternoon as I found my way to his office in Vashi, I wondered to myself regarding the work of the CEO in an education institution. I wondered how he would help and empower student development and what his role would be. I didn’t have to wait very long, for Nitin Putcha, CEO – ITM Group of Institutions, showed me beyond doubt the scope and potential for initiating activities, and the ones that his group has taken up for the benefit of the students in addition to his roadmap for the future. The ITM Group runs several programmes including ones in management, hotel and hospitality management, fashion and interior design, health sciences and engineering and other skill-based courses.

Putcha says hotel management is one of his favourite programmes since it entails a lot of industry interaction, and often training managers come back to the institute offering critical feedback to the faculty on what is working well and what is lacking in the training of the students. Apart from that, he says that with the collaboration of ITM Institute of Hotel Management with Queen Margaret University in the UK, he learnt that hotel management could be learnt in a way that actually benefits the industry later. The University expects students to engage in self study and finish the assigned readings before coming to class, which is virtually unheard of in the Indian setting. “And that’s why we designed a bridge programme for the students, looking into the differences with the way we teach and the way it wanted to impart its programme,” he informs.

Further, Putcha informs that they have a subject in the programme – Hospitality as Theatre – which essentially looks at the entire customer experience in the hotel as a stage production. It enables students to map out the experience and provides the practical outlet to the theory modules. Student often learn a lot about business operations from this module. All of these activities are supplemented by teacher development initiatives where the faculty often go out to the industry to refresh their knowledge and learn what’s new. They like going back to the industry where most of them have spent several years before they joined academia.

“That’s why we are now looking at the next level, thinking on the lines of what new aspect can be offered to the students to learn from. Students find retail very interesting as a subject today, especially for the skills they develop as managers, and therefore we’re including retail as part of the curriculum in hotel management,” Putcha says. In the past, the Institute had also taught travel and tourism and event management modules as part of this ‘what’s new’ plan.

Even though traditionally hotel management was looked upon as a second career choice after the common streams of arts, science and commerce, Putcha feels that there is a huge transformation within the education sector as well as the industry needs and demands, and that’s why more and more students are interested in this field now. “The one part where they go wrong sometimes is being blinded by the glamour attached to the industry. Aspirants need to realise that it is not just about the front desk and travel, it is a career that demands constant attention, often, 365/24/7. There might be instances where you may not even go home for two nights straight owing to work pressure. That’s the balance that the aspirant needs to create,” he says. Further, he explains that hotel and hospitality management is not only about the hotel, food and service, but about the entire customer experience. “If you are a person who is detail oriented and notices the finer aspects of the customer experience, you will do well in this field.”

The other thing that Putcha points out is that although this is a rewarding industry, it is also a slow growth one, in terms of reaching a higher designation. He informs that the path to becoming general manager is about 20 years, and that the aspirant will have to be patient about it. As he puts it, this is not a “five-year intervention career”!

Talking of competition among the students and them indulging in the marks mentality, Putcha says that if he had it his way, he would stop marking students from a total of 100 after class 10, and certainly not let it trickle to the management education level, but institutes are often bound by regulations. He would ideally like to employ systems of evaluation based on an environment created for effort rather than knowledge. For instance, he says, instead of being awarded marks for team work by the faculty, ideally the peers should award them – which would factor in the ‘who did what’ part in team work. Of course, the smaller details of rewarding the marks would need to be worked out for it to be fair and accurate, but in that way, for some part, the real world behaviour could be replicated in class.

Considering the programmes he is involved with, Putcha is big on skill development, for these ideas of how to behave and conduct yourself are what make the difference. No wonder, he ignored his buzzing phone several times during the course of this interview, which is more than one can say about a majority of senior academicians. He talks of the precise grooming that is needed in the hospitality industry, and how it enables these students to look for options beyond the field due to the skills they have developed.

The one major difference, Putcha points out between hotel management and other fields is that here, the industry is extremely supportive in terms of providing training positions for students as well as regular feedback for the current needs of the industry. Institutes are able to keep up with the rapidly transforming industry due to this support.

As a parting shot, he reiterates that students should look at the industry as a whole and not get swayed by just the glamour, and try to look into their personal acumen to ensure that they are suited to this industry.

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