At 56, when your career is going swimmingly, to step out and launch on your own takes courage. But Manoj Adlakha, former American Express India Banking Corp CEO and SVP and International Head of Customer Marketing, seems to hold the right cards. The man who took the Amex Centurion Card places in India, has launched his own firm, RedBeryl Lifestyle Services Private Ltd, which will offer luxury services.
At a glittering star-studded evening in Delhi, with the Capital’s A-listers in attendance, and Grammy award winning musicians — Ricky Kej and Stewart Copeland (of Police fame) — flown down to enthral the audience, he unveiled the RedBeryl Lifestyle card. It is a card that comes with luxurious privileges — be it getting VIP access to an India-Pakistan match, meet and assist at 600 airports of the world, access to 3,000 elite clubs globally or bespoke experiences like a musical evening with pop stars. “It is much more than concierge services. It has mobility services, sports, immersive travel and exclusive tailored experiences,” says Adlakha, adding how he has launched it with nine pillars but will add more as they go along.
Adlakha has had one earlier fling at starting up on his own. That was in 2006. But within eight months he had to fold that up. “I had launched a distribution service for asset products like loans and insurances. But I had not thought it through,” he admits.
A Chartered Accountant by training, this SRCC Delhi alumnus worked with Amex for 33 years over two stints, and had the distinction in 1995 to be the youngest CFO globally at age 29. He started out his career in Ernst & Young and after that joined Amex as a risk analyst and within a year of joining at age 25, just ten days after his marriage was sent to Tokyo, which he describes as a very lovely stint. “I was in the strategic planning unit, then.”
In 2005, when Amex sold all its non card business to Standard Chartered Bank, Adlakha left and joined Yes Bank in the retail banking sector. But he says he couldn’t fit in culturally and that’s when he plunged into his own start up, with all his savings. “The model was flawed,” he says.
He then joined Visa in Singapore . “We were handling 70 million credit cards across 11 countries including India. That’s when I started enjoying the premium segment. I realised I was playing to my strengths,” he says. He returned to Amex India in 2009 as head of the commercial business and set targets that he would double the business that Amex had done in its previous 15 years in just two years. He achieved that – both topline and bottomline and was promptly given the merchant cards, and consumer cards business to handle as well. In 2014 he was made Amex India CEO where he grew the numbers on Platinum. “Everything from a service point of view was the focus.” In 2022, he was made the International head of customer marketing. “I was on a plane 20 days in a month and I said nahin karna,” he says. “The reason I started RedBeryl was simple – I spotted a void. There was no one stop for luxury services.”
This time around, he is starting with all the homework in place. “There are concierge services available, loyalty cards and so on in the market— but there is nobody offering everything in one card,” he says. “Think of Red Beryl as an aggregator, tying up with the best service provider and satisfying every need of yours, whether it is travelling to Ethiopia , seeing the Wimbledon, you leave it to us, we will get you the best deals and discounts,” he explains. To start with, there is a Founder’s Card that is by invitation only. On the launch night this was being offered at a discounted joining fee of ₹5 lakh with an annual fee of ₹1.5 lakh.
Will customers bite? Adlakha thinks it is a steal for high net worth individuals as there are other luxury cards priced higher and not offering as much. “The kind of services we are offering are unheard of,” he says. With strategic alliances in 85 Indian cities and 25 international destinations, RedBeryl promises exclusive cars, private jets, yachts, and cruises for its patrons.
RedBeryl has also introduced an interesting concept of DreamWeaver. Cardholders can transform their wildest aspirations into tangible experiences, says the company. From witnessing rare cosmic events to reliving moments of historical significance, the DreamWeaver helps customers live their dreams.
“I am now totally in my comfort zone,” says Adlakha, describing how from 2014 to 2022 when he was the Amex CEO in India, “we won India’s most trusted credit card brand title every year”. “The relationships I built at Amex have hastened the process of sewing up services, deals and discounts for Red Beryl,” says Adlakha, the son of an Airforce officer, who grew up in a middle class background but looks perfectly at home with luxury.