There is a quiet confidence to Yogendra Man Sakya that permeates the air. His carefully chosen words have a sense of profundity and wisdom to them. It’s not something one can fabricate on a whim, but rather an outlet for the reservoir of knowledge acquired after years of diligence and experience. Sakya, Chairman of Ace Group of Hotels and a former President of the Hotel Association of Nepal (HAN) has had a leading hand in shaping Nepal’s tourism industry. In a fascinating conversation at his office at the Ambassador Hotel with Sarthak Raj Baral, Sakya shared his thoughts on life, family, career, love, and rather refreshingly, his regrets.
Formative Years and Education
Sakya was born in Ason, Kathmandu. He did his schooling from St Xavier’s School. Sakya credits his parents for enrolling him there despite the prevalent belief at the time that the missionary school’s primary purpose was to promote the Christian religion. Sakya, however, never felt that that was the case. “The culture in Nepal is so strong, you don’t get swayed,” he says. On the contrary, he credits the school for shaping up his childhood in the right way in terms of inculcating certain primary values such as discipline. “A lot of what I am today, I must credit St Xavier’s School,” Sakya adds.
Sakya initially harboured hopes of becoming an engineer but as he puts it aptly “What you think of and what you ultimately become are often different things, and everyone has such a story.”
While he was preparing to go to IIT Kharagpur to study Mechanical Engineering, he met with an accident and ended up in Vellore for treatment. There, Sakya met a textile engineer from Delhi who changed his perspective. “He brainwashed me,” Sakya chortles. “I spent two months in Vellore. During that time, he got the prospectus of Institute of Hotel Management, Pusa, Delhi and convinced me about the course. And suddenly I ended up doing Hotel Management,” he recalls.
Although he had a few growing pains, Sakya doesn’t have any regrets about the field he chose. Initially, however, the course, which required Sakya to clean dishes and make beds, took him by surprise. However, it was a tremendous learning moment for him. “I realised that if you want to succeed and do well in whatever you do, you shouldn’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves and work,” he cautioned.
Initial Career and Challenges
After completing his education and returning to Nepal, Sakya began working earnestly in the field of hotel management. During the initial phase, Sakya says he learnt a vital lesson – how to work with other people, particularly those senior to him. Sakya was appointed the Honorary Secretary of the Hotel Association of Nepal (HAN) and had the chance to work with Sahdev Rana, the then President of HAN.
“Having gotten the opportunity to work with seniors gave me a lot of confidence at a very early stage. I also learnt not just about doing business but also about working with government officials,” Sakya affirms.
Under the significant shadows cast by his father and uncle, Sakya initially had difficulties trying to put into practice what he learnt during his Hotel Management course. He found a way around it.
“I learnt it the hard way. My ideas were either ignored or shut down. I remember proposing a food festival while I was at HAN, and I remember Mr Rana shutting down my idea. Later, in a meeting when everyone was present, I said: “You know Mr Rana, your idea about organizing a food festival is a great one.” He was puzzled, but the others thought it was a good idea, probably because they thought it came from Mr Rana. This led to the first food festival being held at Soaltee.”
There is a great lesson embedded in that anecdote. Rather than be blinded by the desire for credit for what turned out to be a fabulous idea, Sakya’s primary concern was getting the idea executed, irrespective of who got the credit.
“It’s tough, it’s painful. But that’s the art. That first sacrifice is difficult, but you have to get the work done, by hook or by crook. Sometimes you may lose the credit, but the work is done,” explains Sakya.
Influences, Inspirations and Motivations
Sakya regards the philosophy of ‘Dharma and Karma,’ passed on to him by his grandmother, as a significant learning moment for him. “She was very modern in that sense, and she was one of my biggest inspirations, she always encouraged me no matter what” asserts Sakya.
He also goes on to add that an inspiration need not be a famous personality. Sakya again credits the Jesuit Priests at St. Xavier’s School for inculcating discipline and a strong sense of morality in him.
In terms of what drives him, Sakya has a refreshing take. “The biggest motivation is not money, but that little pat on the back you get once you achieve something. For me, that pat is important. I yearn for that pat, be it from family, friends, or the state.”
Sakya says that getting that ‘pat’ from his father carried a lot more weight than any trophies or awards he has amassed over the years. “The most difficult person in the world to get that pat from is your father.”
The Road Not Taken
The rather manufactured and customary response to the question “Do you have any regrets?” is often “No, no regrets.” Sakya, however, was delightfully candid regarding the topic. When asked about a piece of advice he would give to his younger self, Sakya replied “Sing, dance, flirt” in a jovial manner. Sakya says he wouldn’t tell his younger self to just “Work, work and work.” His ideology is succinct and honest, “Do what you want to do, everything has the right time.”
A lot of Sakya’s friends chide him regarding his conservatism and his aversion to taking loans, “You could have made five 5-Star Hotels all over Nepal,” they would say. The criticism came from a good place, Sakya’s friends believed that he wasn’t maximising his potential.
“My father passed away five years ago. He used to tell me “As long as I live, I do not want you to take a loan.” He almost made me promise. It’s only now that I have started taking loans. So, if indeed I held back, and a lot of people think it was because of a lack of confidence in myself, but most of it was because of my father,” says Sakya, with utmost honesty.
“There are certain things you have to sacrifice for your family,” he adds.
Love, Thunder and Family
When asked about the role of family in his life, Sakya narrated a captivating story.
“I told you I went to study Hotel Management in Pusa. I didn’t come with only one degree, I came with another degree – I got married to a girl I met in Pusa, Bindu,” says Sakya, jovially. This led to a lot of resentment in the family, particularly from his conservative, disciplinarian father.
“If you look back seven generations in my family, there had never been an inter-caste marriage,” explains Sakya. “My father thought the roof was coming down, it was the end of the world,” he humorously adds.
He expected the resentment but Sakya says he had all the confidence in the world that his wife would get along with his family. “If you are happy, then you can make anyone around you happy.”
“Today, she (his wife) is the catalyst between me and my family. My father, who was a conservative, never wanted his daughters to work. But later on, would tell them “No, no, you must work, you must be like your sister-in-law.”
Sakya says he shares his accomplishments with his wife, who is also a Hotel Management graduate, “She came from a totally different background and adjusted in my family, and this was almost 40 years ago.”
“The only way to succeed is without conflict,” advises Sakya.
Before finishing our conversation, I asked Sakya, in jest, whether he would stop his son from taking a loan.
“No. I have told my son I won’t stop you. But have it all worked out and if you have the gut feeling, just go for it,” he says, with a glint in his eye.