Patrick Weder: Willingness to Learn is Key

Running a massive luxury property with the lowest turnover rate within the group in the Asia-Pacific, the general manager of The Ritz-Carlton Jakarta, Pacific Place, Patrick Weder, is a passionate leader who takes pride in unlocking the hidden potentials within every individual on his staff. Patrick sat down with Asia Dreams and talked  about his nurturing leadership approach, the current state of the industry and the essential human interaction side of the business.

Q: Firstly, thank you very much for setting aside some of your time today for this interview and photoshoot. Can you briefly share the story of your journey so far, career-wise, and how you ended up at The Ritz-Carlton Jakarta, Pacific Place?

A: Starting off briefly from the beginning, I grew up in Switzerland and wanted to head out with hospitality abroad — particularly Asia — always in mind. I love experiencing new things so I did just that and Mexico City was my first stop and then after a while I moved on to Asia. Everybody always says that Asia is the benchmark for hospitality services: a more dynamic environment and a faster pace, too. That really got me interested. I ended up in Shanghai for about two years and then I worked in Dubai and eventually I got to Indonesia in 2008. What started as a plan for a two-year stay ended up being five years. Afterwards I worked in The Ritz-Carlton Kuala Lumpur, which was undergoing renovations at that time, and then the owners decided to send me back to Jakarta because they needed someone who knows the city and the market and so on. So here I am and happy to be back.

Q: What changes have you implemented, or begun to implement since you took the reins? Can you tell us some of the things you have planned for the hotel in the future?

A: All in all, the whole property has a continuous plan, so it’s not only myself, but we’re looking to execute that plan in uniformity globally. We are continuing our remodelling of all our rooms; we keep on upgrading the rooms as well as our residences. There’s a lot of things we’ve done to keep our products up to par. The other part is we continue to give more attention to our banquet area. We’ve had a lot of events recently, like in August we had, for the first time ever, a pop-up restaurant in the ballroom, which is the Baharat. Right now we’re looking to provide to our customers a continuous series of events within F&B because that’s what they’re looking for.

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

A: I think it is a very interesting time because the market keeps on changing and shifting. There’s a lot of new properties coming up and this adds to the market, which in turn helps keep us on our toes and really pick up and react to every small change in the market. I realize that economy-wise it is a little tricky, but the business remains the same. Hospitality is hospitality. It won’t change and it will continue to move to a positive direction.

Q: You’ve been with The Ritz-Carlton group for more than 15 years. What can you tell us about the unique traits and character of Ritz-Carlton that guests can consistently find throughout the hotels around the world?

A: I can tell you something interesting. A recognized publication in the US recently talked about the world’s most renowned old luxury hotel brands and we were named in first place overall. The key point that came out is actually very interesting. Customers nowadays are very global, in that they travel everywhere. Each place has its own sense of place. In the last 15 years, Ritz-Carlton has gone very much in a direction that gives the local cultures and appeals more emphasis. All of our hotels, including especially the newer products since 2000, have their own strong sense of place that have to do with the local locations and when it comes down to services, if you stay at Ritz-Carlton Jakarta today and then in the United States tomorrow and then in Europe next week, you will find the same consistent service throughout and that is what makes people come back every time to Ritz-Carlton: the same sense of place, the same high-quality services and the same distinct experience.

The human aspect is also becoming more and more of a factor in hospitality. Customers want to be recognized and experience human interaction. On one side we have the advancement of technology, but on the other side people want more and more actual human interaction. It is no longer only about opulence anymore. It is more about one-to-one, personal service instead of the old formal approach and this is very well in line with the group’s consistent philosophy.

Q: Your background also shows an enviable track record in the food and beverage industry. As a result, can we expect even more attention from you in terms of the hotel’s F & B operations?

A: Right now we are looking into establishing next year’s plan, but one of the things that we will emphasize is the continuation of the refining of our restaurants with, among other things, a series of events involving our gorgeous ballroom. We think people will be very interested in this aspect. In the past we’ve brought in guest chefs; people love this. Also: art of food. We’re looking to continue our art of food or gastro events and promotions with a series of pop-up events. One thing we keep on promoting is Indonesian cuisine. We started with Petty Elliott as our guest chef and we received some very good feedback, so we mean to continue that side as well.

Another interesting thing is how we also want to rely on our own team in addition to these external talents. With the way we build and develop our talented hands, we now have a lot of very talented properties built up. We are also looking to give these talents a chance to shine. Hence, there will be more events in combination with wine and winemakers in a series to come.

Q: As someone with an ample 21-plus years of experience in the hospitality and F&B industry, what are some recent shifts in trends that you’ve witnessed or helped pioneer and how do these events change you personally as well as in your professional capacity?

A: It’s interesting how we say “trends”, but it’s mostly about things coming back. I would say it’s one part trend and the other is the new things. If we’re talking culinary-wise, cuisines are much more modern, especially with the progressives and fusions out there, but then, in the last three or four years, the focus shifts back to the food, the actual produce. This is something that I think is always there and definitely positive. In Europe I grew up with this concept of “on your table straight from the farm” and it’s amazing to see the trend now take on what was always there for you.

I’ve also seen a change from being five-star and very formal, like for example in my earlier years fine dining was very formal in that you have to serve with a tuxedo and the whole package including etiquette and all that. I think this has changed now. It’s not about formality, but the point is about the food and the experience. We won’t let unspoken codes ruin an otherwise perfectly fine experience.

In respect to myself, I feel this personal approach is always there and when the world trend follows this to make a dining experience more natural, this is something that comes close to what I like. Therefore, I’m encouraged to enhance the experience with what I have known myself all my life.

Q: 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?

A: All in all, to run a hotel you definitely need a certain structure. Our property here easily has 400 full-time employees and that’s a substantial amount of people. The key part, which is also part of the unique philosophy of Ritz-Carlton, is that we select the right people and then we nurture them. Yes, while you need to give them guidance and direct them, the most effective way to run the place is really by empowering them and trusting them to do their jobs, but with a certain standard. There’s a delicate balance here, because giving them independence is important, but it is equally important to not compromise our standards. When it comes down to giving people freedom and opportunity to explore new things and to change, that obviously has to be open.

Q: What is the most challenging and rewarding aspect of your career?

A: The answer is very much related to the previous question. I find it very rewarding to see the people I have nurtured grow and really utilize their potential. I’ll tell you one of the best examples from personal experience. When I started off with the group I was a restaurant manager with a team of 10 and now within 15 years I look back and see where they are right now: some of them have become directors of F&B, one person is head sommelier for Mexico, some of them are now in Hong Kong and the Middle East in high senior positions. This really shows how far they’ve come and it makes me really proud. The same thing happened here recently. We have this one gentleman who started off in our internal training program and has grown through the ranks and is now taking on a more senior position on our culinary team. For me, this is what really makes me happy.

As for the challenge, we obviously need talented people and to find these kinds of people can sometimes be challenging. We continue to innovate so as to attract the right talents, but fortunately here in Jakarta we’ve managed to overcome that right now because we have the lowest turnover rate in all of the Asia-Pacific. We have been able to constantly attract a lot of young talented trainees.

Q: What advice can you give to budding hoteliers and hospitality professionals trying to make it big in the industry?

A: I believe you need to have a lot of passion. This is your business, so you have to have passion doing it to start off. Once you have that foundation, the next thing is to be open to learning. This business always offers opportunity to those willing to grow and learn. That willingness to further explore and try new things is key.

Q: What do you like to do in your free time to unwind?

A: We don’t relax. We just work and sleep. But seriously, I love to travel. That’s actually why I got into the business. Whenever I have the opportunity I take my beautiful wife travelling, mostly around Asia, and on my off days I really enjoy going out and eating out and I love the movies as well.

Q: Lastly, can you please share your experience in working together with Exquisite Media so far?

A: Our experience so far with Exquisite Media has been really positive, especially in the last two years when we’ve been working more closely together. Exquisite Taste and Asia Dreams are important additions to the market. I personally like the nice and refreshing contents of both magazines and I’m really looking forward to years of more successful partnerships ahead.