Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Learning Fitness from the Hotel Legends!

There is this picture that has appeared in the papers recently. It shows an elderly man standing next to a seated Rev. Desmond Tutu. What caught my eye is that the man is standing erect, in perfect posture and his entire bearing depicts that he is in great health; despite his advancing years. The man we are talking about is Capt. C P Krishnan Nair, the founder of Leela Hotels, Palaces and Resorts. It could have been the fact that being an ex Freedom Fighter and Army Man Capt. Nair followed a strict regimen all his life, ensuring that he stayed young in physical frame and mind even when he became a nonagenarian.

You want more Chicken Soup for your heart and soul then take a note of this! “This doyen of one of India’s top hospitality chains started his first hotel at the ripe age of 65; at a stage when most CEOs contemplate retiring from the frenetic pace of the corporate world and boardroom battles,” writes C.J. Punnathara in his interview of the path breaking Hotelier. “Even today, Nair’s indomitable spirit and enthusiasm have him working on elaborate expansion plans - for both The Leela Palaces, Hotels and Resorts, and India,” says the Company Website. At 91, that is truly an exemplary way to lead your life.

There is something about fit and sprightly men being at the reins of their successful mega empires; always in control, firmly ensconced in the pilot seat. Their life’s principles and philosophies percolate down to the least common denominator and ensure that the organisation as a whole stays healthy in mind, body and spirit. The very few exceptions being The Donald, Jay Leno and the irrepressible Oprah Winfrey; but Winfrey’s ongoing battle with the bulge is legendary and she has stressed upon the relevance of fitness enough times.

Conrad Hilton lived up to a fit and fine 91. The torch bearer of the hotel industry and founder of the standard-setting global business stayed active well-beyond the time he officially retired into the emeritus position of Chairman of the Board. Sol Kerzner, not only married for the fourth time at the age of 65 in Year 2000, but today at 78 he is busy dreaming up ways to add more sparkle to his already illustrious bouquet that comprises Atlantis hotels, One&Only resorts, Sun International and Southern Sun.

Once Richard Branson was asked by a group of his friends how he is so much more productive and manages to accomplish a zillion things more than the average person, while being the master puppeteer of a 400-company conglomerate that spans a wide range of industries from space travel to deep sea exploration, from music to cell phones. His two word answer was “Work out.” This astonishingly simple answer forms a pretty good base for Branson’s life ideology – healthy mind nurtured within a healthy body that works like hell to ensure a healthy business.

I remember a quick informal exchange within the confines of a strictly formal meeting with the legendary PRS ‘Biki’ Oberoi, with whose fantastic Company I have had the good fortune to work. For some odd reason, between discussions about PR budgets and strategies, Newsletter focus and style and Media management, the talk swung to my obsession with my weight. The grand man, who is as fit as a fiddle, advised me on following a certain dietary discipline and pattern – try to eat carbs before seven, never mix rice with lentils, pick up a piece of Indian bread instead, move around as much as you can...........basic stuff but something that we tend to ignore. Biki Oberoi is a sharp man – sharply suited with a razor sharp mind that he employs to best use in running a super fine hotel chain. To this day, in spite of Oberoi being 78, it is difficult to beat his alacrity, attention to detail, a roving eye that never misses a thing – from speck of dust to a wrongly titling rose bud in a vase, close equations with spreadsheets and numbers, hunger for being the best and a unique vision.

These men of will and wealth can eat gold if they wish to, off their silver platters. And forget about just drinking, they can bathe in the finest, expensive wines out there. Yet they believe in living a life of moderation, keeping aspects of health and fitness right on top and not succumbing to temptations as often as you and I would.

It is an urban myth to say that hoteliers don’t have the time to exercise; what with our busy schedules and long, long hours. I have been guilty of using this utterly feeble statement several times, only to my dismal loss.

The guy who uttered these immortal lines, “Where there is a will, there is a way!” sure knew just what the world wanted to latch on to at times of grave lows in motivation. The saying is a perfect tight slap in the face of all excuses – real or imagined.

When I really have wanted to be in shape, I have willingly huffed and puffed my way up three and a quarter flight of steps to the mezzanine floor corner office of the Top Dog. Done over a period of time, I have noticed my steps becoming lighter, the grimace giving way to a satisfied smile and the ‘huff & puff’ getting replaced by steadier breathing and stronger heart. All in a day’s work, really!

I have seen colleagues, with longer schedules (such as those in Front Office and Food & Beverage), finding novel ways to stay fit if they have set their minds to it. A Director – Food & Beverage would use his break time to go sweat it out in the Hotel Gym (in the non-guest hours, of course), take a quick shower and return to this desk as spruced up in his tie and suit as he was at the start of the day. I have been witness to the ‘shape & shine’ routine of the Director of Sales & Marketing who seldom called it a day before midnight. Every time he, exhilaratingly, talked about getting a new hole punched in his belt, he carved out a fresh motivational standard for us. Yes, it’s the same colleague who marked the ‘one glass every hour’ rule for me and ensured that I had my mandatory fill of water each time he stepped into my office for a business chat or a round of casual talk. Bless the guy! And I can’t thank him enough for setting me on this watery path of enlightenment.

Then there was this Executive Housekeeper colleague, whose role revolved more around walking through the hotel than sitting behind a bulky desk. Yet, in her zeal to keep her contours within a slim silhouette, she would rise up at five every morning and go for a longish round of brisk walk before getting into her day role that involved more walk.

So, what’s your excuse?

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