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Interview: Sanjay Arora – a Millennial on the move

Sanjay Arora - has big boots to fill
Sanjay Arora – has big boots to fill

Sanjay Arora knows a lot about airport hotels. Ever since he can remember, hotels, especially those linked to airports, have been a constant part of the 26 year-old’s life.  

Of course, a lot of that knowledge wasn’t necessarily out of choice. Being the son of Surinder Arora, the owner and chairman of Arora International Hotels and one of the UK’s most successful hoteliers, meant that the industry was, whether he liked it or not, pretty much uppermost in family life. Lucky for Sanjay – and his father – all the background noise only served to fire his enthusiasm for the hospitality industry.

“I would say that from a very early age I was groomed into the business,” he says. “I would take great interest in my summer holidays in the hotels my father owned and work in housekeeping, at the reception, and with concierge services, to get a feel for the business. I really enjoyed what my father did and wanted more of it.”  One big aspect of the industry that appealed to Sanjay was its variety. “The hotel industry is very interesting – there’s a different job every day and an extraordinary amount of people with different backgrounds you come across.”

Sanjay’s desire to be part of the family business was so strong that at the start of this year he joined Arora, and, seeing his enthusiasm and abilities, was immediately given a big job by his father. “I was made managing director of one of my father’s holding companies, which meant running four hotels. It was the first challenge he gave me – to see how I could run these hotels and make them more efficient.”

This means overseeing 250 staff and looking after around 1,000 guests. And if Sanjay likes his variety, he’s certainly been given it. His working week involves a day at each one of the four hotels, checking up on anything from budgets to guest issues. That’s followed by a day back in the headquarters in Heathrow, where his father resides. It’s hardly surprising them when he says that at the moment: “my job is my life.”

Before being given the responsibility, Sanjay had gained some outside experience after doing a business degree at the University of London. This including working for a number of banks and the corporate finance department of the professional services company, KPMG. “This gave me invaluable insights in areas like how to raise finance and do deals.”

Sanjay, as he admits, has big boots to fill in respect to his father. Surinder created a business empire as a first generation immigrant to the UK from the Punjab. He worked as a customer service officer for British Airways, before becoming a successful life insurance salesman. But the entrepreneurial spirit was always burning brightly, and seeing an opportunity to provide hotel accommodation for flight crews at Heathrow, Surinder ditched the nine to five and set up a hotel specifically for them in 1999. From here other airport hotels were launched and in 2004, the Arora group opened a hotel in Manchester. Arora also runs the franchises for the Sofitel hotel brand in Heathrow and Gatwick. Altogether the hotel group owns and operates seven hotels.

Not surprisingly, Sanjay has huge respect for his father. “I often ask: how did he go from being the normal nine-to-five man at BA to owning a hotel group with our name on it? That commands a lot of respect and can be quite intimidating at times.”

He reckons that one of the biggest challenges for any second generation coming into a highly entrepreneurial business started by a parent is gaining respect from the people around you – not just family. “Maybe I’m always going to be known as Surinder’s son, but it makes you work harder to ensure you gain that respect among your fellow staff.”

Sanjay has two older sisters; one works as a lawyer in London and the other is involved in a successful nursery business set up by their mother. Neither of them are likely to come into the business so the family responsibility for Arora will increasingly lie with him.

Sanjay reckons that if he is successful at the hotel business, he’d like to eventually diversify into healthcare, with care homes. “It fits well into what we already do, after all, you’re still serving guests.” His soon-to-be wife is a doctor, and he says that maybe she could run that side of the business one day. He also reckons that his membership of the Young Presidents Organisation offers him access to some amazing business minds to help in his progress.

One thing is for sure, Sanjay doesn’t lack the drive and the vision to take a first generation entrepreneurial success story even further. And there’s no lack of inspiration he can draw on from his father’s story. Now all he needs is a little bit of that magic ingredient called luck.