Not only the managing director of one of Bali’s leading hotel management companies, Irma Damayanti Djohan of LHM brings an honourable and inspiring track record to the table. Once a key financial player at a handful of Indonesia’s largest banks, followed by co-founding the region’s reputable International Flight Academy, Irma has managed to compound her lifetime achievements and learned skill-set to become the formidable businesswoman that she is today.
With her expert financial management skills, stellar sales, marketing and branding strategies and a respectable philosophy on customer service, Irma has helped drive LHM to the forefront of the luxury hospitality industry. Here, we talk to Irma about the importance of teamwork, the trick for seizing the right opportunity at the right time and why LHM is all about creating the best possible experiences for its guests.
Q: Today you’re the managing director of one of the region’s most promising luxury hotel management companies, but how did you first break into the hospitality industry?
A: Being a hotelier has always been my passion. My family has run and managed hotel properties for 20 years and I also love travelling – observing how each hotel around the world offers different services, how they set themselves apart from others. I review each one’s facilities, the views, the location and all elements and factors. Eventually, once you learn and analyse these things, you start to see and feel the uniqueness. These journeys have inspired me to ensure all of our hotel guests have their own memorable experiences when they stay with us, to then share and tell their own unique experiential stories to their friends and family.
Q: We understand that you have a very successful background in the financial industry – how has this valuable experience furthered your career in hospitality?
A: In any industry and any company, the key essential element to success is healthy finance management. In my previous experience I have learnt the basic principles: maximise your revenues, control your costs and operations and manage your capital to invest or expand your company efficiently and conservatively. My late father taught me these valuable lessons working closely alongside him.
From my previous experiences as risk manager at CIMB Niaga, customer benefit head at Bank Danamon and CFO at BIFA, I learned to see and understand things from many different angles. I learned how to manage and I explored different sectors, like operations, finance, IT, policy, regulations and many other aspects that support the business.
Different businesses might require different elements of revenue and cost, but in the end the basic principles remain the same. With this basic knowledge, combined with such remarkable team support from The Legian as well as The Club, I’ve learned so much about managing LHM wisely.
Q: In 2008 you established the Bali Flight Academy, later expanding with the International Flight Academy, and have now trained more than 550 professional pilots for leading Asian airlines. Can you tell us more about the story behind this venture?
A: When we built BIFA Flight School in 2008, aviation was still growing. That’s when my late father, Pak Oka, and myself saw and siezed the opportunity. At that time, National Airlines started to increase their operations and there were more than 5 million travellers in Indonesia. The airlines were expanding, but there was a big gap in pilot supply because there was no major pilot school other than Curug and the only other option for pilot supply was from flight schools in Malaysia, Australia and the US.
We saw this as an opportunity to build the market that had been pretty vacant for the past 10 years. Our aim was to fill this gap and grab the market that needed to go outside of Indonesia for training. When the aviation market picked up in 2009, we had prepared ourselves to open our new flight school. Our prediction was correct. We managed to become one of the biggest flight schools in Indonesia.
Q: You’re clearly a very ambitious entrepreneur with an impressive and diverse skill set. What has been the secret to your success over the years?
A: Thank you, but I sincerely believe I am not yet successful. For me, it’s not about being ambitious, but about doing the right thing at the right time and the right place. It is essential that we take carefully calculated risks, thorough investment analyses and create products that are supported by many elements that cater to the market demand, based on very strong marketing and sales strategies.
Teamwork is also essential – you have to trust and believe in the people you work with. You have to invest in your people and continue to nurture and groom good people, the right people. Indeed, a product or property must have a unique value proposition, the core DNA that is not easily copied by other properties, but it’s also the “how” and the “who” of the team and the people who run it that make a difference to the guest experience.
Q: Has this been the secret to LHM’s success, or is there something else that helps set LHM apart from other luxury hotel management companies?
A: LHM’s vision and mission, “Luxury in Harmony”, is how we envision LHM. Our brand mission is to create “Top of Mind Boutique Luxury Hospitality” because we sincerely put everything we have into everything we do.
The concept is also key. LHM hotels should not simply sell rooms, they should be destinations all about the experience that offer personalised services of the highest quality. That’s why, in our business, it is key that we always try to understand, to be one step ahead of our guests’ needs and fully committed to taking care of them.
When we built The Legian, we worked together with the finest businessmen and hoteliers in the industry, such as my father, Robby Djohan, Jaya Ibrahim, Hendra Hadiprana, Ralf Ohlets Von Plettenberg and Hans Jenni. Each of them has contributed to creating a strong concept that has become the soul and passion of LHM and The Legian.
Q: This August, The Legian Bali will celebrate its 20th anniversary. How will LHM mark this momentous milestone?
A: We take pride in The Legian’s 20-year history. We plan to celebrate this key milestone by involving our guests, key business partners and our staff in several different activities and experiences throughout the year, including special promotions at The SPA and The Restaurant, as well as a special Gala Dinner on August 15th itself.
Q: LHM’s second property, The Club at The Legian Bali, sits on the same grounds as The Legian Bali and offers 11 luxury villas. Are the properties designed to complement each other or do they attract different markets?
A: We fully understand each guest’s needs and preferences, so we try to cater to them accordingly by offering different options, be that staying at The Legian near the beach listening to the waves, or perhaps a more tranquil hideaway with more exclusive privacy at our spacious villa at The Club at The Legian. The Club Villas at The Legian come with well-trained private butlers by top notch butler trainer Robert Watsons. In their own unique way, The Legian Hotel and The Club fully complement each other.
Q: We’ve heard LHM will soon be opening up two more properties in two very different locations: Canggu in Bali and Sire Beach in Lombok. What can we look forward to experiencing at them?
A: In Lombok, we are building a set of villas with a suite hotel overlooking the Gili Islands on Sire Beach. It is one of the most beautiful spots in Lombok with a white sand beach – it’s a breathtaking site on its own and a great place for snorkeling and diving. It will also feature a number of villas that we sell with our partners.
The land we have in Canggu is also located on one of the best beachfront spots in the area. It also happens to sit between two Balinese Hindu temples, making the location very special.
Q: With LHM’s upcoming rapid growth, how do you see the company faring in the future within Indonesia’s competitive hospitality industry? How will LHM ensure it remains at the head of its game?
A: LHM needs to have a very aggressive marketing and sales strategy to expand to the Asian market, besides Europe and Australia. We need to diversify the risk by expanding these markets and reaching them through new distribution channels, new offers, new services and new facilities, as well as through new ways to reach today’s guests throughout their journey – all of this needs to be very well planned and executed.
LHM aims to expand its business to become one of the leading boutique hotel management companies in Indonesia. We position ourselves to cater to individuals who seek a personalised experience, luxury and privacy with memorable experiences and a genuine connection to the local environment and culture.
Q: Finally, what advice would you give to hospitality enthusiasts looking to make it in the industry?
A: Be different and unique. Understand your market. Take care of your guests. Invest in your people and identify the best location.