The importance of finding your purpose with alumnus and lecturer Ajay Kapur

Written by Răzvan Dumitru.

Mr Kapur, Lecturer and Programme Manager of Hotelschool The Hague, is a familiar figure who many students and alumni recognise from classes, presentations, or simply the campus. However, few people might know that Ajay Kapur was a student of Hotelschool The Hague himself. Today we decide to unveil the journey of this Dutch alumnus, with an impressive Indian heritage, that started after his graduation in 1995. Enjoy!

I can imagine you had a plan when you graduated. Thinking back, did you stick to it or did you take a completely different path?

I had a plan even before joining Hotelschool! Since I come from a family with a hospitality background, my initial dream was to become an F&B specialist. However, during my study, my perspectives were changed by a remarkable lecturer that I still admire to this day; Mrs Lily Lin. She helped me realize that Marketing was a better match for me than the day-to-day operations of hospitality. This switch made me opt for an internship in this sector and join Air Miles, for which I ended up working for almost seven years as an Account Manager and Redemption Manager. In 2002 I joined a Dutch insurance company, Delta Lloyd, in which I further developed my Marketing & Sales expertise.

What motivated you to become a lecturer at the university you had graduated from?

I thought that Marketing was a really good fit for me and everything was working until I felt the need for a change. Thus, I decided to take a sabbatical of half a year and explore India, the place where I am originally from. The goal of this journey was not clear for me in the beginning, and I thought that it would become clearer with time. To my surprise, the most valuable knowledge that I gained and brought back to The Netherlands with me was related to yoga, meditation and mindfulness. This experience was a real eye-opener for me since during that time, I also realised that I want a position that would allow me to give back to the Hotelschool community and so, I became a lecturer.

What I always tell my students as well is that, in the end, it is all about finding purpose. Personally, I think that purpose should be established based on values, talents, and passions. The clearer these three are to an individual, the clearer becomes the path he or she should follow. Finding a job that fulfills all these three components is already a considerable step towards finding one’s true calling.

Could you tell us a bit more about your time spent in India?

My journey led to many proud moments. Having arrived in India without a fixed plan, I was surprised by an offer to collaborate with a connection of mine in setting up a luxurious spa in Mumbai. It was the creation of the concept that I enjoyed the most! From finding the gap in the market to scanning the business environment, I tried to make the most out of it and this ended up being a substantial accomplishment. To create a clearer image, I carried out every step that students in the course Exploring & Structuring use to conduct in setting up their hospitality concept. The satisfaction was proportional since I could see the concept coming into existence.

Did you experience any cultural shocks?

Another interesting aspect of my sabbatical in India was working in a different culture. Despite my Indian background, I have worked only in Europe. Among the cultural customs that were new to me, I can clearly recall the superstitiousness and religiousness.

It is not advisable in the Indian culture to open a business on any given day. On the contrary, you book an appointment with an astrologist that could tell you the best date on which the grand opening can happen. The name of the concept was also dealt with in this manner. Together with my team at that time, we came up with the name “Caressa” as we thought it would be the best option for what we had in mind.

However, the astrologist said that we are one letter away from success. As you might have guessed already, the name of the spa was adapted to “Caressaa” and stayed this way. Personally, it was a cultural shock since I was looking at the situation from a marketing-based point of view, thinking about branding and the target market. However, I understood the reasons behind the choice, accepted the change, and adhered to the customs. This adventure enabled me to broaden my horizons and discover the Indian culture from the business point of view, as I experienced it only from a familial point of view up until that point.

What achievement are you most proud of?

I take very much pride in my resilience during this unprecedented pandemic. Throughout this period, I tried to be as optimistic as possible and see the problems or threats that came along the way as possible opportunities. One of these days I was reading a quote by the economist J.M. Keynes that really resonated with me: “The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones." Even though it might seem easier said than done, it simply involves letting go of your old ideas and shifting towards new beginnings. The insight that I obtained into mindfulness during my time in India also helped me stay anchored in reality.

My routine also helped me through this period. Since I am very fond of meditation, I do not consider it only a passion but a part of life. Thus, my routine entails doing daily yoga, meditation, and journaling. This combination helped me to deal with the pressure of remote working and the change that came along as a consequence of past circumstances. The journaling process represents a powerful reflection tool as well since I was able to track what causes me to have a good or bad day, enabling self-discovery and contemplation.

What  do you consider your biggest failure? 

Everyone makes mistakes every day, including myself! Nonetheless, a mistake that turned out to be a valuable learning experience happened to me while working for Air Miles in their Redemption department. Given my position, I was responsible for many gifts that were supposed to be offered in exchange for accumulated points. It is important to mention that this program was being practiced in the ‘90s and it was extensively popular in The Netherlands, with around 60% of the population participating in it.

At a certain point, close to the winter holidays, I was on a plane returning from my holiday in India, reading a well-known Dutch newspaper. It struck me to read the headline on the front page of De Telegraaf: “Air Miles Santa Claus does not deliver”. Since we did not have e-mail and mobile phones at that time, I could not be in contact with my colleagues or source of information to become aware of this incident. That surprise was followed by the discovery that an issue occurred in our processes and that points, which were supposed to be redeemable for Sinterklaas gifts, could not be used, leading to many disappointed parents and children. The main takeaways were to never take a good situation for granted and how important contingency planning is. There is a thin line between chaos and order and the only way to prevent yourself from crossing it is to stay alert.

After finding out about his well-being practices and past experiences, Mr Kapur was subject to our rapid-fire questions that will give you a clearer impression of him as a person. There goes your sneak peek:

What is your favourite book?

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse! It is a book about the life of Buddha in which the topic of undergoing transformation is addressed by the author. People often have a tendency to opt for extremes. For example, when wanting to lose weight, going for an extreme diet. The lesson of this book is that moderation and balance can lead to better outcomes than extremes.

What is the last film that you have seen?

Actually, I am a fan of the series “The Restaurant”. It is a Swedish series about a family that owned a restaurant in the 1950s. I like it because it depicts hospitality struggles in an ingenious manner.

What is your advice for students graduating in 2021?

I would like to transmit the motto “Work hard, play hard”, but altering it a bit by adding a new part: rest hard. Always take the time to reflect, slow down and try to find your own balance.