George M George: ‘I don’t have any desire to own assets’
“I hate numbers. I have never thought about financial planning. I am privileged enough to not be motivated by money,” says George M. George, scion of the Muthoot family that runs the Kochi-headquartered Muthoot Finance, a non-banking finance company, about his money management strategy. That explains his choice of hospitality industry over financial services.
His father M.G. Muthoot and the rest of the family, with a net worth of $1.9 billion (around Rs12,151 crore, according to Forbes), are largely focused on financial services, while George, as the managing director of The Muthoot Group, handles the leisure and hospitality division.
When your flagship company is into financial services, the journey away from finance is never going to be smooth. Born and brought up in New Delhi, George says he always wanted to do something in hospitality in Kerala, his home state. “I secretly applied for hotel management in Manipal University. My dad, he is right now my greatest supporter, at that time said, ‘Do you want to be a glorified waiter?’”
Even after George enrolled for a hotel management course in Manipal, his father thought it was a passing fancy. “But after college, I started working in the hospitality industry. I worked with the Oberoi, InterContinental, and Radisson groups as well as single- owner hotels—I worked in Kochi with Avenue Regent. I wanted exposure in both Indian as well as international hotel chains. My father was patient,” he says.
The jobs may sound exotic but they weren’t. “I had to scrub the toilets with a toothbrush when I was in housekeeping. The glamour suddenly disappeared.... You are a nobody and they step all over you. All my privileges went out of the window. I realized the realities of life. They make you do all the menial tasks as an intern. That experience taught me a lot. I was a bit disillusioned as well. It was not inspiring me. Hospitality had become commoditized. I hated to admit that my dad was right,” says George.
After working for four years in the hospitality industry, George moved to Paris to do his MBA in international hospitality management from Cornell-ESSEC Business School. “While I was doing my MBA, I took a class in sustainable tourism. My professor showed us projects he did across the world—Central America, Africa, Eastern Europe,” says George.
In 2000-01, while he was studying in Paris, the hospitality industry in India was booming. “By that time my father’s mindset had changed about hospitality. He also had a fear that he would lose me and that I wouldn’t come back if I took a job there. He ensured that I came back, he invested in a resort (in Thekkady, Kerela) and asked me to manage it.”
“Whose father gives you a resort? I hate to sound like a privileged rich brat. But that is not how it was. It was thrust upon me,” says George.
Today, under George’s leadership, The Muthoot Group runs four resorts in Kerala and one in Costa Rica. The business, focused on sustainable tourism, took off in 2001 with a four-star resort in Thekkady followed by houseboats at Alleppey, in Kerala, in 2006. “While we were developing the heritage zone and beach resort in Kerala, we acquired a property in Costa Rica called Xandari in 2013. After we acquired Xandari, we changed the name of all our properties to Xandari. The last resort (in Fort Kochi) was launched in 2015.”
The company is looking to expand in India as well as Africa. “Africa is our next destination—Ghana and Ethiopia. Within India we are looking at Maharashtra—Sawantwadi. It is a tiny project, not more than 30 cottages.”
When it comes to business, he is not afraid of taking risks. “I won’t call myself conservative. I would say I take risks. I have taken a big risk by deviating from our core business. The brand Xandari doesn’t have the Muthoot backing at all. And it can be challenging to grow the business on your own.”
However, when it comes to personal wealth, George has little involvement. “The family wealth office invests our money. I have no idea about my holding.” The Muthoot family has put in place a family constitution, which means without board approval no money can be moved. “All our wealth is locked up. We have a family constitution. If we have to invest in start-ups or new businesses, it has to be a group decision. I can’t even partner with my friend. I will have to resign from my family business as director, let go of everything and then go do that business. It is a joint family business. If we have proposals, we can present them. If it is an investment, then everybody is invested.”
George sees himself as privileged enough to not be motivated by money. “I don’t have any desire to own assets and I have never been motivated by money.”
Name: George Muthoot George
Designation: Managing director, Muthoot Leisure & Hospitality Services
Education: MBA in international hospitality management from Cornell-ESSEC Business School, Paris
What is your money mantra? I don’t understand finance at all. I get scared of numbers and everything is left to the family office.
Name: M.G. George Muthoot
Net worth: $1.9 billion (family)
Source of wealth: Financial services
Education: Engineering degree from the Manipal Institute of Technology
Brief: M.G. George Muthoot, along with his three brothers, runs the Muthoot Group, leading lender against gold, founded by his grandfather in 1887. Muthoot Finance has more than 4,200 retail branches and six million customers. Last year, it was investigated by the income-tax authorities. The company said it was a routine check and that Muthoot Finance was the top corporate taxpayer in its home state of Kerala. Muthoot enjoys listening to south Indian classical music.
Source: Forbes Rich List