KK Prabakaran, executive head housekeeper at Dukes London in Mayfair, thinks that socialising is the key to success and wants to see more housekeepers in the top roles. He talks to Lisa Jenkins.
Did you study a hospitality course at school or college?
I did a three-year bachelor's degree in hotel and tourism management at one of the renowned hotel schools in India, the State Institute of Hotel Management and Catering Technology.
Did you do an apprenticeship in hospitality?
As part of my degree, I did a 28-week internship in hotels including the Taj hotel group, an experience I cherish.
What initially attracted you to working in hospitality?
Food – good food – is what attracted me to work in hospitality. I wanted to be a chef.
How did you make the transition into a job in hospitality?
My transition into hospitality was during a bachelor's degree in physics. With my parents support and blessing, I discontinued my physics degree and enrolled in the hotel school.
What was your first job in hospitality?
I was a management trainee in the contract catering division of the Hyundai manufacturing plant in India.
Who was your role model in hospitality?
My first role model in hospitality was Mr Ramesh, vice-president of household maintenance at Oberoi hotels. He was my first executive head housekeeper at the Oberoi Udaivilas in India, and he mentored not just me but many young hotel graduates like myself, all of whom are successful housekeepers today in various parts of the world.
What steps have you taken in your careeer to get to where you are now?
Having worked for over two years at the Oberoi, I was then preopening housekeeper at the ITC Grand Central, a Luxury Collection hotel by Marriott, in Mumbai, before I had the opportunity to come to the UK. I then worked for the Guoman group for three years at two of its largest properties, the Tower and the Cumberland hotel, both in London, as floor supervisor.
I was then assistant head housekeeper at the Royal Automobile Club, and after three years I was offered the role of duty manager by the then general manager, Christian Horvath. I then worked on a rebranding project at the Conrad London St James as an assistant executive housekeeper, where I managed the largest team in my career so far.
My first executive head housekeeper role at the Cheshunt Marriott came in 2016. I was then fortunate enough to be part of the multimillion-pound refurbishment project here at the Dukes London, where I have been overseeing the operations as executive head housekeeper since 2017.
What networks have supported you in your career progression?
I am a member of the UK Housekeepers Association and the Institute of Hospitality. I am also a housekeeping ambassador for the Springboard charity.
What are the biggest challenges you've faced?
One thing I have learned is that the industry is full of challenges and surprises at every step. However, I soon started approaching those challenges as an opportunity for me to learn and thrive.
Do you have any regrets or things you wish you'd done differently?
As we chart the uncertain waters of a post-Covid-19 world, guest expectations have changed drastically with added responsibility and pressure placed on the housekeeping teams.
Our fantastic teams have risen to the challenge, demonstrating adaptability and perseverance all while maintaining the highest professionalism. Despite all these, sadly there seems to be a limitation for house- keepers to progress into senior leadership roles.
I really wish to see this change and to start witnessing more housekeepers working in senior leadership roles in the coming years.
What advice would you give someone starting out in the industry?
Being passionate, persistent, and agile are the keys to thriving in our industry. Enhance your soft skills throughout your career and embrace new technologies. Most importantly, be part of one or more industry bodies so you can build and maintain your industry contacts by taking part in social events, seminars or exhibitions.
What are your career goals?
To be a successful hotelier, leading an empowered team from the front and to inspire everyone to nurture this amazing industry.
Who inspires you in the industry?
My team. There is a lot that I learn from each one of them every day. They are my motivation and the reason I am the person I am today.
I am also inspired by the people culture of Mohan Singh Oberoi and Jamsetji Tata, the two great pioneers of the Indian hospitality industry. I have always put my people first and ensure that their wellbeing is my utmost priority.
I have always put my people first and ensure that their wellbeing is my utmost priority
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