Name: Sudesh Jhunjhnuwala
Position title: CEO & Founder
Company name: Sudima Hotels
When and why did you join the industry?
I came into the industry in 2001. It was in a slightly indirect way – I first visited New Zealand in 1985 on my honeymoon with Laxmi, and we stood on the shore of Lake Tekapo and took in the natural beauty and promised each other that we would call New Zealand home one day and invest in and support its beautiful environment.
That I became a businessperson is not so surprising. I was born in the former Burma to Indian parents and spent part of my childhood in Kathmandu before moving to Hong Kong, where I developed my early business career. I come from a long line of entrepreneurs and businesspeople, starting with my grandfather, who left India 100 years ago to work as an accounting clerk in Burma and started his first business three years later.
My family has always believed in the value of education, and I have a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the University of Southern California.
What do you like most about your job?
I love that I get to make a difference in people’s lives and the communities that we operate in.
What’s one of the biggest achievements of your career so far?
Making Sudima Hotels the only hotel chain in New Zealand to be rated carbon neutral. This is a difficult thing for a multi-property accommodation provider to achieve, and we wanted to do it not only because it’s the right thing but so we could show other providers that it is possible, and hopefully lead change by example.
What’s the best advice ever given to you and who gave it?
My dad told me to always be ethical in our dealings. I think it is very important to behave honestly and fairly in business, and that extends to helping people where you can. We have various community support programmes in the cities where our hotels operate – we provide free lunches for school children in Rotorua as well academic scholarships and other initiatives. If you see a need and you think you can help, I think you should.
Who do you admire and see as a role model in the industry?
Conrad Hilton, the founder of Hilton Hotels, changed the face of hospitality as we know it. His legacy is proof that our industry can always be reinvented and improved upon.
What can people expect from your company and what sets it apart from the rest?
At Sudima, we are passionate about our guests, our people and our communities. This culture of care is hard wired right through the organisation. You will always be met with a smile, and we work very hard to make every guest feel that they have stepped into a home away from home, whether they are staying with us on a work trip or a holiday or adventure.
What destinations are on your travel bucket list?
I would love to travel to Rwanda.
What’s a memorable travel experience you’ve had (good or bad)?
Going to Cuba with my family. For one week we had no cellphone service or internet so we really got to spend quality time together and experience the country and its culture, which is so vibrant, and the people are so friendly. On one occasion we were in a taxi going from our hotel to the town centre of Trinidad. We were in the middle of nowhere when our taxi suddenly broke down. Another taxi driver was passing by, and he stopped and offered his help and refused to leave until we were back on our way. This community feel and genuine care for strangers is something that you no longer see in much of the developed world, and is just one example of moments that made that trip really special.
What are three things you always take with you when travelling?
A first-aid and medicine kit with reusable bags, a Kindle and a Swiss Army knife.
Name someone famous you’d like to travel with and a destination you’d like to go with them.
I would love to travel with the former Liverpool player Steven Gerrard to Anfield, the home of Liverpool Football Club.
What direction do you see the industry heading in over the next five to ten years?
I predict we will see many more smaller, independent brands coming to the market and hotel owners moving away from relying on big chain brand hotels. The trend among consumers is to seek out more sustainable and accessible providers with more of a personalised service, and I think the hospitality sector will respond to that demand.