International Women’s Day this year has an added resonance as global movements empowering women in the face of years of discrimination continue to gather strength. We thought it would be a perfect moment to celebrate one of the founder members of Karma Group – an elemental force in her own right and an inspiration to us all. Esperanca Patricio, President & Director, Indian & the Middle East.
You’re a founder member of Karma Group – what was it like in those early days for you personally and were there particular challenges at that time as a woman?
Travelling and working in India in 1993, was a challenge in itself, regardless of gender or nationality! My first face to face with India took place at the old domestic airport, where I was trying to get a last-minute flight to Goa, where we would be based and…. failed. And so my very first trip to Goa, was in a Maruthi van, with no suspension or AC and it took a painful 23 hours, because the driver kept stopping to talk to his friend who was driving another Maruthi van. I wish I could tell you that I remember the countryside or that the views were amazing. The truth is I cannot even recall the roads and could not explain to anybody where I was exactly all those years ago!
The trip was a blur of bumpy roads and the occasional moment of panic, when I allowed myself to think, that I was in the back of a van, in an unknown country, being driven to an unfamiliar destination that I couldn’t even place on the map, by people I had never met and having informed nobody about my journey.
25 years and many trips later, I can safely say that drive was the beginning of a very exciting journey, both personal and professional that has led me to meet amazing people, work with very talented professionals and be part of Karma Group’s history. There is a great sense of personal satisfaction, in being both participant and spectator, in the start-up and growth of the company and to be able to hold so many memories and stories about people and places.
Being a woman definitely had and has its challenges, I am sure that there was discrimination and chances are, there still is. But to be honest, I cannot recall what these were. I have never allowed myself to think in terms of gender and how a particular situation may affect me as a woman. In fact, I believe that being a woman was always and continues to be a plus. Women are tougher and infinitely more adaptable and better at reading people. And we are able to take what seems like an impossible situation and turn it around.
For me there was never the question of “how am I going to deal with this situation as a woman?” For me it was and has always been, I am here, I am faced with this challenge so I must deal with it and resolve it. In the process I may upset a few men, but so be it!
What was your strategy for making Karma Group a success at the beginning and how did your skill set complement those of your colleagues, including founder John Spence?
Moving to India and following John and wanting to be part of his dream, was a new beginning for many, if not all of us who were there when the company started. The strategy was quite simple- this is an adventure that must not fail and we must work together to make it so. There was an unshakable belief that we were embarking on a journey that required hard work and dedication and commitment. And above all the ability to make quick decisions and implement change. Which has always been one of our most important skill sets as a Group.
As far as I am concerned, I would say that my adaptability and ability to engage and communicate has been a skill set that has added value to the Group. I like people, I understand them, I am endlessly fascinated by the way they think. From day one, I had a sense of ownership about the company and all decisions and actions that I take during the execution of my duties, have at their core, concern for the welfare of the Group, its staff and our members. John has always understood that about me, my work and my approach, and in doing so has given me the freedom and the ability to be me and to get to where I am today.
Did you encounter prejudice and if so how did you handle it?
Most probably. But I can only explain my attitude to it by quoting a phrase a friend of mine uses to describe me- “Imagine if God had made her tall as well”?
Among your many achievements at Karma, which are you most proud of?
Having organized and participated in the first Camp Royal for the Children of Christel House, the charity we support in Bangalore. This event, which has now become an annual one at our resorts in Goa, provides a different group of children every year with a holiday that we hope they will remember forever. I believe that being part of such an incredible event, is important not only for the children but for all our staff members that welcome and host the children.
I am equally proud of all the amazing staff that have worked with me over the years. Especially the women who have gone on to carve great futures for themselves and whom I hope I have inspired to be strong and fearless.
What’s your advice to young women with big ambitions in the hospitality industry?
Be true to yourself. You don’t need to act like a man, to work in a man’s world. Being a woman is what makes you special! and whatever you do, please don’t use tears to get you way at work!