Reetu Gupta, 29, is one of four children of hotelier Steve Gupta. Her father famously arrived in Canada with only one hundred dollars in his pocket and today his company Easton’s Group of Hotels has a hotel portfolio consisting of 15 hotels. With her MBA from the Schulich School of Business under her belt, Gupta has been keen to leave her mark in the family business. Getting her start as a young teen who spent her summer holidays learning the ins and outs of the family business, she is currently the Director of Sales and Marketing and is the force behind the company’s recent decision to enter the luxury condo market in downtown Toronto. With her strong business and fashion sense and model good looks, it’s no wonder Gupta was named as one of Toronto’s most eligible bachelorettes. I spoke with Gupta about her family, career, and what Bollywood actor left the normally chatty rising star speechless.
Describe your childhood and what kind of child you were like growing up?
Being a girl you would think I would play house and play with Barbies, but I didn’t own even one Barbie. I wasn’t attracted to that stuff for some reason. But I played office! So I had a fake little briefcase that my dad had given me and I had a little notepad and paper and I would pretend to go to the office…I didn’t even know how to write then! But I would scribble on a piece of paper and bring that back “home” and I had my day at the office. Those were the kinds of things I liked to do as a kid. I also had a deep passion for hotels as a kid. My parents took us to a hotel conference and we went to the Marriot in Orlando and I will never forget this day because this is what made me realize how badly I wanted to be in the hotel business. I had checked in (at the hotel) and the ladies at the front desk were perfectly dressed up. I was small then, maybe three or four (years old) and looking at these girls, they were just these tall beautiful women. They had seen me and as I was a young girl, they had come around the desk and gave me a coloring book and crayons and they were just so sweet to me. I thought to myself, ‘one day I want to be in this business. This is what I want.’ This hotel was a dream for a kid. It had swimming pools, slides, an ice cream parlour, so at a very young age I thought one day I’m going to have a hotel like this.
Do you think your interest in this business developed because of these experiences or perhaps was it was because of the environment you were in with your father being in the hotel industry and being exposed to the hotel business at a young age?
I think there’s a strong probability that if you grow up in this business, you will grow to hate it. That’s what you are hearing about everyday. There are so many families I know where the kids are not taking part in the family business just because they either want their independence or because you have grown up with it naturally as a kid. You just get sick and tired of hearing about that. I think with me, I do believe it was my destiny to come into this business but it’s also what I’m most passionate about. I was in the co-op program when I was doing my BBA and I did a couple work terms but I just didn’t find it as interesting as this business.
Were there any expectations from your family that you should follow in the family business or was it left up to you?
Having Indian parents, we are very close as a family. As much as my parents said we want you to follow your heart and do what’s right…at the end of the day for me personally, it’s my pleasure and my own honour to follow in my dad’s footsteps and there is nothing else that can bring me that same joy in saying my father is my mentor and I work with my father. I wouldn’t be able to get that anywhere else.
Aside from your father, is there someone in the business that you really admire and you hope to follow in their footsteps?
I recently had the pleasure of meeting Isadore Sharp who is the founder of Four Seasons (hotels). It was amazing to hear his story, how he got into this business, where he started, how he started with a small hotel on Jarvis (in Toronto) and what it expanded to. To me, that’s just really amazing. To hear his story and on top of that, he is so humble and just so grounded. Afterwards we were talking and it was a moment because he was looking me in the eye and he was interested to hear me speak…he is definitely someone I look up to.
How about female role models?
There are a lot of women I look up to. One is Raj Girn who is the founder of Anokhi magazine. She is the most friendly, down to earth person and she is always pushing the envelope and every time I see her, she is so good at what she does. I really have respect for what she does and being South Asian, it brings you that joy that you have done something this amazing. My mother is also for me the greatest South Asian woman I know. Not only is she strong willed but she’s beautiful. She has handled all of us with grace and still works at the office everyday. If I can grow up to be a little bit like her, I will feel blessed.
What were the lessons your family taught you as a child that you still hang on to about being a South Asian woman, about money, about your career, finances…any lessons that stand out in your mind that you are grateful to have been taught?
I’m very fortunate that every aspect of who I am and what I have become today is because of both of my parents. They have brought us up so well with great values. Financially we grew up fortunate and they always taught us that at the end of the day, success isn’t about money but it’s about family and it’s about happiness and health. It’s not about how much money is in your bank account. They always taught us to save money…it’s not about spending extravagantly. They taught us the importance of hard work and when you know your own father came to this country with one hundred dollars in his pocket and what he had to do to be where he is today, you automatically will never take one dollar for granted. Another thing they really taught us is education. When you are younger you may not understand why but for me, now that I’m older, I realize education is something that can never be taken away from you and it’s so important on a personal level to be educated. I think because of my parents, I have done my Master’s but I’m still constantly trying to read and learn because I think it just makes you that much better as a person. The last thing my parents taught me that I think is the most important thing is to always have a level of humility. My dad will always tell us you can earn as much money as you want, but your reputation is something that will make you the most important person on the inside. Your reputation will supersede any amount of wealth. He always told us you have to be humble. You have to be grounded and respect your elders and respect your peers because that reputation will go further than any dollar that you can put towards any cause.
Was there ever a time, perhaps in your early years in business, where you felt like you didn’t know what you were doing or did you always feel confident?
There’s always a learning curve with any job. For instance, when I had first finished my BBA, we had just opened two banquet halls, which was new business for us. So we had one in Brampton and one in Vaughan. This being a new business, you had to start from scratch and say okay, how do I get business now into my banquet hall? It’s a learning curve. It was so exciting. I knew how to get business into a hotel but a banquet hall was a different story. Our banquet hall was different as we weren’t attached to a hotel so the type of business you would get into this hall was a little bit different. So I was doing the sales for both of these properties and putting together marketing plans. That’s when I knew how much I enjoyed marketing. I had studied it in my undergrad but to apply all of my knowledge, I loved it. I learned very early to trust my gut and my father taught me that when I was young. Trust your gut!
Let’s talk about condos as I know your newest project is keeping you very busy! So tell us a bit about King Blue condos and why it’s so exciting.
Our new project is located at the corner of King and Blue Jays Way. It’s right in the heart of Toronto’s entertainment district. You can’t get better than that location. There are not many condos in this area. This project is so exciting because it’s two towers. All of our finishings in the model suite are standard, great value. On the lower floors of these condos we have boutique retail. Right now King West is built for restaurants and lounges. If you want to go out, the population goes out to King West but I want to make King West a destination and not just a nightlife sort of spot. Now there’s a chance to make this area a destination so people come and they stay and they eat and they play. Also we have a rooftop terrace which is huge! It’s about 5800 sq feet. It’s beautiful! It will be a great area for residents. We have party rooms, pool, spa area…it’s definitely a fantastic project and there’s nothing like it in downtown Toronto.
With so many condo projects, especially downtown, there are critics who question if the demand can be sustained as more condo projects are announced. As this is your first condo development, why did the company decide to enter the condo market now?
I think people are forgetting that our population is growing. There was a recent study done that (shows there) is actually not enough supply for the population growth. By the time all of these condos are developed by 2017–2018, there will be enough housing to satisfy the population. There’s not going to be an oversupply.
You are also launching your own fashion line called Maya by Reetu Gupta. Describe the style of this line.
I used to model back in the day and it was something I really enjoyed. Even as a kid, I played with fabrics that we had around the house or I would play around with my tops and I would try to make them more “Reetu” as opposed to a generic top. Even as a child, I was like ‘one day I’m going to have my own line.’ This line is going to be more eclectic and fusion. I gave a bit of a preview at ourcondo launch. Basically it’s Indian fabrics cut to western design. The target is young urban women.
As a young career woman with several projects going on, do you find you have to sacrifice for your career or are you able to find a balance between your personal and professional life?
I think the mistake people make is thinking you have to put your all into work and sacrifice your social or family life. The one advice I could give is happiness has to come from within. You can find happiness in work but at the end of the day you have to be able to go home and look at yourself in the mirror and be happy with what you see. Not just physically but emotionally as well. If you are making sacrifices, your heart is not happy. So I make it a point to make time for myself, for my family, for my friends because my heart will be happy.
As a successful, smart, and beautiful young woman who is single and a fan of Bollywood, is there any dream man from Bollywood you would love to get a phone call from?
Shahrukh Khan is still that one Indian actor. He came for IIFA and I saw him speak at an event and I didn’t even expect that I would react the way I did. I’m always talkative and when I saw him, I just went silent! I completely freaked out! That’s something else no one knows about me, I have huge love for him!