Vikram Oberoi: “Real Affluence is About Dharma”

Vikram Oberoi: “Real Affluence is About Dharma”

The Managing Director and CEO, The Oberoi Group on the luxury of time and freedom, the culture at Oberoi Hotels, motorbikes and small closets

If luxury is about time, Vikram Oberoi chases it on superbikes which he races on, collects and fans over. If it is about freedom, he finds it within the delicate enslavements of personal and professional commitments. The granular feeling of affluence that the wealthy are theoretically supposed to own and stash may be for him an exhilarating moment when the world (and life) whirrs past while he is speeding inside his mind and body on a motorcycle. But it is certainly not in the make or sake of his boisterous, fancy, and intimidatingly expensive bikes. It is not in the sharp suits he wears to work either. Certainly not in the fine, dine and wine of his life at the top of a luxury hotel chain. His closet is lean and taut and if he is a fan of clothes at all, it is only athleisure and was so long before the pandemic sent it to lounge in our lives. Talking about the culture of affluence, Oberoi argues for human values threaded with sensitivity. He says he forensically burrows into the quality of service that the Oberoi hotels are known for and why real affluence is about dharma. Don’t be surprised if you find him obsessively tracking consistency and care on his Garmin watch.


“We start with the mindset that not even one guest should leave unhappy.”


Defining Luxury Through Time and Freedom

For me, luxury is about time and freedom. Time is scarce and once gone, it never comes back. My father always says: if you spend 10 minutes discussing something, we are short of those 10 minutes as time is the most limited resource we have.

The other way to describe luxury for myself is freedom. We have a number of commitments with work or with family and friends. You don’t want to compromise on any of those. But to do them passionately, limits the time and the freedom for something you may want to do besides that. I love what I do, so I am very fortunate and my biggest responsibility is to lead through personal example. I have a simple rule: never ask someone to do what you can’t do yourself. For instance, I started going to the office every day before many of our colleagues returned to office after the lockdowns. How can we ask our colleagues to return to work if we are not going ourselves? With a commitment to making a difference at work and contributing in a meaningful way, time for other things often comes second. With these constraints, I often think that time and freedom are the biggest luxury of all.


The Culture of Affluence

I don’t have a definition of affluence for myself and I don’t know what the right answer would be because I am really not driven by physical possessions. I love to ride motorcycles and to me more than the motorcycle itself, it is the liberty to be able to ride on a track which I try to do as often as I can on weekends. The physical possession of a motorcycle allows me to pursue my passion so to that extent it is an enabler rather than simply a possession.


“I don’t have a definition of affluence for myself and I don’t know what the right answer would be because I am really not driven by physical possessions.”

The Culture at Oberoi Hotels

It is not important what I think, but what our guests think of the service and care they receive at our hotels. I do everything I can to create an organisational culture that places our guests above all else. The single most important feedback we receive from our guests is the level of human interaction and the quality of service and care they receive at our hotels–people doing everything they can to make guests feel special. That’s our culture. We start with the mindset that not even one guest should leave unhappy and the things we must do to exceed the expectations of all our guests. Our culture is about sincerity and care. Not only for our guests, but for each other. How can we ask a colleague to care so deeply for our guests if we don’t demonstrate it among ourselves? I also feel that in India we are blessed because the family and family values are so strong. Our parents and our siblings demonstrate these important human values in day to day family life. Extending this to our guests and to each other is almost second nature. We just need to create an environment that enables this and allows it to flourish. A culture that places our guests first without boundaries and limitations.


Training and Values

We are meticulous on defining and documenting our service standards. If you take this hotel, (The Oberoi at Zakir Hussain Marg in New Delhi) there are over 2,000 documented service standards across departments that people should know and follow. Standards are a guide but over and above, we ask people to apply our values also referred to as our Dharma in looking after our guests, in their interactions with each other or with anyone else.


Being a Leader

At our hotels, I observe if colleagues are properly groomed and dressed. If I go to a restaurant and it is busy, I ask for the least desirable table as guests must have access to the best. While in the restaurant, I observe the level of service and the attentiveness of the restaurant staff and most important of all, how our guests are treated. I also pay attention to how our colleagues interact with each other. If I notice something that could be improved, I bring this to the attention of the General Manager, discuss the issue with him or her along with what needs to be done. I start with a philosophy that we all come to work and want to do our best. But things sometimes do go wrong and the leadership’s role is to support people to do their best. It is important that people are selected with care and trained to a high level of competency so that they can flourish and grow. And we must never compromise on our Dharma which ultimately defines our culture and our conduct. When things go wrong, we must understand the core of the issue instead of assessing it superficially. And as a manager or leader, we must ask ourselves “what could I have done differently to prevent that error or incident from happening?” If something has failed, the first question to ask is what could I have done differently to have supported a person or the team to have done better.



Secrets of a Small Closet

I wear formal suits to work and casual clothes or sportswear during my personal time. I may be caught buying fitness clothes on e-commerce sites (laughs). In winter it is a pair of cotton trousers, a T-shirt and a sweater, and in summers, it is shorts or casual trousers.

I have a limited number of suits, shirts and casual clothes. I never have to apply my mind to what I wear as I have a small closet. Everything I have, I wear. If I don’t wear it, it’s best not to have it.


Banner: Vikram Oberoi, Managing Director and CEO, The Oberoi Group and The Oberoi Udaivilas, Udaipur.

Interviewed by Shefalee Vasudev at The Oberoi, New Delhi