“Leaders should have integrity, lack arrogance, openness to learn, extraordinary time management and the ability to achieve a good balance between personal and professional life,” says Shreejana Rana, Executive Director of Hotel Annapurna. According to her, leaders must introspect, understand who they are and be content with it, only then can they enjoy what they do.
A hotelier and an active social worker, Rana has worked for many years for the empowerment of women. She was a member of Women Entrepreneur Association, and when it became the Federation of Woman Entrepreneurs Associations of Nepal (FWEAN), she was appointed as a founder member. She was also a member of the SAARC Chamber Women Entrepreneurs Council (SCWEC) for 12 years and is a member of the Association of St. Mary’s Alumnae Nepal (ASMAN). She also serves as the first Vice President of Hotel Association Nepal (HAN) and the Executive Member of Nepal-India Chamber of Commerce & Industry (NICCI).
Rana was born to late Kiranendu Malla and late Kendra R L Malla. She couldn’t experience fatherly love and affection because he passed away when she was just 18 months old. Her mother took charge and raised both her brother and herself on her own. “I had a fine childhood; populated with fond memories. We were part of a joint family so I grew up with lots of cousins,” she informs.
Rana has always been gregarious by nature. “The hospitality business was perfect for me. After college, l was offered the chance to train in tourism and hotel management. There has been no looking back since,” she shares. She did her schooling from St. Mary’s and later went to India for further studies. After her A-levels, she trained in Hotel Management and Tourism with ITC Welcome Group for six years. “I didn’t have a definite aim as a child, but I grew up wanting to be financially independent. I was fearlessly ambitious and hungry for success but I wanted to reach the sky on my own merit.”
After returning to Nepal, she married Kapil SJB Rana, the current Chairman of Hotel Annapurna. “I was privileged to marry into a family which was already in the hotel and tourism business. But just because I married into a family in the hotel business did not even closely suggest that I could automatically step into it. However, my husband was well-informed about my academic and work experience in the hospitality sector. He trusted me; and therefore, handed over the keys of the business to me,” she shares.
Rana joined Hotel Annapurna as a Director about eight years back. Since the first day, she has relentlessly worked to establish systems and procedures based on professionalism and openness. She believes in the empowerment of employees and their ownership of work.
In her business, she gets to meet and work with everyone—from a utility worker to heads of states. “The work is never boring, but this is a profession that can consume your life if you are not careful. Managing time is a big challenge. It is difficult to find balance between ‘socialising after work’, which is part of our profession, and ‘finding time for family’,” she underlines.
According to her, it would be hypocritical not to quantify success. “Being successful is important, but it is more important to have our guests feel genuinely welcomed and cared for, that we are ‘a home away from home’ for them.”
Hotel Annapurna now manages two properties outside the valley, Fish Tail Lodge, a renowned heritage property in Pokhara and the newly opened Jagatpur Lodge in Chitwan. Rana is working on a project that she says will bring her 50-year-old hotel into a 21st century reality. “In the future, I also hope to have Hotel Annapurna establish a management training centre to train hotel management professionals to rigorous international standards.”
According to Rana, in the hotel business, it all boils down to making sure the guests feel comfortable and special. “We don’t select them; they select us. Our guests always come first. We work hard to ensure that they receive the best service and experience when they stay with us. And it must all seem effortless and natural. So our employees must own the service; they are the Annapurna; each of them makes a difference. Training and leadership are paramount in instilling these values,” she highlights.
Resultantly, Hotel Annapurna keeps its employees busy in numerous training programmes and evaluation programmes to ensure a fair and effective system. Recently, the hotel held workshops on various ‘Art of Living’ Programmes for the well-being of the employees. According to Rana, all 380 members of her staff have attended one or the other of the training programmes.
Rana says that there is no ‘one size fits all’ management philosophy. “There is a tendency to think in rigid terms when developing a new business: look back in the past and reminisce over the progress achieved; but we must look to the future and new trends—that’s the best way to go. We must learn from the past and our predecessors, but incorporate the new as well,” says the experienced hotelier.
An active social worker, Rana strongly believes in giving back to the society in the form of money, support and encouragement. “I am proud of Hotel Annapurna’s commitment to CSR. For instance, amongst our programmes, we support Maiti Nepal, feed street children and have an annual award programme for girls who top their year at NATHM,” she explains. She is also the Vice Chairperson of Jayanti Memorial Trust which is working to make cardiac care available to all Nepalis, and is also actively involved with the Nepal Youth Foundation that works to provide freedom, health, shelter and education for impoverished children.
On the Personal Front
At times, she finds it daunting to balance her personal and professional life because hospitality is a very demanding and hectic sector. “People look at me as a strong and positive businessperson. But underneath that veneer is a woman who feels deeply. When I am hurt, I feel it too deeply and I can be oversensitive at times,” she shares. As a wife and mother, she cherishes the moment she first met her husband, and holds dear to her heart the times when she first held her new-born babies in her arms.
Rana is a spiritual person and follows the teachings of Sadhguru and Ravi Shankar. She believes that we cannot do well in life unless we are happy with ourselves. “Only then will we find that perfect balance in our lives that make us good leaders and good human beings. Pamper your soul; hear its needs. One day our bodies will leave us. But our souls are eternal,” she shares.
Gardening and travelling are among her hobbies, and she makes sure she has regular breaks with the family. “We go on vacations together, and I also go on trips with just my children so that we have special time together,” Rana shares.
Rana feels especially pleased at seeing able and passionate young Nepali entrepreneurs deserting foreign lands to mark their future in their homeland. “They are enthusiastic and have a strong vision. It is important that they pace themselves. Patience and grit is essential since failure is an obvious element of the entrepreneurial journey,” she stresses. According to her, luck may bless sometimes; but hard work and patience are permanent fixtures. “Never doubt yourself. I myself started as a management trainee many years ago and now I am the Executive Director of this wonderful property,” beams Rana.
Text: Sujan Tiwari
Photos : In-Depth Photography