Meet the travel industry’s ‘Y factor’ – YusuF Poonawala

Some people exude confidence and lend happiness to every person’s life they touch. Yusuf PoonawalaYusuf Poonawala, Senior Vice President, Cox & Kings is one of them. Here is a man who is deeply connected to his family and work.
This Travel and Movie Guru also runs a blog called ‘Y Factor’ for the past six years. The ‘Y Factor’ reviews and rates films in an unbiased fashion and allocates a special rating. What’s more? He also writes for AVSTV, a Hindi Entertainment channel in New York.

How does Yusuf juggle between being an award-winning travel professional, a blogger, doting husband, loving father, dutiful son, great friend?  Yet, he finds some time for himself to sharpen his business acumen and focus on fitness. All this with a winsome smile.
Let’s find out…

What were the building blocks that led you to become the person you are?
My father started as a mechanic in Kuwait. We shifted to India and he started a business that has been growing from strength to strength. We still have a hardware store in Abu Dhabi that is doing well. Dad’s dream of becoming an engineer could never be fulfilled due to financial reasons. He always wanted my brothers and me to score well in academics. My brothers pursued academics and took it to the next level – one of them is an Ophthalmologist and the other an MBA from Virginia Tech, USA.
I followed the creative aspect of my father. So despite pursuing MBA, I took more towards films. My relationship with my father has shaped my personality and outlook.

As a husband, I am more of a Bhakt because God has obviously blessed her with more sanity than me. She is my anchor and reason for happiness.

What made you choose this field as a career? When did you decide you wanted to make your passion your profession?
qji8myqbIt is an interesting story. I was working for a concept marketing firm where we had to sell memberships to retail establishments. During this period, I met a lot of travel agents. I used to look at them and tell myself, ‘Wow, this is a good life. These guys sit in an AC environment, wear a tie and work on the phone. The icing on the cake was that they also get to travel the world!’ That’s what got me hooked in the initial days. Once I entered the field, I developed a keen passion for my work.
I have always been passionate about whatever I do. My wife, Tasneem, keeps telling me that when I am disinterested in something, it shows immediately. My disinterest can lead me to put a stop to what I am doing. I strongly believe that lack of passion leads to disinterest. If you don’t drop it, it will drop you.

I strongly believe that lack of passion leads to disinterest. If you don’t drop it, it will drop you.

Just like anyone else, there must have been ups and downs in your life, what were they? How did you overcome them?
There were really bad days when I had zero balance in my account. I had no idea what was to happen next. My son, Hamza was 7 years old and my daughter, Amatullah was just 10 months old. Life was tough. The love of my wife and kids gave me strength. The smiles on their faces gave me the reassurance that life is beautiful and we will pull through.

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Tell me something about your role as a husband, son, brother, friend.
I am more or less the same in my professional and personal life. However, unlike my professional life, I can’t take decisions in my personal life. Not because I don’t want to or I am not allowed to, I simply can’t. I look up to Tasneem for every answer and that irritates her beyond a point. I strongly feel that if she takes a decision, it has to be correct. There is no second guessing there. Thus, as a husband, I am more of a bhakt because God has obviously blessed her with more sanity than me. She is my anchor and reason for happiness.

As long as I strive to be a good human, God is going to be happy. Bring a smile to people’s faces, there is a big kick in it.

On my professional front, I am an easy person to work with (I think so). I like to see my team grow and therefore assume the role of a coach. The true test of a good leader is when the team operates in his/her absence. I thus offer a democratic environment where ideation and expression are encouraged. Clashes of opinion mean that people are using their brains. Candour is one of the biggest factors for a team’s success.
My elder brother is my mentor and continues to be the biggest influencer. His constructive feedback has made my writing reach a stage where I receive praise from all corners. My friends, they know that I can kill for them.

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What does a typical day in your life look like?
I think mornings are the best time of the day. I like new beginnings. Fresh start, fresh ideas, fresh energies. We pack off the kids to school and rush to work.
Brainstorming with my teammates (MAD MEN as we are known), sets the tone for the day. I present a daily brief to my CEO where new initiatives, current project developments and business numbers are discussed.
After a hectic day at work and dinner with family, we catch up with the TV series that we choose to watch. We don’t watch TV at home because of the poor quality of content. Intellectually stimulating shows like House of CardsGrey’s Anatomy, How to Get away with Murder and Downton Abbey, are popular in my home.

Clashes of opinion mean that people are using their brains. Candour is one of the biggest factors for a team’s success.

What is your relationship with God?
I do believe in God and may not be your typical religious guy but I would like to believe that as long as I strive to be a good human, God is going to be happy. Bring a smile to people’s faces, there is a big kick in it.

Who is your role model? What qualities of your role model did you apply in your real life?
I don’t have any one person whom I follow. I follow the policy of ‘learn from the Master and then beat them to it’. I believe in imbibing the best qualities from all around and try and inculcate that in my daily life. so whilst I am a huge fan of Leonardo DiCaprio, Johnny Depp, Amitabh Bachchan, Salman Khan, Shahrukh Khan, Aamir Khan, I love what people like Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Ma have been able to do. Steve Jobs is another person I love for his sheer mad creativity.

What is your mantra of life?
Life should be lived in the moment. One can plan for a better tomorrow but let’s not lose the NOW for the LATER. Be happy in what you are doing, life is beautiful.

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—As told to Mayura Amarkant

Is there a question or a message that you wish to convey to Yusuf? Let me know in the comments section. Don’t forget to like and share this post if he inspired you.


This is the tenth interview in the #StayInspired series. Here are the rest:

  1. #StayInspired – 1: Dreams keep people alive
  2. #StayInspired: Marriage is a warm & intimate cocoon
  3. #StayInspired: Born today, 4 Inspiring people
  4. #StayInspired: When I was 13, my grandma wanted to marry me off
  5. #StayInspired: God rejected my death
  6. #StayInspired: Meet the Dhoni of Indian Corp Comm & PR
  7. #StayInspired: He is the original TaxiMan of India.
  8. #StayInspired: The ‘Vamana’ of Alternative Medicine
  9. #StayInspired: Making Indian education ‘student-friendly’: Meet the new-age Lord Macaulay

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