With hospitality embedded in his genes, Christian Poda’s fascination for the industry grew early on when he became interested in the elegance and charm of luxury hotels. Embarking on his own journey in the early 1990s, Christian kicked off his career from humble beginnings as a receptionist. Fast forward a couple of decades, Christian had mastered the fundamentals of running a high-end hotel and was manager of operations at Four Seasons Hotel Pudong, leading some 460 staff. Earlier this year, Christian was promoted to the position of general manager and was entrusted to lead the opening of the new Four Seasons Hotel Jakarta.
Q: Firstly, sincerest thanks for sharing some of your time for this interview session! Christian, can you please briefly share the story of your journey so far and how you end up here at Four Seasons Jakarta?
A: I joined Four Seasons 17 years ago in Berlin, my hometown. From there I moved to San Francisco and in 2007, relocated to Asia. Nearly a decade later, I’ve had the opportunity to work at many of our iconic properties in the region – most recently in Shanghai at Four Seasons Hotel Pudong and previously in Hong Kong, Singapore and the Maldives. When I was given the opportunity to open this new hotel in Jakarta, I immediately said yes. To work with such a dream team of architects and designers was a real treat.
Q: It is always exciting and challenging at the same time to be part of a startup team, isn’t it? Would you kindly tell us how you feel about leading the opening team of a resplendent property like Four Seasons Jakarta, and how important these early stages of development are?
A: I must say it has been a pretty smooth process thus far. We are very fortunate at Four Seasons Jakarta to have a successful partnership with the Rajawali Group – a company that shares our commitment to excellence and has been very supportive throughout. The opening of a hotel relies on the dedication of many people who collaborate to bring it to life. The project crew, including some of the best craftsmen, the operations team and support staff from the Four Seasons network of dedicated employees from around the world make it happen. And it goes without saying that the warmth and friendliness of the team that has joined Four Seasons Jakarta makes me very confident that we will be able to deliver wonderful experiences to our guests. I am truly impressed by the innate hospitality culture that abounds in Indonesia.
Q: You’ve been working in Asia since 2007. What has changed between then and now in terms of the hospitality industry?
A: To be honest, change is occuring all the time and the cycle of change is constant. In today’s business environment, everything is changing, the customers’ tastes and preferences, competition, prices, policies, employees and products can literally change overnight. The loyalty of customers and business associates is governed by new rules of business.
Besides that, technology also develops, which it makes easy for us to promote our hotel. We can do lots of things on the internet for this hotel.
Q: What do you think about the current state of Jakarta’s high-end hospitality industry?
A: Jakarta is a business hub with one of the fastest growths in the region and luxury hotel operators are well represented. There is a robust offering for both leisure and business travelers, which is great because it creates a competitive environment and gives us great motivation.
As we return to the city, we are striving to build on our 20-year history and play a leading role in continuing to define the future of luxury hospitality in Jakarta. We do that through innovation, our unwavering commitment to the highest standards of quality, and most importantly, our undying love and passion for the most genuine and customized service, which has earned Four Seasons its reputation as the world’s foremost operator of luxury hotels.
Q: What about your own experience in Jakarta? How do you find the city so far?
A: Jakarta is a true Asian metropolis. The traffic was a little overwhelming at first, but I quickly appreciated the city for its vibrancy and dynamic spirit. There’s an infectious energy to Jakarta that appeals to me. The dining scene is also inspiring and favourite neighbourhoods of mine include Senopati and Kemang at the moment. Most of all, I truly enjoy the Indonesian’s warmth and friendliness; they immediately made me feel at home.
Q: What are some of the strangest complaints you’ve ever had from a guest?
A: Sorry to say that but there is no such thing as strangest complaints because I truly believe in: “perception is reality.” So if a guest feels that something was not right, that is what matters. And we have a culture that promotes a healthy relationhip with guest feedback. We want our team to be open to criticism as it helps us get better. We believe, all forms of feedback are good for us. It’s better to get lots of complaints to build perfect service rather than zero complaints. It shows that our guests really appreciate our service and want us to be better in the future.
Q: Can you tell us some of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your job right now?
A: The opening of a hotel relies on the dedication of many people who collaborate to bring it to life. The hotel’s success is the sum of many different partners. The GM is a coach or conductor, ensuring everything is in tune. Our owners have been extremely supportive since day one and it goes without saying that the warmth and friendliness of the team that has joined Four Seasons Jakarta makes me very confident that we will be able to deliver wonderful experiences to our guests.
Q: Where do you imagine yourself if you hadn’t started a career in hospitality?
A: To be honest, I cannot imagine that because I was always fascinated with hotels and hospitality runs in my family – my grandmother, mother, father, everybody at one point or another worked in hotels or restaurants. I started my career in the hospitality industry over 20 years ago in my hometown, Berlin.
If I wasn’t in hotels, it would be something else related to travel; another fascination for me is aviation.
Q: What advice can you give to young hoteliers trying to make a break in the industry?
A: Very simple, work hard, stay humble and have fun. You have to find the passion in you, otherwise you won’t survive the long hours and irregular working patterns. Stay humble, keep educating yourself on all sorts of things but overall it is a people business, you have to enjoy that. I find it extremely important and enriching to have an open and close relationship with the whole team. I go on a few walks through the hotel every day and it’s great to catch up and have an ear close to the ground to know what moves our staff. It’s all about creating a positive environment in the Heart of House to be able to deliver the best to our guests. The way your employees feel is the way your customers feel. When employees feel valued, so will the guests. At Four Seasons we believe in the Golden Rule, “Treat others how you want to be treated”. We live day by day based on that. Regardless of what position, we communicate in a positive way and with respect.
Q: What do you like to do in your free-time to unwind?
A: Since I am still pretty new to Jakarta, I like to discover the city in my free time – galleries, restaurants, shops. Besides that I have been fortunate to meet some great people and love to connect with them over a good bottle of wine. When I have more time, I like to travel. My wife and I want to see as much of Indonesia as possible. A recent amazing experience was to see the sunrise in Borobudur. For a quick getaway, our two beautiful resorts in Jimbaran or Ubud always help me to recharge.
Q: In your opinion, how important is it to partner with the right media to work with in this industry?
A: Without a doubt, media plays a critical role in today’s marketing efforts and it’s important for us to maintain a presence. As for our opening activities, we intend to share our excitement and the happenings of the hotel amongst the community of Four Seasons followers to engage and invite the discovery of the countless facets of our stunning new property.