The Hotel Leela Case Study On Culture – Strategy With RS

A few days back, I was at Hotel Leela, a luxury 5-star property located in vicinity of Mumbai International Airport.

I was pleasantly surprised & delighted by the genuineness of the warm greetings that were showered upon me, by most members of the staff.

It started with the security team who inspected my car – he did a polite ‘Namaste’ with folded hands, accompanied by a warm & genuine smile. The Greeter, at the porch, too did like wise … and there after almost everybody we had an opportunity to interface, followed suit.

This got me thinking.

What is Hotel Leela doing that most employee greet guests with genuine smile & warmth?

Of course, HR experts will be able to attribute profound & cogent strategies to explain this behavior.

I would attribute it to the culture of Hotel Leela, whose foundation was laid by its Founder Captain Nair.Captain Nair named his creation in honor of his wife & its soul was conceptualized keeping guest’s comfort in mind. But merely desiring this, cannot deliver result. Realizing this universal truth, Captain Nair, in addition to putting effective strategies & system & process to deliver ‘customer orientation’, also practiced what he desired!

Legend has it that, one late night / early morning, he was taking a stroll in the lobby of the hotel. He saw a guest, curled up on an ottoman, peacefully sleeping. But the ‘curled-up’ sleeping position must have indicated to Captain Nair that he must be feeling cold. Quietly & unobtrusively he took the shawl, which he had draped around himself, and ever so gently, so as not to wake up the guest, covered him and continued taking his round.
Unknown to him, a few of his staff had observed him draping the guest with his shawl.
Next morning, the word had spread how Captain Nair had draped the shawl on a guest & continued taking his round!
As more & more staff discussed & related Captain’s Nair gesture – subliminally a message was being internalized by every member of the staff – at Leela comfort of guest comes first & it should be provided to them as a matter of right – quietly & unobtrusively!

This story may have been passed on to subsequent generations of Leela staff to remind them that at Leela guest comfort & well-being come first.

This is what gives birth to the culture of Organizations. Culture is intangible & a source of enduring competitive advantage. Then why do accomplished professionals not leverage it? These professional follow an adage – what cannot be measure cannot be improved – since culture cannot be measured using conventional tools hence it does not excite these professionals. In the process they miss out on an initiative which can give their organization an enduring competitive advantage.

Business Lessons For Us:

1. Actions speak louder than words.

2. Get legends (stories) associated with your brand – stories are remembered better as compared to facts & can be retold by others?

3. Do not be angry if your people talk back to you / challenge you. But always be scared what employees see you doing. They will emulate you!

4. ‘Be the change you want to see in the world – Mahatma Gandhi.

5. As a leader you can inspire your team through your actions.

6. “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” – Harry Truman.

7. Culture, of an Organization cannot be measured using conventional measurement devices. But do make an effort to institutionalize it. It will be a source of competitive advantage. Why? Because it cannot be copied & hence cannot be replicated.





In this series, Rajesh Srivastava, Business Strategist and Visiting Faculty at IIM Indore gives you a regular dose of strategy case studies to help you think and keep you one step ahead as a professional as compared to your peers. Rajesh is an alumnus of IIM Bangalore and IIT Kanpur and has over 2 decades of experience in the FMCG industry. All previous Strategy with RS posts can be found here