Recently concluded Rio Olympic 2016 proved that Indian women’s are far ahead and won medals for their country. Similarly there are many Indian women from India who are on the top chart of professionalism and known faces in various fields in foreign land. Their passion for work, their excellence on the job and the change they have wrought has taken them to the top of their game. They are changing the rules every day. Meet Ashrafi Matcheswala General Manager (GM), Taj Campton Place Hotel San Francisco. She is a lone lady of Indian origin who is successfully managing a five star hotel for almost a half decade, owned by India’s oldest and largest hotel chain Taj group. Born and raised in Mumbai, she did her basic schooling from prestigious Alexandra Girls High School, Fort Mumbai and her professional education from Institute of Hotel Management, Catering Technology, and Applied Nutrition (IHM Bombay). To enhance her professional front she did her post graduation -Masters in Hotel Management from Les Roches, Switzerland, senior journalist Sitaram Mewati profiles.
There are hardly any Indian women who have become General Manager of luxury hotel abroad, how do you feel to achieve this position?
It is a great feeling to be the General Manager of a Taj Luxury hotel in North America. It is absolutely a spectacular icon in San Francisco. My mission is to continue positioning the hotel as the premium luxury brand in San Francisco while embedding the true Indian hospitality with Taj group’s remarkable American flair.
Can you highlight your ladder of success?
Soon after completing my hotel management, I started my career in flagship Taj Mahal Palace and Towers in Mumbai. I joined as catering assistant in food and beverage department. I almost worked in all outlets that include manager of Rendezvous, manager of Apollo Bar and manager of Chambers. Thereafter I moved to Taj President Hotel as director of food and beverage (F&B). After Taj President I was moved back to Taj Mahal Palace and Towers and became director F&B. I was sent to Switzerland Les Roches by the Taj management to do my Masters in Hotel Management.after returning from Switzerland I worked in Taj Lands End as Resident Manager. My next move was a General Manager (GM) of Taj Lake Palace Udaipur then GM of Taj Wellington Mews and then I entered in International foray as GM of Taj Campton Place, San Francisco.
Prior to you anyone from family worked in hospitality industry? Was hotel profession your personal choice?
Yes, one of my older cousins who did her Hospitality Management in India and then settled in the US. Every individual knows their strengths from within and choose their profession accordingly. While doing my education I hotel profession and made up my mind to connect it. Joining hotel profession was my own decision and my parents supported me whole heartedly to pursue my dream career, rest is history.
Does Taj Campton win any awards/accolades during your tenure as GM?
Yes, there are many. Taj Campton has been honoured with several awards and accolades recognizing worldwide success. Awards and accolades are bound to come automatically if you and your team are faultless. As a leader my biggest strength is that I love what I do. I am a team player and work closely with my team towards achieving our business goals. Since my core area of focus is in operations, I have a keen eye for detailing. I believe in leading by example. Indeed, there was a constant support from top management too.
List of awards and nominations
Forbes Four Star Award from 2010 to 2016, AAA Four Diamond Award from 2010 to 2016, One Michelin Star Award for Campton Place Restaurant from 2010 to 2015,
Two Michelin Star Award for Campton Place Restaurant in 2016, Earthcheck – Silver Level from 2014 to 2016, Travel + Leisure WORLD’S BEST AWARDS from 2010 to 2016 and one of the 10 Best Hotels in San Francisco, Readers’ Choice Awards, Conde Nast, 2010 to 2016
How many rooms, restaurants and banquet halls does Taj Campton have?
Taj Crampton is one of the finest properties of Taj group which is most popular for among discerning travellers. It has 110 rooms, which include 9 suites, one restaurant, Campton Place restaurant, Bistro Bar and four Banqueting rooms.
Which is most popular restaurant in the hotel?
Campton Place restaurant, our two Michelin star restaurant is one of the finest dining destinations in San Francisco. It is upscale dining highlighting refined Californian cuisine with Indian notes. Those with an eclectic palate will love Chef Srijith Gopinathan’s menu where a European-Californian sensibility combines with a Spice Route influence to result in a mélange of flavours. His Californian- Indian Cuisine earned him a coveted Michelin Star six years in a row, culminating in two Michelin stars in 2016.
Have you felt any gender discrimination in the industry?
Initially, when I started my career, there were some apprehensions about careers for women in the hospitality industry. My neighbours even advised my parents not to allow me to pursue my career goals, saying, “Our girls don’t work in hotels.” However, my parents were very supportive, at the time that I was beginning my career in India. My work environment too was very supportive. And as such, within the Taj, in India, I felt no gender bias or discrimination, had that been a case I would not have heading Taj Campton. The Tatas (which the Taj Group of Hotels is a part of) are very supportive of women leaders and have nurtured women to attain leadership positions in all their companies.
What are your priorities for Taj Campton?
If you work with passion and enjoy what you are pursuing, you will find a solution to life and priorities. Well, our restaurant has two Michelin stars, we are a Forbes 4 star hotel and we’ve just been voted as one of the ten best boutique hotels in the world. Priorities are to sustain these accolades and to also infuse the spirit of “Tajness” into our hotel. It’s a one of the most awarded hotel of all time of Indian origin. We are focussing to achieve a Forbes 5 star and a 3rd Michelin star for the restaurant.
What are the most enjoyable aspects of your work and what are the most challenging?
Being a General Manager of the hotel you get to meet people from all walks of life from Monarch’s to global celebrities, business tycoons and so on. So paramount enjoyable aspects are meeting people, working closely with my team, and the sheer high of a successful day in the hotel – a minus room position, a full restaurant, delighted guests! It is never a dull day and no two days are the same! We hire people on skills but mainly personality, which is why the hospitality industry contains some of the most vibrant, lively and fun people you’ll ever meet. Putting a smile on our guests’ face is the outcome we strive for. Challenging aspects are dealing with unique guest requirements or expectations.
What is your most significant accomplishment?
I believe I have had a number of successes to date. It is difficult to say which I think has been my greatest accomplishment as they were all important. But my significant achievement is to getting to head a Taj Hotel in the International arena. Another one is to achieving two Michelin star for the first restaurant in the Taj group is particularly satisfying win. We had trained very hard, requiring a lot of discipline and perseverance, to come up from the bottom of the league. I am going to focus on my recent achievements as being the most pertinent.
Could you recall or flash your unforgettable moments?
Unforgettable moments – Every New Year’s Eve in the hotel is unforgettable. Each year, I think, ok, that’s it – it can’t get better than this and each year, it simply becomes better and better!
Do you want to communicate any message to women who wants to join hotel industry?
Yes, follow your heart! The most important factor in determining whether you succeed isn’t your gender, it’s you. You alone are responsible for your destiny. Be confident in who you are, love what you do and do work that you are passionate about. My mantra is also one of Sheryl Sandberg’s “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”