Puneet Dhawan has taken over as Head of Accor in India! While the announcement was made a few months back, he took over physical charge recently, as he was held up overseas on account of Covid restrictions on air travel. With his joining as head of Accor, taking over from Frenchman Jean-Michel Casse, the changeover to local is complete. All other foreign chains in India have an Indian origin head. Marriott has Neeraj, Hilton has Navjit, Radisson has Zubin, Hyatt has Sunjae and IHG has Sudip. With Puneet taking over at Accor, the changeover to going Local is complete!
Remember the early days, when in the 80s when the first flush of foreign chains were entering India? Expats GMs were not allowed, an aspect of a closed economy of that times. A foreigner was employed as VP-Technical, while an Indian held the post of the GM. Chains such as The Oberoi and The Leela relied heavily upon expat GMs. A chain like ITC relied almost exclusively upon Indians – both Habib Rehman and Nakul Anand grew up the ranks within ITC to occupy the top positions. But now the wheel has come full circle. There is no dearth of talent among Indians, in fact they have been occupying senior most positions overseas, and then coming to India to take up important assignments. Remember Taj Group’s Rakesh Sarna and presently, Puneet Chhatwal again at IHCL, who was heading Steigenberger, a most prestigious German chain with extensive operations throughout Europe.
Obviously, there is some realization within, that even though expats are a great resource, nothing works better in India than an Indian head. Go Local, go Vocal, is the Indian PM’s call, and paying heed to that call are the foreign companies. The trend is not restricted to hospitality chains but is equally visible across the corporate sector.
Jean-Michel served Accor in India for almost a decade and became synonymous with the brand in the country. He was the last expat standing as the changeover was happening. Having said that, it is also perhaps time for re-calibration to all things Indian, and for good reason. My perception is that Indians can better resonate to what is happening around, and perhaps also relate better with owners as well. A little bit of local tadka helps, and why not? The same is possibly true anywhere else in the world.
With an association of over two decades with Accor, Puneet has previously held key positions across countries such as Hong Kong, Vietnam, Australia, Singapore, India, UAE and Philippines. Starting in 1994 with Mandarin Oriental Manila, Puneet joined Accor in 1998 as Director of Food and Beverage of Century Wanchai, now Novotel Century Hong Kong. In 2012, he moved to Bengaluru as General Manager Delegate to launch Accor’s first dual property in India – Novotel and ibis Bengaluru Techpark. In 2016, Puneet relocated to Dubai as Vice President Operations – Economy & Midscale Brands, Accor Middle East, managing 35 hotels in six countries. In his most recent role, Puneet repositioned Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila as a top luxury urban resort with over 600 rooms and extensive F&B operations. This considerable international experience and with youth on his side, would certainly help Accor in India to orchestrate a fresh start post the trauma of the Covid times – everybody needs a new slate to start afresh!
Incidentally, Puneet too belongs to New Delhi (like his namesake Puneet Chhatwal), and studied at Don Bosco, and went on to Switzerland for his hospitality degrees, inspired by none other than the legendary hotelier, Anil Channa, who headed ITC Maurya at one time, and later guided the Manu Chabria foray into hospitality. For him it is a home coming except that he has been away from the city for all this while. So, while he charts the next course of consolidation and growth for Accor in our region, Puneet would, one hopes, also find time for re-discovering his roots in the city.