Sudhir Warrier, CEO of Australian Cruise Group, talks about how he sailed into the big league in Sydney.
It was not smooth sailing for Sudhir Warrier when he started life in Australia as a student in the early Nineties. To finance his studies, the 26-year-old began working as a waiter in a restaurant. Soon after he completed his diploma, he joined a shipping company as an assistant manager. Seven years later, Sudhir found himself steering the company as the chief executive officer.
On the sidelines of the Australian Tourism Exchange 2016 on the Gold Coast, Sudhir talks in fluent Malayalam and English about how he cruised into the big league in Sydney.
“It was a series of events that took me from employee to employer. Destiny did play a role but my policy is to never to say die and learn from my failures,” says Sudhir, chief executive officer of Australian Cruise Group, the second largest cruise operator in Sydney.
Sudhir’s family was not in the pink of financial health after his father passed away. After his graduation from the Institute of Hotel Management, Catering Technology and Applied Nutrition in Mumbai, to make ends meet, Sudhir began a wholesale vegetable business. Eager to improve his financial base, the youngster from Peringode in Palakkad decided to seek his fortune in the land of Oz. He sold the business to gather the money to study abroad and stayed with a cousin in Sydney while he studied.
Sudhir adds that most overseas students work in Australia to earn a little on the side. Perhaps because he had a degree in catering, he decided to work as a waiter.
“Strange are the ways of fate. Soon after I completed my course, Thangam Philip herself, the doyenne of the catering and hospitality industry in India and Principal of the college then, wanted me to join as a lecturer in the college. But I did not want to do that. In the meantime I attended many interviews and was shortlisted for several but in the end I never did get a job and that is how I decided to pursue Dame Luck elsewhere,” says Sudhir.
He feels that the willingness to take risks is what has helped him test the waters of a new business. He recalls that Oliver Shaul, his former boss, encouraged him to think big and become his own master.
So when Brian Gray, the owner of Sydney Showboat, wanted to sell and exit the business, Sudhir wondered if he could buy it and become the captain of the group. “He told me to come back with an offer and he would give it me,” adds Sudheer.
Raising money was not an easy task and his search for an angel investor did not succeed. Sudhir’s plans had almost capsized when his bank agreed to fund his nascent company. “They bought 99.9 percent shares and I bought the rest of the shares with the money I had – 270 Australian dollars,” he laughs.
The flagship was the glamorous Sydney Showboat, which boasted a fine restaurant and glittering cabaret shows.
Over the years, the company acquired more such vessels, each of which offers a signature package of sightseeing, gourmet food and fun. Recently the unassuming Sudhir was in the news for acquiring a ‘’glass boat’’ with a 360 degree view, which he says will give him an edge in the business. He says his fleet of luxury boats, which conducts cruises around Australian destinations, give tourists a memorable joy ride.
“We are not the biggest but we are the best and we give our customers an opulent experience. We are completely booked during the season. We have other brands as well and what is exciting is that we offer different experiences on those.”
He keeps his ties with Kerala alive by visiting Kochi at least thrice in a year. “My 78-year-old mother Thankam Jaishanker stays in Kochi. I become a true blue Malayali when I come to India.” Showing photographs of him playing cricket in a dhoti, he says: “This is how I dress once I reach Kerala. I enjoy typical Malayali food. My 16-year-old daughter Mithwa and my wife, Emi, a Japanese, enjoy vacationing in Kerala.”
Sudhir has also begun an online marketing company headquartered in Palarivattom – Tourism Online Marketing Services (TOMS), which mainly markets his brand of cruises. However, as of now, Sudhir does not plan to extend his cruise business to Kochi. “There is still quite a bit of red-tapism that exasperates me. That is a major dampener. I combine Malayali pragmatism with Australian entrepreneurship and risk-taking,” he says with a smile.