Vikram Shares His Vision Adding Value to Sterling as its MD & CEO

Ever since Thomas Cook India acquired Sterling Resorts in 2015, it has become an integral and important part of the Group, and it seems only fitting and natural that we should feature the person who is at present at the helm of this leading hospitality brand in India.

What is he like? How do his staff percieve him? What personal epithets define him? We did a quick recce and here is what we got!

“Sharp, analytical, hard working ,committed.”
Thabitha David, CHRO

“Customer focused, classy, cool, calm and collected, completely hands on.”
Harinath M, VP Marketing

“Empathetic, emotional maturity, pragmatic, willingness to be corrected.”
Anupam Dutta, Chief Sales Officer

“Empowering, strategic vision, eye for detail, hands on.”
Surej Hassan, VP Customer Engagement

“Knowledgeable, Immensely experienced in the industry, dynamic, go getter.”
Suresh Natarajan, VP, Purchase

“Sense of humour in the workplace, does not micromanage, easy to interact with, highly motivated.”
Rajeev Chatterjee, VP Finance and Accounts

Meet Vikram Lalwani, Managing Director & Chief Executive Officer of Sterling Holiday Resorts Limited!

Vikram has over 25 years of incisive leadership experience in Hospitality, Leisure, and ITES industries. He is a strong business transformation leader, having specialized in designing and executing turnaround strategies across several lines of business.

A strong hotelier, having pioneered Revenue Management in the hospitality industry, the initial 12 years of Vikram’s career were with the Taj Hotels across multiple functions – Revenue Management, Business Development and Resort Operations.

He has coupled his hospitality skills with IT and ITES Business Processes, having led operations in the India and Asia Pacific regions for Sutherland Global Services for over 4 years, dealing with IT and Business Processes for global Fortune 500 companies.

Vikram has brought this rich experience, his strong business acumen and vision, and an entrepreneurial mindset to Sterling for the past seven years. He has overseen several strategic responsibilities including Customer Engagement, Revenue Maximization, Hotel Sales, Resort Operations, and Business Development before taking on the position of Managing Director and CEO in April 2022.

He has transformed the company’s business model and scaled up the Hotel Guest business – with the tremendous expansion of sales and distribution both online and offline. Moreover, Vikram has designed and developed tech-enabled dynamic rule-based room & rate optimization solutions. He has developed a successful model that drives sustainable profitability using both organic and inorganic growth paths.

A mechanical engineer, Vikram has an MBA with specialized Certifications in Leadership Accelerated Programs from The Wharton Business School, Cornell University, and IIMs.

A self-confessed movie enthusiast, Vikram loves to travel. He combines his passions with his job, as he drives Sterling to make it the country’s leading leisure hospitality brand!

For our interview in Pulse, we aimed a few questions at Vikram, which he ably fielded!

Read on…!

How would you define your new role as the MD and CEO of Sterling, and a key player on the Thomas Cook India Group team? What positive contribution do you think you can make to the Indian operation in your position?

 Having been with Sterling since the last 7 years, I have played an instrumental role in transforming the company’s business model, along with the rest of the team, and scaling our resorts on a no-fixed-cost model. Having been involved closely in its transformation, the transition to the new role as MD & CEO has been as smooth as ever. It has always been business as usual with a focus on profitable growth, especially after the worst impact on the industry due to COVID.

I always believe that Thomas Cook India, and Sterling, have natural synergies given the value chain of the larger industry fraternity that we belong to. Leveraging the strength both ways shall certainly make us among the most dominant players within this industry.

Can you acquaint us very briefly about STERLING, and what the company stands for, and how it operates?

Sterling aims to be one of the top hospitality brands in the region offering a differentiated leisure experience across varied holiday types, such as Hills, Jungles, Beaches, Pilgrimage/Heritage, Waterfront/Riverside retreats, & Adventure. Sterling has a very strong resonance with the holiday segment, and efforts are on to further sharpen and strengthen our brand positioning in the marketplace. We are currently operating with approximately 2500 rooms across all regions in the country with 40+ resorts in our portfolio. Our aim is to double our presence in the country in the next 3 years.

Sterling is moving towards a more decentralized, linear approach of operation – taking it closer to the customer and to our business partners, through our resort network and scalable distribution platforms developed over the last 2 years. Our focus is on empowering our associates to deliver memorable experiences to guests. Our ‘Power to Spark Joy’ program and ‘Life at Sterling’ initiative enables our associates to take decisions without asking anyone, that brings about customer delight instantaneously.

 What are the most significant changes in the hospitality industry affected by global conditions in recent times, and how has Sterling adapted and coped with these changes? How did you bounce back?

I always believed a fine approach and strategy should be backed with excellence in execution. Post-COVID it became all the more important to focus on execution, and do things for our customers, partners and associates with a fine-tuned laser focus. The bounce-back was only possible because the team was re-energized, with the entire organisation beating to the same drum, and excelling in what we do. The hospitality industry in my opinion is entering its best phase again with travel surging, especially domestic travel.  The industry, and specifically Sterling, is now more resilient to environmental factors that affect business.  A simple example could be how Sterling reacted swiftly to the increased food item costs at our resorts due to the war between Russia and Ukraine. Without impacting the price increase to the customer on F&B consumption, Sterling re-engineered the menus for efficiency thereby negating the increase in input costs in the imminent term. Sterling engineered new F & B offerings – Sterling LOCAL (desi restobars!), alternate dining experiences, Pet Friendly resort programs, Sterling PICNICS, to name a few, that led to improved participation and spending at resorts

 Which three words best describe the company you represent?

Nimble, Energised and Ambitious!

When recruiting new staff for a job in Sterling, what qualities would you look for in an applicant? 

There needs to be a fine balance between technical skills and behavioural attitude. Customer-oriented approach coupled with digital savviness, and with enough ambition to grow from within, are the key qualities we look for.

Now for the more personal, and lighter side!

Your family consists of …. Fortunately, only one wife and a three year old son!

Four things you always pack when going on a trip are ….

My essentials include a mobile charger, a thermometer, and my Fire-Stick.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I would want to sleep more during holidays.

When you are not thinking about Sterling, you chill out by …..

Heading to the nearest theatre workshop with my son

 For comfort food, you reach out for… My mother-in-law’s recipes.

A message you would like to convey to colleagues across the Group from Sterling.

This is a great place to learn and grow both personally and professionally with an eyeball-to-eyeball culture highly suited for ambitious, self-initiated professionals.