“Embrace Change Without Fear Of Failing”: Shruti Shibulal, CEO & Director, Tamara Leisure Experiences

Shruti Shibulal has always believed that value-based businesses that create lasting jobs and opportunities for diverse segments of society also end up lasting longer and doing well. The CEO and director of Tamara Leisure Experiences has been doing just that and is quite successful at a young age.

Ms Shibulal, the daughter of S D Shibulal, a co-founder and former CEO of Infosys, has made Tamara synonymous with responsible tourism by incorporating the principles of sustainability into the development and operation of each of its properties and creating impactful employment within their respective communities. Tamara operates resorts and hotels in South India and has interests in Germany as well.

An MBA graduate from Columbia University, Ms Shibulal began her career with Merrill Lynch in New York. However, the young girl chucked her plush job and ventured into hospitality to live her dream of an entrepreneur.

She is a trustee of the Advaith Foundation and SD Foundation – the organisations involved in providing educational opportunities and healthcare assistance to underprivileged sections of society. She is also a trustee of WEP – Women’s Education Project, which focuses on educating and uplifting young women from vulnerable backgrounds.

Ms Shibulal is on the governing board of ATREE – Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment. In 2019, she launched SAATHIYA – a hospitality-skilling programme which enables young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to become employable within the restaurant and hotel industries. Focussing on industry-relevant skilling, building careers and creating a community, SAATHIYA has shown positive results in improving the lives and prospects of its graduates.

Sharmila Chand catches up with Ms Shibulal in a quest to understand her management principles and practices.


What would you describe as your most integral qualities and values in life and work?

Evolution is essential. I prioritise my willingness to learn and adapt. This has especially been important during the pandemic and unfolding uncertainties. Not only does agility bring growth and resilience, there is a certain calmness in accepting that change and the challenges it brings are continuous. Seeing those challenges as opportunities to evolve has been integral to both my personal and professional lives.


What is your philosophy of a successful business?

As always, it is the simple things that continue to ring true time and time again. I believe that it is important to be present – living in the moment is a largely-underrated piece of advice. An enormous amount of stress and the misjudgement it can cause are avoidable by staying focused on the things we can control rather than fearing what we cannot.


What is your most driving passion in work?

Over the course of my journey towards becoming CEO and director of Tamara Leisure Experiences, I have consistently observed the deep importance of value-based businesses creating lasting jobs and opportunities for diverse segments of the labour market. There is enormous, long-term social and economic benefit in the purposeful human capital building, designing career-oriented jobs, healthy work cultures and inclusive recruitment policies. It is my driving passion to do these through our properties.


What is your management mantra? 

Both at work and in life at large, I believe in leading with purpose towards creating something of lasting value that benefits people as well as the planet in every way possible.


What is your driving philosophy in creating lasting, value-based enterprises?

People are at the heart of all my endeavours. Especially, in an industry, such as hospitality, a large and diversely-skilled team is integral to our success. It is an overarching priority and passion to invest in people and the foundations of the business. Our values centre upon harmonising people, planet and profit. We invest heavily in our own teams and work closely to support local communities to establish an entire ecosystem of human-centric operations.


A business leader you admire the most...

In general, I have enormous admiration for leaders and organisations that cater to holistic well-being of people and society. It is inspiring to see the work done by The Wellbeing Project, for instance, an organisation that focuses on mental health to address burnout faced by change-makers. Through the Shibulal Family Philanthropic Initiatives, we have also worked very closely with the Hank Nunn Institute, a mental health organisation that strives to make therapy accessible and affordable to everyone.


What are your sources of inspiration?

I love to travel with close friends and family. I enjoy the company of colleagues and the continuous learning that we can share together. I especially look forward to the week I take off every year or two to study with other business leaders in a safe space. Learning and experiencing new things are a central part of mental refuelling, which always brings fresh inspiration.


What are your style and ethos of leadership?

I am very collaborative and execution-driven. I realise the strength of aligning with a diverse set of minds who share my values. It has allowed me to make sound decisions and implement successful strategies even during challenging times.

I have also learned over the years that taking feedback and using it constructively is important. It is often the well-intentioned voices that disagree with you or critique you that can really serve to build you up.


How do you de-stress?

I enjoy taking on a new activity or learning a new skill. Right now, I am learning to play piano. 


What is your fitness regime?

My regular workouts are an important part of my day. I also occasionally practise Yoga.


Do you believe that there is a formula for success?

I don’t believe that there is a formula for success or for really any other aspect of life. I realise that I cannot control the outcome. I can only control the input, which I do with diligence and drive. The rest is a combination of luck, hard work and surrounding myself with very smart, value-aligned people. Success is a holistic reality for me now –it includes a purpose-driven career, healthy relationships and self-investment.


Ten years from now, where will we see you?

I hope to be taking one or more of the Tamara brands international.


What are the three lessons that you have learnt in life as an entrepreneur?

1. Invest in people.

2. Invest in building foundational systems, like good governance, training, best financial practices, etc.

3. Embrace change without fear of failing.  

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