Q: Please can you briefly share your journey so far career-wise and how you ended up here?
A: I started as a management trainee in Mumbai with Accor and grew through various positions in sales, F&B and front office. Then I moved on to open the Hyatt Regency Mumbai, after which I started my long journey with Marriott in Mumbai, Hyderabad, Jakarta and the US Virgin Islands. My last position was managing the operations of the iconic Frenchman’s Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort in St. Thomas before I returned to Indonesia with Starwood, to open The Westin Jakarta.
The journey has taken me about 20 years and has given me the opportunity to see many parts of the world, but Jakarta has always had a special place in my heart. When I was transferred out from Jakarta after almost four years here, me and my family were leaving for the airport and there were about 200 associates lining up from the elevator landing to the driveway to say goodbye to me and my family. That side of Indonesia and the people is something that words cannot express. So when I got this opportunity to come back to open The Westin Jakarta, the only answer was, “Absolutely yes!”
Q: I understand you lived in Jakarta from 2008 to 2011. What has changed between now and then in terms of the hospitality industry?
A: Jakarta has always been a very dynamic city, full of life. The hospitality industry has always been an integral part of the culture of the city and still is. In terms of hotels, the city has many more hotels in all segments and the market is now beginning to be more consumer driven. The huge inventory addition in the four-star and three-star segment, the downturn in the oil, mining and banking industries has taken the cream away from the five-star segment. However, like everything else it is a matter of time before it comes back, as it is a normal cycle in many new world markets. All the new efforts to upgrade the city’s infrastructure will help position Jakarta as a world city.
Q: Would you kindly tell us how you feel about joining The Westin Jakarta and how important these early stages of development are?
A: Earlier in my career, I opened hotels or had been a part of a task force opening hotels in many capacities. However, this will be my first opening as a general manager. As such it is a little more special to me. Is it difficult? Yes. Challenging? Yes. Exhausting? Yes.
I walk around the hotel every day, seeing every little detail, slowly coming together and falling into place. I can tell you, it will be a beautiful product and a great hotel. To express this feeling or coin the emotions into words is very difficult. We have very understanding owners who encourage us to go for quality. The team is growing quickly as we stage ourselves to open the hotel on Quarter 3 this year.
This early stage is very important and critical to the long-term business model establishment of the hotel. Selecting the team members carefully and taking the time to meet all the applicants is also important, it sets the tone for the correct positioning of the brand. This is the time to start working as a team and building relationships among the team members. It is also very important to keep the team together by creating a common time for the full team. We sit together for lunch every day and chat, joke and laugh together.
Q: So what are some of the things The Westin Group has to offer that will ensure a competitive edge?
A: As a brand, the Westin is very powerful and well-known for its innovative edge and very clearly defined brand programs. For instance, when we launched the Heavenly Bed, it was a game changer in the industry in the way hotels looked at a good night’s sleep, which is actually the very basic of what we offer – a place where people sleep. Wellness is a big part of our brand pillars, which are Sleep Well, Eat Well, Move Well, Feel Well, Work Well, Play Well. All this, coupled with the power of the Starwood Preferred Guest Program (SPG), will make us a brand to reckon with.
“For a Better You” is our mission statement.
Q: What about The Westin Jakarta itself in terms of its distinction and what it will have in terms of F&B outlet?
A: The Westin Jakarta, the highest hotel in Indonesia, is set in the tallest building in Indonesia. This is already a huge statement for us. We have 272 guest rooms and suites, a ballroom and banquet facilities. The Heavenly Spa, Fitness Studio and the swimming pool are on level 50 – again, the highest wellness facilities in Indonesia. Seasonal taste will be our main stay all day dining restaurant at level 51. The Henshin will be a game changer in the Jakarta’s food scene spread over 67, 68 and 69 level that have a rooftop alfresco bar, lounge, dining area and private rooms.
Q: Some people seem to think general managers live high and comfortable lives, but can you tell us what it takes to become a general manager and a good one at that?
A: I don’t know about the high and the comfortable life, but speaking from my experience and what I have seen over the years, it is simply about hard work, more hard work, long hours, hard conversations, constant learning, adapting to change, failures, mistakes, learning from mistakes, making more mistakes and learning again. Much like making a movie, where the process is a lot more difficult and complex than actually seeing the movie. There is a lot of effort involved behind the scenes to make it look like a high and comfortable life.
To share a personal story, when I was a front office manager in a large complex with two hotels, the GM would challenge me every day in the morning briefing about the figures. This encouraged me to research and prepare answers to his questions and be ready for whatever else he may ask. I met this GM in Hong Kong for a drink about five or six years later and thanked him for challenging me, which taught me so much about the business and made me understand the power of numbers. I cannot express in words the pride and joy I saw in his eyes that day.
In short there is no short cut to success or for becoming a GM. If you get it easy, it was not because of you!
Q: Where do you imagine yourself being if you hadn’t started a career in the hospitality industry?
A: This is an interesting question. I come from a family of engineers; my father and many members of my extended family are all engineers. Even my wife is a software engineer. If I was not in hospitality, the only question would have been which university I would choose to study engineering in.
Q: What advice can you give to young hoteliers trying to make a break in the industry?
A: Nowadays we have all the information we need, literally in the palms of our hands through our devices. Sadly this often means that younger hoteliers don’t have the patience to wait for anything. They have to get position, money, growth, title, fast and now. The order in which they acquire this matters little. So my advice would be to grow the desire to learn, desire to excel, desire to be the best in what you do. Everything else will come looking for you. Take the time to learn as much as you can about the business. Success is a matter of time, and the only thing standing between success and failure is the ‘desire’ to succeed.