SoftBank Groupbacked hospitality chain OYO has named seasoned aviation executive Aditya Ghosh as its first CEO for India and South Asia, marking a rare instance of an Indian startup unicorn bringing in a professional at its helm.
Ghosh’s appointment is possibly the most high-profile till date in the country’s startup ecosystem, particularly among companies that boast of billion-dollar-plus valuations. Ghosh stepped down as president of budget airline IndiGo in July. “I think it’s a major development, and one that is reflective of OYO’s overall growth… Given the company’s push towards overseas expansion, the founder will want to focus on that. But it’s certainly a very big hire,” said Praful Nangia, managing partner, Talent North Search and Advisory.
OYO said Ghosh will oversee and scale the company’s business in South Asia, which will include India, Nepal and the other upcoming markets in the region.
He is expected to officially join on December 1.
OYO specified that Ghosh will not, at this point, direct the company’s fast-growing Southeast Asia business, which includes China, Malaysia and Indonesia. Ritesh Agarwal, founder of OYO, is expected to continue overseeing operations in those markets. Ghosh will report to Agarwal, who launched the company as an 18-year-old, and will now assume the position of Group CEO of OYO Hotels and Homes, the company said. “With Aditya taking on this mantle for one of our home markets, India and the broader South Asia region, we are confident that he will be able to help OYO Hotels set new benchmarks in the hospitality industry, and nurture a high-performing workforce,” Agarwal said in the statement.
The development marks a rare instance of a major Indian startup appointing a professional to lead its operations, with the country’s startup ecosystem largely preferring to be a founder-promoter-led one. Flipkart, prior to its acquisition by global retail behemoth Walmart this year, was one of the few startups to have brought in a CEO to run its operations. But even that appointment was believed to have been undertaken because of pressure exerted by the company’s investors to shore up sagging performance, particularly with the entry of rival Amazon in India.
Online marketplace Snapdeal had also announced a number of prominent CXO-level hires at its peak. But most of them quit within 12-18 months of joining as the company struggled to retain market share. The latest development at OYO comes after SoftBank Vision Fund, the world’s largest private technology investor, led an $800 million funding round in the company, in the process vaulting the startup into the unicorn club of private companies valued at over a billion dollars.
OYO, which has emerged as one of India’s most richly valued startups, has been scaling up its presence in the world’s second-largest economy at a rapid pace, which has emerged as its second core market alongside India.
In October, ET was the first to report that the hospitality chain was also priming itself to enter Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, and was piloting multiple properties in the capital city of Tokyo. A formal entry is expected in three-six months. “Having built a company grounds-up, and driven its growth and expansion, I know that very few organisations have managed a global reach — seven countries, 500+ cities, 12,000+ franchised and leased hotels, and 330,000 rooms in such a short span and the brand loyalty that OYO Hotels enjoys,” Ghosh said.
Ghosh spent about a decade building IndiGo into the country’s largest airline by market share, reporting profits for almost the entire duration, before stepping down.
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