From Management Trainee to Managing Director…. Mahesh’s Marvellous Journey in Thomas Cook.

A young man joined Thomas Cook in 1994 as a Management Trainee. He filled multiple roles, working in FX, graduating from Sales Manager, to Branch Manager, and subsequently Commercial Manager. After a brief stint in the HDFC Bank in 2007, he returned to the fold, re-joined Thomas Cook, and never looked back.

He took on the role of Regional Head-West, and went on to hold multiple portfolios in the FX business. In 2012, he was appointed the Head of FX. As if that was not enough, during the intervening period, he completed his Post Graduate in Marketing Management from JBIMS, and an Executive Programme in Business Management from IIM, Kolkata!

Born in Trivandrum, Kerala, he graduated from Mumbai University and his first job was as a Media Trainee at Ratan Batra Pvt Ltd., a mid-size Ad agency specialising in Tenders especially for Government bids. After that, squarely a lifer in TC— a commitment of 28 years!

Today he is the Managing Director & CEO of the Thomas Cook India Group. He is Mahesh Iyer.

 We asked some of his colleagues, and members of his team to give us their take on him.

June: “He deserves to be at the position he is now and even more, on account of his own hard work, self-motivation and dedication.  Needs no props whatsoever.”

Deepesh: “Mahesh is very clear in his thoughts and can articulate a complex process in simple words. He gives space to his team and will back you if any issues arise.”

Jayesh: “His wealth of experience and invaluable inputs on how to face challenges, failures and even success has been the cornerstone of his management style, which helps us focus on what matters.

Rupak:” Someone who showed me how to manage expectations at work and family, helped me to grow as a professional and a true human being.”

Sangita: “Mahesh’s ideal quality as a boss is that he gives staff the freedom and authority to make decisions for certain tasks and areas of their expertise. This enables employees to fix problems, come up with ideas and suggestions, and implement solutions without having to keep going back to the boss.

We pinned down the man himself to answer a few questions to give us his view from the top!

Mahesh, you were recently appointed the Managing Director & CEO for the Thomas Cook Group. What positive contribution do you think you can make to the organisation in your new capacity?

Firstly, I would like to thank the Board, Madhavan, and the entire Thomas Cook family for having supported me on this incredible journey. As mentioned, I started as a Management Trainee way back in 1994, and when I look back, I have only gratitude to many of my colleagues past and present who helped me to get where I am today.

I think my job is pretty well defined. To put it quantitatively, to focus on profitable growth, generate a return on equity ( ROE ) and Free Cash (FCF). On the qualitative side, build a future proof organisation, foster a culture of growth and sales mind-set, continue our journey on digital transformation, and be the company of choice for people (employees and customers). This has been my role even before the MD tag got added, and I think I it is just a reaffirmation that I need to keep doing better each day / month / year!

What are the most significant changes you see in the travel industry in recent times due to global conditions, and how do you think Thomas Cook is adapting to, and coping with, these changes?

A lot has changed post the pandemic and my guess is that we are in a prolonged tail wind period, for at least 3 to 5 years if not more. I say this because of the following reasons:

  • India has a young demography, and is the fastest growing economy in the world. This means we are going to see higher per capita income and consequently higher spends.
  • The market for Travel & Tourism is expanding fast with young travellers coming into the travel pie, which means that we no more need to fight competition but seek a larger share of the growing pie, and that will take care of our growth agenda for the next few years.
  • People are now spending more on experiences as compared to the pre-pandemic period. The “here and now” syndrome has caught up much faster than before, and like me, there are many who want to see and explore, rather than possess, and that’s a big opportunity for our businesses.
  • Availability of easy credit either EMI or BNPL ( Buy now Pay later ) is catching up fast and I believe this segment will be a meaningful contributor to our Holidays portfolio, allowing a large number of people to go on their dream vacation.

And many more. . .

Can you share any successful initiatives you have implemented to enhance the customer experience or streamline internal operations within the company?

 Honestly, I take no credit for what has been done, but if you look at our systems and processes now, compared to the pre-pandemic times, we have come a long way. As a team we have rehashed all our operating systems be it Holidays, where Canvas replaced the LTOB system, Mantra for Mice, Eva for Corporate Travel, Mudra Lite for FX and the FX Mate and FX Now apps,  Newgen for streaming all our payment’s, SAP upgrade, Darwin Box for HRMS, and several more. If you look at what we have achieved over the last 2 years, it is simply phenomenal and puts us at par with the best in the Industry. We are now at a point where we can ride the wave very quickly, and focus our energies on improving our customer experience, and that’s a work in progress as we speak.

Above all, we have a fantastic team that has kept itself together and to the ground and delivered exceptional results in the last 4 quarters, and I am sure the best is yet to come!

What is your vision for the entire organisation 5 years from now?

 I am less of a Vision and Strategy guy, and more intent on execution. There are a few priorities that we have identified which include growing our share of Customised Holidays (FIT); growing the Domestic Holiday portfolio 3x  from where we are today; building on the newer segments that we have opened in the MICE business; expanding our cross border offering, both  remittances and cards, to the Rupee / UPI platform, and improving our Customer Experience across all businesses. While these may seem simple, the nuances around these are large, and I believe we have laid the groundwork for the same, and we should be able to get to our defined objectives if we execute these well. I am confident that the management team and all my colleagues will extend their full support in making this happen.

What mission or principle would you want your employees to work by in order to achieve the vision you have for the company?

Teamwork and open culture are virtues that I swear by. I will urge all my colleagues to collaborate with each other and that is the only way I believe we will achieve what we set out for ourselves.

 Given 60 seconds, tell us the first three words that come into your mind when thinking of Thomas Cook!

My First Love !” Incidentally, I joined the company on 14th February !

 Can you mention one or two influences in your life that have shaped your career and guided some of the major decisions you have taken?

 My father has been a great influence in my life. I come from a very humble background and believe that GOD has been very kind to me, and I am ever so grateful for that.

The other person I look upon, and learn from every day is our Executive Chairman – Madhavan Menon. A true leader, mentor and coach. The latitude he gives you to operate has made me whatever I am today. I am eternally grateful to Madhavan for this!

 If you were employing managers for the company, what three leadership traits would you look for?

 Honesty, attitude and people and team management

 Are you a risk taker or a micro-planner?

 A bit of both, I would say. I like to get into details and I am oriented towards numbers. In fact, I have a board displayed in my room, which reads, “Without data you’re just another person with an opinion”. So yes, when the situation demands, I take some calculated risks (mind you, they are measured and calculated), and at times a micro manager.

Are there any memorable milestones or experiences you can recollect through your years with the company?

 In my journey of 28 years with Thomas Cook, I have many memories and milestones. Firstly, the fading away of Travellers Cheques to be replaced with Prepaid cards, and subsequently our own Borderless Prepaid card, which I believe is the future of cross border transfers.

The Brand Thomas Cook that I am so proud to be associated with. I have seen multiple shareholder changes, and finally to have a safe haven in FairFax is very reassuring. Moreover, now that we own the Brand in India, Mauritius and Srilanka, and never have to worry about having to give it up, is indeed an important milestone!

 And now a few queries on the lighter & more personal side !

 My family comprises of….

My wife Jeni, and my 11 year old son Shlok..My little world 😊

 When I am not thinking of Thomas Cook, I chill out by …. 

Watching movies (action, thriller or horror, but no drama!)

The book on my bedside table is:

I am not much of a book guy. I need my daily dose of two newspapers, ET & TOI, and read many articles that I scroll through on the web.

Four things I never travel without are

My phone, my wallet, my Vicks inhaler and some cash in the wallet !

 The song I like to hum is ….. 

Aanewala pal …jaane wala hai…ho sake to isme Jindagi bita do..pal jo yeh jaane wala hai..

For me an ideal holiday means….

Planned as per my wife’s wish, and lucky to get some rest in between if time permits.  (Rajeev Kale has a huge role to play in this conspiracy!😊)

 The word or phrase I use most often is

It is okay to fail, at least you tried rather than give up !

 The trait I deplore most in myself is …

Being blunt. Sometimes it may not go well with the person on the other side.

 And the trait I deplore most in others is….

Arrogance or lack of empathy

My mantra for work-life balance is:  

If you enjoy what you do, there is no compartment for work and life separately. I have been a part of the TC family for 28 years, and enjoy every bit of what I do, so it gets balanced automatically.

 My message to my colleagues would be ….

Be honest, have empathy and believe in teamwork. We can move mountains together!