A Leader at The Frontier

Experienced Hotelier Richard Schestak of the soon-to-be-opened Raffles Jakarta sat down with us and shared his visions for the new luxury hotel in Jakarta, as well as some pearls of wisdom on how the hospitality industry works.

A very friendly and welcoming figure, Richard Schestak is the General Manager of Raffles Jakarta, which will be opening in January 2015. His short-term vision is to compose a superbly mapped out operating standard that encompasses all aspects to bring a luxury Raffles Hotel to life. Richard is the kind of leader who prefers a hands-on approach and does not distance himself from the staff that he’s leading. With a remarkable individual like Richard Schestak in the main leadership role,
Raffles Jakarta is looking towards a very bright future ahead.

Upon completion, Raffles Jakarta will be a proud beacon standing at the heart of the bustling metropolis, symbolizing refined elegance and world-class service.

Asia Dreams: Firstly, sincerest congratulations on the opening of Raffles Hotel Jakarta! With your previous position as General Manager of Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh, please can you briefly share the story of your journey so far career-wise and how did you end up here?

Richard: I relocated with my family to Jakarta in summer 2013 to kick off preparations for the opening of Raffles Jakarta. My three years at Raffles Hotel Le Royal in Phnom Penh were most rewarding and fulfilling. We completely re-positioned this legendary Asian landmark hotel, which was supported by an extensive renovation of all rooms, suites and public areas. During this time, I was fortunate to host top echelons, celebrities, royal visits and significant political figures, such as President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Looking back, the most significant step in my career was when I immigrated overseas to Toronto, Canada in my early twenties. I decided to leave Europe and had to find my way around in a very large alien city. It was exciting, but also a bit frightening. I remember sitting on the plane, on the tarmac at Vienna Airport, looking out the window wondering if I would ever come back to Europe to work.  As it happened, I didn’t. Whilst I visit Europe regularly with my wife and children for holidays, I’ve never really lived there since. But in that moment I knew that this was something I had to do and there was an exciting journey ahead of me.

My progressive career took me through management positions in iconic hotels and resorts in Asia, the Middle East\Africa, North America and early beginnings’ in Europe. Prior to my tenure with the Raffles brand, I spent 13 years with Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, holding senior roles such as Director of Operations/Hotel Manager for the opening of Fairmont Bab Al Bahr, Abu Dhabi; Regional Director of Food & Beverage, Middle East & South Africa and Director of Food & Beverage at Fairmont Dubai, where I was part of the original opening team.

Asia Dreams: Are you enjoying your time in Jakarta so far? What elements of the city do you enjoy most and which, (if any) do you find most frustrating?

Richard: We love Jakarta and have made many friends over the past year. It is a vibrant metropolis with a fantastic ethnic and cultural heritage. One finds an interesting blend of rich traditions coupled with modern elements and a wide choice of leisure facilities. Most capital cities in emerging countries suffer with heavy traffic due to shortcomings in infrastructure; hence I tend not to emphasize too much on this most “talked about” matter. There is still a certain “rawness” of being an authentic Asian city and I hope Jakarta retains this edge, which seems to have faded away in many of the other capitals in the region.

Asia Dreams:  Given your credentials and strong track-record in the hospitality industry, what’s your take on the current standard of luxury hotels here in Indonesia based on what you’ve witnessed so far?

Richard: Jakarta has a huge supply of hotels and nearly all global players in the luxury and upscale segment are present. Whilst demand patterns are overall very positive, the Jakarta luxury market is very competitive with a wide array of brands to choose from. There is certainly a paradigm that business travellers choose their preferred hotel predominantly based on location, however, I am a firm believer that a fine reputation for consistency, quality and service is a key lever of loyalty and acquiring business. Following on what I have learned through observations in the market, my focus is to set up a meticulously mapped out operating plan, that ensures that our colleagues are well trained and set up for success, for the “big day” when we launch the hotel and onwards.

Asia Dreams: And what does Raffles Hotel Jakarta have in place to offer guests a unique experience that will ensure a competitive edge?

Richard: As I like to illustrate, the hotel was created “around” the artwork of Hendra Gunawan. Each zone or area in the hotel has its own story to tell. Our rooms, whilst spectacular in their features and layout, will be at the same time a residential sanctuary, just as you would expect from a Raffles Hotel. The bedroom is kept separate from the lounge making each guestroom feel like a suite within itself. Our competitive edge will be the legendary Raffles Butler service, provided for each room and suite. All of our hand-picked butlers will graduate from a formal Raffles butler training program prior to the hotel’s opening, with on-going training once we are operational.

Asia Dreams: What changes have you implemented/begun to implement since you took the reins? Do you have any big things planned for the hotel in the future?

Richard: In a pre-opening phase, my role is to set a vision and craft together with my team a superbly mapped out operating criteria that covers all aspects in order to bring a luxury Raffles Hotel to life. Simultaneously we are crafting our business strategy for the first year that includes an innovative marketing and promotion plan with many exciting activities! Stay tuned.

Asia Dreams: Can you tell us a bit about your working philosophy? Do you like to run a tight ship, or do you prefer to keep it cool whilst still maintaining proper discipline?

Richard: I enjoy working and interacting with all of our people and see my primary role as “supporting our colleagues – who take care of our guests”. The community of hotel employees can be regarded as a large family; therefore a strong sense of belonging and collectivism is fundamental for a positive and happy culture. I find it crucial to set clear expectations for all layers in the organization and apply a healthy balance between discipline and fun. Since I entered my first leadership role, I have been managing by the principle “Inspect what you Expect”.

Asia Dreams: Your background also shows an enviable track record in the Food & Beverage industry; with notable positions such as Regional Director of Food & Beverage, Middle East & South Africa for Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, as well as a background in Michelin-starred restaurants. As a result, we’re certainly expecting great things from Raffles Hotel Jakarta in terms of its F&B operations! Please can you share with us your vision for the property in terms of its restaurants?

Richard: Food & Beverage is still very close to my heart. In my role as Regional Director of F&B with Fairmont, I was responsible for all existing, acquired and newly built hotels from a Food & Beverage standpoint in the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Oman and South Africa, totalling 118 F&B venues in 14 hotels, either operating or under development. My findings very quickly concluded that when creating a concept, it is all about the targeted guest profile and demographics and not about our own personal preference or pet peeves.

Raffles Jakarta will feature an array of exciting venues catering to both the discerning local and international guest groups. For example, instead of just another traditional buffet restaurant, the Arts Café will be an attractive All Day Dining concept that offers a beautiful environment with different mood settings for each meal time.

The Raffles signature “Writers Bar” will be a great place for meetings and afternoon tea during day time, and will offer tasty tapas and cocktails during the evening hours – either indoors or al fresco.

Asia Dreams: How do you find Indonesian cuisine and what’s your favourite dish so far?

Richard: I travelled to Indonesia for the first time in the early 90s and returned regularly. I always loved the food, spices, aromas and flavours. As for a divine local food experience – although in Bali – I still recommend Heinz von Holzen’s cooking school at Bumbu Bali – a favourite of mine for many years, in particular the original restaurant at the temple.

Asia Dreams: What do you like to do in your free-time, to unwind?

Richard: My biggest passion is spending time with my wife Arminda and our two children: son Rainer (8) and daughter Kate (6). We live the adage “Healthy Body – Healthy Mind” and enjoy travelling, outdoor activities and sports, as well as meeting friends either in Jakarta or within the region. We frequently return to our holiday home bases in the Austrian Alps and in Canada. All four of us love tennis and we are currently focusing on our son’s latest tournament successes – with the hopes of watching one day from the front row at the Centre Court in Wimbledon!