The energetic, hands-on director and co-owner of High Street Phoenix, Phoenix Marketcity, Kurla and the Palladium Hotel, talks to Dhiman Chattopadhyay about building an empire brick by brick
Gayatri Ruia has almost always been sure of things. At 17, she knew whom she was going to marry (though she says she didn’t quite say so to Atul Ruia till a few years later). A south Mumbai girl who’d grown up in Peddar Road and spent every Sunday enjoying a lazy brunch at the Taj Mahal Hotel, she also grew up determined to have her way.
Gayatri Ruia enjoys an evening out at the Palladium Hotel. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar
So when she was a student of interior design at SNDT, she made it a point to travel to her destination by train every day. “I take the train sometimes even now, since it’s the fastest way to reach anywhere in Mumbai,” she says with a smile.
Of course it is, but the mind boggles at the thought of someone who owns one of the city’s most talked about five-star hotels and two of Mumbai’s largest malls, travelling on a crowded local train. “But why, I shop for my own vegetables and fruits too. Every other day I walk down to my old fruit seller in Breach Candy and buy fresh stuff from him. I like to do my own things,” she says.
We are sitting at the Piano Lounge of the 38-storeyed Palladium Hotel, one of the city’s newest and poshest landmarks — a hotel owned by Gayatri and her husband Atul Ruia. As our tea and an assortment of sandwiches, cakes, scones and quiches arrive, I ask her whether life has been like a bed of roses.
“In a way yes, since I grew up having my Sunday brunches at a five star and now I own one of the tallest five-star hotels in the city apart from two wonderful malls. Life has been good to me. But a bed of roses may have thorns and we have had our ups and downs too,” she tells me.
In fact, life was a lot tougher back in the 1990s when Gayatri, then in her early 20s, and her husband, Atul, set out to change the family fortunes around. “We had got married recently and Atul was keen that we think out of the box in taking the business ahead,” she recalls.
In the end, they dissolved the box altogether and stunned a senior family member. “We started with a bowling alley and a nightclub at Phoenix Mills. Look how far we have reached in 20 years,” she smiles. I nod in agreement. From the glass windows of the hotel I see hundreds of shops, eateries, entertainment zones and offices that dot Phoenix Mills. And this is just one of their enterprises.
“This is my life. I love spending my time overseeing new developments at the mall and the hotel. We are starting a few more restaurants, you know,” she says excitedly.
But then again, Gayatri is not a patient woman. And she is never satisfied doing one thing at a time. “I love our hotel and our malls. I have my fashion label Mogra. I also love designing my own stuff. If I hadn’t married into one of Mumbai’s oldest business families, I would have probably become a hairdresser,” she says, stunning me into momentary silence. And before I can recover, she adds, “And I have this dream that I want to make a blockbuster feature film one day. A really big one.”
We will wait for that day for sure.
Born: Kolhapur, August 1970
Education: Diploma in interior design, BA
First job: Merchandiser at RR Hosiery, a family owned garment export company
A Ha! moment: When I realised that Atul (my husband) is smarter than me
Mantra in life: Be true to yourself
Best advice i ever got: “There are no shortcuts in life — the harder you work at something, the surer the strike rate of success.”
Magazine: National Geographic, Bon Apetit
Film: Life is Beautiful
Book: Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth
Hero: Chhatrapati Shivaji
Quote: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference — The Serenity Prayer