Text by Sajeet M. Rajbhandari
Sunil Sakya is the Chairman of the KGH Group of Hotels & Resorts, a family run business that is widely recognized in the country for its top notch hospitality services. Sakya is also currently Chairman of the Nepal chapter of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA). From graduating with Biology major to becoming a pilot to running one of the most prominent hotel groups in Nepal, Sakya has a wonderfully vivid life.
In this edition of B360, Sunil Sakya shares the five things that have impacted his work and life. Excerpts:
I went to school at St. Xavier’s Godawari from where I went onto St. Xavier’s Jawalakhel, where I completed my S.L.C and Senior Cambridge. After that I did my Intermediate of Science from Tri-Chandra College. I believe that school is a very important part of a person’s life; it really instills in you the values that will shape the rest of your lives. The friendships and relations that I formed in Godawari and Jawalakhel are still very strong and important for me. I was also fortunate to be taught by exceptionally committed teachers. Back in school, we used to have a lot of Jesuit fathers; the dedication and commitment I saw in them is something that I often find education today is bereft of. Honesty and morality are equally as important as intelligence and knowledge; and this is something that I witnessed firsthand from the Fathers in St. Xavier’s. Even though it was a Jesuit school that was founded on Christian values, we were never asked to convert into their religion, rather we were taught to be better Hindus or better Buddhists with a strong moral compass. I still hold the Xaverian motto, “Live for God, lead for Nepal.” very close to my heart.
As a boy, I was always amazed by anything that defied gravity. Kites, clouds, planes would always leave me awestruck. I recall, back when I was still studying at St. Xavier’s; a couple of astronauts had visited to give a career talk program. At the time I had made up my mind that I wanted to grow up to be an astronaut. This was during the late 60’s and the early 70’s when the Apollo missions had reached their peak. We used to watch documentaries and movies at school, and I loved every minute of them. Things like Star Wars and Star Trek had just come out; I was a big Trekkie back then. For better or worse, I didn’t get to go to space so I chose the next best thing, flying.
I had the opportunity to fly for ten years, from 1983 to 1993. I got to see a lot of Nepal when I was flying for Nepal Airlines. I even flew for the United Nations for a year. In my time of service, I flew a plane called the Twin Otter. These are small twin-engine aircrafts which we affectionately called “mountain goats” because of how sturdy and strong they were. They were ideal for high altitude and mountain flights just like the nickname suggests. I was lucky enough to fly to all 43 airports in Nepal. Even though we are a small country, in terms of civil aviation we have done extremely well. In comparison to our size we have got so many airports and airstrips. The kind of view you witness in your time in the cockpit is surreal. From the plains of Terai to the highest of mountains, the flora the fauna in the country, and also the different types of people from different cultures you end up meeting. The insight you get from all these colourful experiences is amazing. You also realize so much more when you are in the air. I could witness firsthand the snowlines and the tree lines receding farther up. Global warming and deforestation took place right in front of me. I also saw the economic disparity between the people in the west side and the people in the east side of the country. The diversity you come to witness as an aviator is both sad but also beautiful.
A family man
Family is very important to me. I come from a simple family. We were a joint family back then; since then we have grown larger but we still remain very close with one another. Now I am with my two daughters who mean the world to me.
As a young child, I was very attached to my grandmother. Rather than my father or the other men in my life, I feel that the person who imprinted in me a sense of love and responsibility was my grandmother. Like I said, we were a joint family and perhaps that’s why my grandmother had a strong influence on me. This fact influenced a lot of my thinking and collective perspective. More than individual mentors, my family was more of a communal force for me. But there are times when you do need to separate for better things, and that’s okay too; but I still believe that a lot of strength comes from a collective. We are still a bit of a conservative family. Conservative in the sense that we aren’t in the wind fall game; we believe in slow but steady growth and manageable debts. This is how I was brought up by my family and this also the same mantra we carry with our businesses.
Finding home in hospitality
My grandparents were initially in the gold business. We opened our first hotel in Thamel and the business sort of just went on from there. Given my family and my aviation background, hospitality and tourism are something that have always been close to me. Since our inception, we have been fortunate to see good growth. We now have seven different hotels across the country and have created almost 800 jobs.
I have witnessed many industries come and go in the country. The carpet industry, the pashmina industry and many more, but the tourism and hospitality industry has managed to withstand the test of time. The KGH group itself has witnessed three generations of administration, first were my father and my uncles, next in line was my generation and now it’s time for the next generation – my daughters.
I am attuned with this line of work. The tourism and hospitality industry demand a lot of passion, empathy and emotional intelligence. To me this is not just a business but something I share an empathetic connection with.
It has become a very competitive industry and a 4.5 rating in no longer enough. To stay above the competition, you need to be able to connect with your client and employees. I am really involved in my work; it’s a business that requires your attention 24 hours of all 365 days of the year. People check in at 2 a.m. in the night and you still need to be able to provide them with the same standard of service as everybody else. It’s nothing like a nine to five job and you’ve got to have a different mindset.
I sometimes miss the freedom I had in my flying days, but my family wanted me back. Flying came with a lot of risks and my grandmother and my wife wanted me back home. It’s still conflicting at times, there was never a boring moment in the air but I have also managed to make a home in the hospitality and tourism industry and we have created a whole ecosystem in this sector. Sometimes you need to look at the bigger picture and the difference you will be making in the long run.
Long term planning and hard work have always been my mantras. My upbringing has instilled in me the value of slow and steady growth. When we first came to Park Village, there wasn’t really much to work on here, but we slowly built on it over the course of almost two decades. Consistency and the ability to not give up are keys to success. The industry is very dynamic and has grown a lot since we first started and it is necessary to adapt to these fluid dynamics. To be able to prepare for oncoming trends is an important skill to have. The same goes for technology, to not just adapt to it but to be ahead of the curve is vital.
I would love to expand the KGH brand to countries outside of Nepal. I have always been lobbying with the government and the hotel association that we should take up this issue very strongly. For our national economy to be sustainable on its own, we really need to look into helping homegrown brands to expand themselves. Going global is crucial for both the brands and the country. The Thai people were able to do this with food diplomacy, where Thai cuisine became an important part of menus globally. The spirt of enterprise should always be there. For more hotels to open up there needs to be more business, for more business there needs to be more people, for more people more airlines need to come in, for more airlines to come in there needs to be more infrastructure. Like I said before, we need to look at the bigger picture.