He can hand-sew Bavarian lederhosen, sign up thousands of students to bank accounts, and sell plush Scottish hotel rooms costing £3000 a night. Sharan Pasricha’s CV would be a diverse one. But given the success of the entrepreneur’s Ennismore hotels group, where boutique venues from Shoreditch to Chicago have helped his personal wealth tot up to £289 million, it doesn’t look like he’ll need to scrawl himself a puff piece for the jobs market anytime soon.
Pasricha’s empire spans 10 Hoxton Hotels, the £150 million luxury Gleneagles hotel, a new budget hotel brand and co-working offices. He started it in 2012, and he’s still only 39. Pushing Shoreditchy glasses up his nose, legs crossed on a capacious sofa in his enormous Clerkenwell office, Pasricha says his career took off fast because “I started hustling early”.
Growing up in Mumbai, he sold his mum’s sandwiches to schoolmates from the age of five, earning hefty rupees until someone moaned about the prices to his unaware parents. His start-up was swiftly shut down.
More entrepreneurial success followed. In an American-Indian-British accent, with a sprinkling of business-school catchphrases and speaking faster than the “terms and conditions” guy, Pasricha describes spending three years building a media marketing firm targetting students in London before selling it off in parts.
Next came his success at turning a sleepy Indian lederhosen factory into a sleek international leather clothing firm.
He doesn’t, though, emphasise the fact that the rocket-fast success of Ennismore was ignited by family cash. Pasricha asked his father-in-law, Indian telecoms billionaire Sunil Mittal, to spend £60 million buying the first Hoxton Hotel, in Shoreditch; Pasricha ran it via a “prop co and op co” arrangement. Now he’s made it his own success, though, he pooh-poohs living off daddy (in-law’s) cash, paling in front of my eyes when I ponder if he’ll ever sell his business, or shift to a chair role: “what would I do with myself? Work is what I do.”
He had to learn independence early: “When I was 10, my sister, who was a year older than me, passed away from cancer. My parents took her around the world [for treatment] for three years before. I was staying at grandparents, at friends’ houses, I had to grow up fast.”
That continued a decade on, when an uncle in Delhi asked Pasricha to return to India after selling his marketing business, to help with his leather factory. “It had one product, lederhosen, and two customers. It was losing a lot of money.
“I’d never been inside a factory, but I walked into this place, and 300 staff looked at me and thought, ‘who the hell is this 22-year-old kid…’ It was a dark hole, loss-making business. The staff were asleep at the wheel. I had to make tough decisions.” Sackings, mainly, which led to Pasricha’s car being smashed up, while effigies of him burnt outside the factory walls.
He had to have police protection. “But I stuck at it. We diversified products and secured new, international clients [including Zara and Topshop]. I turned it around.”
By then he was 26 “and at a fork in the road: do I want to be leather king of India, or try something else?” With a souvenir brown biker jacket he moved to London, with Eiesha Mittal, who he’d met in Goa one New Year’s Eve and went on to marry in a three-day do dubbed the biggest Indian wedding of the decade.
He embarked on an MBA at the London Business School, and got a job at Jon Moulton’s Better Capital. “I’m an eternal optimist, and didn’t like the obsessive cost cutting” but projects included hotels chain Jurys Inn “and a lightbulb went on: “I’ve always loved real estate, and how neighbourhoods change. What about hotels?”
At the time, the Hoxton Shoreditch “was a budget hotel which had done incredibly well as the only gig in town, but by 2011, it was lagging behind”. Pasricha (and Mittal’s Bharti Global fund) swooped. He moved in for a year and turned it into the boutique hotel brand Hoxton is now — bare brick walls, natty slogans and why-doesn’t-anyone-else-do-that ideas like “flexy time”: guests have 24 hours in the hotel, starting at whatever time they want.
“Hotels,” Pasricha reckons, “aren’t a complicated business. You can get jarred with the acronyms, but it’s just about making people happy.”
London now has three Hoxton hotels, the US has four, Rome opens soon, joining Paris and Amsterdam (where Pasricha’s try-before-you-buy stay involved “a horrible, two-star stay with bedbugs… we’ve totally transformed it now”).
No such hardship when he bought Gleneagles from Diageo for £150 million in 2015. One of Britain’s most famous hotels, a Ryder Cup venue and favourite of the pearl-and-twinset set, it was a far cry from Hoxton. “There were... doubts. Gleneagles is an institution. I had to very quickly wrap my arms around 800 staff, who wanted to know who the hell is Ennismore? It was like when I first walked into that leather factory.”
Pasricha’s invested £30 million “and I still get a letter a week saying ‘why did you move the red carpet from the bar?’, ‘why did you take that painting of my great-grandfather off the wall?’ But Gleneagles has just come off a year of record revenue and occupancy. The numbers tell the story.” A spin-off, Gleneagles Townhouse, a 33-bedroom hotel in Edinburgh, opens next year. “If that works well, we’ll do something more with the Gleneagles brand.”
He wants another 50 Hoxton hotels in the next five years, and reckons his 300-bedroom budget hotels brand, opening in Canary Wharf next year, “could easily be scaled to 300”.
Pasricha employs 2750 staff; assets under management tot up to $1.5 billion, after deals with investors Cedar Capital and York Capital. “We get a couple of calls a month from big hotel groups, from institutional investors, family office investors about a sale.
“I’ve started taking the meetings, not because I’m ready to throw in the towel, but we need institutional partners to help us scale.”
Will he still be at the helm in 10 years? “Yes. This doesn’t feel like work.” Despite home being an almost-10,000-square-feet Notting Hill pound mansion, Pasricha’s not there much: 12-hour days at the office are bookended by 7am gym trips “and I’m often on the phone to the US until midnight”.
Not everyone approves: the dad of two likes to know every detail across his hotels. “I’ve seen everything, trashed rooms, poo on the floor, I don’t want to get morbid but we’ve had calamities... at Gleneagles a mobster’s car was just set on fire...” So calls come at any time.
“My two kids regularly take my phone off me and put it in the safe. There’s nothing more humbling that having a seven-year-old telling you to stop working. But I do love it.”