The BBC’s weekly The Boss series profiles different business leaders from around the world. This week we speak to Sharan Pasricha, boss of boutique hotel group Ennismore.
Sharan Pasricha’s entrepreneurialism first became evident when he was just six years old.
He was in the first year of primary school, and started selling the sandwiches his mum made for him to his schoolmates.
“I was making a good profit, and so I decided to ask my mum to make me more sandwiches for lunch,” recalls the 38-year-old, who grew up in Mumbai in India.
“It was great until I started getting greedy and doubling the price.”
A parent approached his mother at a school event, and complained about the rocketing price tag. The bold youngster was caught out.
“The racket came tumbling down,” he says with a laugh.
Sharan is a natural storyteller, dishing out anecdotes about how hustling has permeated his life.
His first professional taste of entrepreneurship came at 22, when he co-founded UK-based Rush Media, a student media and marketing agency which he ran for three years after leaving university in London.
His enterprising spirit caught the attention of an uncle in Delhi, who lured Sharan back to his homeland to take over his leather garment business.
“It was very tough,” admits the fast-talking Sharan. “I was 25, and I was running an organisation of 300 people in the manufacturing business. But it was educating. I learnt about sales, finance, supply chain, margins, and people skills.”
Despite his lack of experience, he says he turned the business around, and sales and profits jumped.
After three years Sharan quit the job to study for a master of business administration qualification at London Business School, while also doing an internship at the private equity firm Better Capital.
It was at Better, where he worked on investments in hotels and student accommodation, that he discovered his calling.
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“Hotels are an interesting intersection of neighbourhood, design, community, operations, and food and drink. I thought, ‘imagine if you could craft a career around these amazing things you’re passionate about’.”
Within a year of graduating in 2011, he set up Ennismore Holdings, backed by private investors, and the group went on to buy the trendy Hoxton Hotel in east London for £65m in 2012.
His first move was to revamp the Shoreditch-based hotel, whose brand had become “tired”, and he ended up spending a year virtually living in the hotel.
“I walked in and introduced myself to the 40 staff who worked there and said, ‘I’m going to be hanging out with you’. I learnt by doing.”
Sharan also brought in outside help, hiring members club Soho House to run the restaurant, as well as upgrading the bedrooms, and creating a hireable events and meetings space called The Apartment.
Sales and profits climbed, and he quickly realised the hotel wouldn’t just be a one-off project.
“There was an opportunity to grow and scale the brand. We thought, ‘how do we do this again in London?’. We spent a lot of time in different neighbourhoods.”
The group opened a second London hotel in Holborn in 2014, and has since expanded to Amsterdam, Paris and the US, with hotels in New York, Portland and Chicago. Sites in Los Angeles and Southwark in London are in the pipeline.
Ennismore’s boutique hotels tend to be in fashionable locations and boast trendy decor.
However, in a surprise move, Sharan decided to branch out in 2015 and bought the traditional Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire, Scotland.
Opened in 1924, the listed hotel has in recent years been more associated with golfers than hipsters, boasting three of its own courses – one designed by former golf star Jack Nicklaus.
But Sharan, whose ex-wife is Scottish, had often stayed at the hotel, and when it came up for sale he jumped at the opportunity.
“Our thesis was here’s an amazing brand with an amazing history, but it had lost what it was.
“So we looked back through the archives at how we could bring it back to the roaring 1920s and 30s, when it was part of the social calendar, and people would get the train up from London.”
He says Ennismore has refurbished the hotel, retaining its Scottish identity, but injecting a more contemporary feel.
According to its latest accounts, Ennismore Holdings had revenues of £20.7m in 2017, up from £14.6m the previous year. Pre-tax profit fell from £7.7m to £6.8m as the firm reinvested in its hotels.
“Curating an urban hotel concept that not only works in London but also travels well is hard,” says Melinda Stevens, editor of Condé Nast Traveller, which earlier this year named Sharan as one of “The 44 people changing the way we travel”.
She says the challenge for Ennismore now is to keep growing in an ever more competitive market.
“The ’boutique hotel’ concept has become something of a cliché really – it’s nothing new. So there’s a lot of competition in cities such as London, and it’s tough to stand out.
“Possibly Sharan’s strength comes from the fact he doesn’t come from a traditional hotel background, so doesn’t have any hang-ups in what you can and can’t do.”
Sharan admits that work can sometimes take over, but he has started to delegate so he has more time to spend with his wife, Eiesha (a businesswoman and the daughter of Indian billionaire Sunil Mittal), and their two children. The family live in London.
“I kind of needed to know everything about the business, I’m a control freak,” he admits.
“It’s been an interesting transition, and I’m still learning every day. But I’ve brought in really smart people who I rely on, and have managed to let go.”