Cover Harpreet Bedi, The Garcha Group

Harpreet Bedi, CEO of The Garcha Group, reflects on how a lifetime of travel has shaped her faith, her work, and her family

I had a childhood spent growing up in different countries, as my father was an ambassador for India. My earliest memories were of living in a plethora of places—Spain, Seychelles, Mozambique. We were so used to traveling between countries that, before the Berlin Wall came down, we would stay in East Berlin and go to West Berlin when we wanted good ice cream.

When I was 18, I was often my father’s official hostess for all of the state dinners, as my mom went traveling in the Middle East by herself for a year. When it was my time to be away from my family—as when I went to Sweet Briar College in Virginia, in the United States—I found that I was able to contribute in other, unexpected ways: the president then of Poland, Lech Walesa, asked my father to give his team a lesson on economics. The Solidarity Party was coming in, and the country was moving from a communist/socialist government to a democracy. We arranged for my professors to give Walesa's cabinet an Economics 101 lesson, bringing their American perspective to the newly democratised Eastern Bloc country.

What does it mean to be a Sikh?

If traveling around the world is one thing that has shaped me and my values, my faith as a Sikh is another. I’ve found that our faith is often misunderstood—my father wears a turban, which make us look like we’re really orthodox (and can lead to mistaken assumptions about our identity). In reality, Sikhism is one of the most liberal religions out there, and its words and values are very modern. The equality of women is very important—in fact, many Sikh women have, historically, been warriors. As a result, I feel very strongly about women being treated equally shows itself in the way we do business and in the way we try to accommodate the needs of working women with their families. We try to hire more women to give them financial independence.

My desire to shed light on Sikhism is one reason I collaborated with my husband, Satinder Garcha, along with director Mike Rogers and producer Meghan Shea, on the movie Under the Turban, which came out in 2016 after eight years in the making, and won an award from the United Nations Film Festival. In making the movie, these two major strands of my life—my faith and traveling—came together as we visited many Sikh temples around the world with a film crew.

The movie starts with a question from our daughter Zara: What does it mean to be a Sikh? The journey to explore this question took us to see the different ways Sikhs live and understand faith, especially in the wake of so much misunderstanding. Usually the temples, known as gurdwara, are happy places full of joy and celebration. All Sikh temples give free food to anyone who comes there. One of the major tenets of our religion is to give; when you give you feel happiness.

But nowhere else did we understand the need for cross-cultural understanding make itself so harshly felt than at the temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, in the U.S. This was the saddest visit of the whole trip, to the site where a white supremacist committed a mass shooting in 2012, murdering six people.

Bringing it home

Though the movie is done, my family and I still travel constantly despite working constantly. We didn’t even stop traveling during the Covid-19 pandemic, though we spent more time close to home.

At the end of 2020, I went with Zara to Egypt and Mauritania. We camped out in the desert for weeks. It was forced isolation—more time for bonding. It also reminded me of how much peace and beauty exists in nature, even in the sheer, stark nature of the desert. You marvel at how small you really are.

Now that we’re back in Singapore, the Garcha Group has four big hotels to run here, along with another one in Chile. Maxwell Reserve, opening May 1, 2022 with two bars and three restaurants, features décor that has been inspired by different cultures. It also pays tribute to the history of the country, with 220 indentures—museum-quality deeds for land in Singapore from Java—dating back to 1707.

Another big theme in the décor is Sikhism. There is an original, ceremonial sword from my great great great grandfather. There are also lots of images of royalty, to which my family had connections. Then there’s polo, as Satinder is a polo player who travels the world with his team.

My goal right now is to open the hotels on time and to try to get more balance in my life. I don’t think that last part is going to happen but at least I’ll be able to enjoy the perspective that comes when diverse people come together to enjoy the good things in life. Thanks to the businesses we run, we are always meeting new people with new stories.

Harpreet Bedi is chief executive officer of The Garcha Group, a luxury boutique hotel group. A lawyer by trade, Harpreet spent the first stint of her career as a lawyer in the US before becoming an entrepreneur. In her youth she was a national- level gymnast, national-level medium-distance runner, varsity basketball player and swimmer. As CEO of The Garcha Group, she is focused on the hotel division of the business, with oversight of the other divisions including the real-estate, family-office and innovative technologies.

This piece is part of a collaboration between Tatler Asia and Young Presidents’ Organisation (YPO), a global leadership community of chief executives, which counts more than 30000 members from 142 countries among its members.

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