Meet the Expat: Ian McKie, General Manager of the Oakwood Premier Cozmo Kuningan

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Please tell us about yourself.

I am originally from the UK but left there in 1985 and have been on the road ever since. My wife is from Korea and I have a couple of grown up “third culture” kids one of whom is working in London, and the other at Bath University. I have spent my career in hospitality with stints working for Hyatt, Hilton, Banyan Tree, IHG and now Oakwood. Most of my time has been spent in the Asia Pacific although I have done a couple of stints in the Middle East.   

Where is “home” for you?

I wish I knew.  As mentioned I am from the UK, but haven’t lived there for over 30 years. My wife is Korean but we haven’t lived there for over 20 years. We own a house in Malaysia. I think as an itinerant expat home is where you are currently, so right now that’s Jakarta.

Who would you name as your mentors and influences? Why?

There are a couple from my early Hyatt days. Brian Deeson was a consummate hotelier with a visionary approach. A very strategic operator. Rakesh Sarna for his passion, commitment and good humour even in times of challenge.

Out of all the countries you’ve lived in, which one(s) has/have been most impactful?

It has to be Indonesia. I have spent more years here than anywhere else having done assignments in Bintan, Bali, Jakarta and Bandung. I was in Bali for both bombings and when the tsunami hit. I was in Jakarta when the Ritz-Carlton/Marriott bombings occurred. I was in Bintan at the time of the end of the Suharto era. I have witnessed many things in Indonesia.

Where do your passions lie outside of hospitality? How do you spend your personal time?

I enjoy a bunch of sports notably rugby, cricket, tennis and golf. I still hit the occasional tennis ball although it does my knees no good, and play the odd round of golf. I enjoy cooking and reading. My wife and I are quite keen on art and with the kids out of the way we enjoy browsing art museums. We both enjoy Scottish Country Dancing.  I am also keen on history so I like exploring the past of the places I am living in. That seems to be far too many interests. I do work, too.

What do you feel you’ve learned in your years abroad?

To be open-minded. Even if you have been away from home for a long time you still remain grounded in your home country’s culture and values in many ways. The world is a great big melting pot and not everyone thinks the way you do.  

It seems like pre-opening is your specialty. Can you describe how you go about managing properties prior to and during openings? How does that differ from managing an established property?

It’s a bit like a relay race. Pre-opening is like running the first leg. Nobody has gone before you so you come out of the starting blocks first, without any history. If you are running the third leg you inherit the baton from someone else, and plenty has gone before. Pre-opening gives you an opportunity to really put your imprint on something. You can do that too in an existing property, but it’s more of a gradual metamorphosis.  

What’s a typical day like for you in Jakarta?

Well one of the things that’s interesting about hospitality is that no one day is the same. I tend to try and balance things between administrative stuff and then getting out and about and in the operation. As a general rule I use my mornings to do the administrative stuff so that I have freed up my afternoons. I try to make sure that my day includes some customer interactions. I try to meet all our new long-stay arrivals and repeat guests.  

What’s your philosophy on management and working with your team?

I like to be able to look at the business strategically as well as tactically. I believe a long term strategic view helps steer the ship in the right direction. I tend to try and steer my executives and managers rather than micromanage and I am pretty relaxed about sharing opinions, even if they differ from mine. Indonesians are collaborative people, and I am pretty comfortable with that approach. I am not impulsive by nature. I like it steady, secure and I like to think things through. I am pretty relaxed in terms of authority and have no problem with different opinions and points of view, even if they disagree with mine. I read an article called “True Grit” recently about the importance of persistence as a leadership competency. It highlighted the importance of striving consistently toward long-term goals. The article resonated with me.

You’ve worked in Indonesia in previous years. How is the environment now compared to when you were here?

I first came to Jakarta in 1990 so there have been plenty of changes, some good and others less so. Indonesia’s economy had done pretty well over these years and so generally Jakarta has become a more affluent place, although with rather too many shopping malls for my taste. Having said that, the fact that there are now more restaurants with a greater variety of choice is a big plus for me.

The hospitality industry has changed too with standards much higher and choices much more varied than before.

Part of the consequence of this affluence has led to too many cars and Jakarta’s dreaded macet. It doesn’t bother me that much as I live in, but I do miss the old days of skipping up to Puncak for a quick and relaxing day out. It’s too stressful now.  

What do you think sets the Oakwood brand apart from the rest of the serviced apartment industry? Tell us about the Oakwood Premier Cozmo.

The Oakwood brand in Asia offers five products: Oakwood Premier, Oakwood Apartments, Oakwood Residence, Oakwood Studios, and Oakwood Suites, each designed for a different lifestyle.

We carry the Oakwood Premier brand which caters to travellers who seek luxury and style, combining impressive apartments with amenities and services of luxury hotels. In Oakwood Premier Cozmo Jakarta, we offer fully furnished apartments with comprehensively equipped kitchens in each apartment.

We are located strategically in the central business district of Mega Kuningan next to multinational corporations, embassies, shopping and entertainment facilities. We target both business and leisure travellers seeking luxury, with accommodation options ranging from one to three bedroom units complemented by excellent facilities including an outdoor swimming pool, fitness centre, children’s playroom and flexible meeting spaces which allow guests or clients to hold business meetings, birthdays or other social events.

I think that the two principal reasons that people buy over our competitors are a) our excellent location and b) the quality of our service. We are a very service-focused organization. We believe in hiring, training and developing our own people rather than using outsourced labour. I think that gives us an edge in terms of delivering consistent quality guest experiences.

The question of residing in a house versus apartment seems to be raised time after time in Jakarta. What do you think is the most appropriate type of living for expats here?

I believe it’s very much a matter of personal preference and lifestyle. Many of our guests pick us for our location as they prefer being close to work. Others will look at family circumstances and decide that they need to be nearer the international schools. Some prefer the fact that we are providing services that you cannot replicate if you live out. If your air-conditioning stops working we will have it fixed in less than an hour. If you live out you might be lucky and get it fixed in a week. Clearly you trade off the extra service with “apartment” living. As I mentioned, that suits some and not others.    

As an expat manager, do you find local language skills helpful in your line of work or can you manage without speaking Bahasa Indonesia?

To be honest I don’t really need to speak Bahasa Indonesia in my line of work. Our staff speak such excellent English that it’s much easier to use it as the language with which we work on a day to day basis. Having said that, I do try with my Bahasa Indonesia, largely because it can be useful outside of work. We went to Belitung in January for a couple of days. It was very useful there.    

What are the biggest differences in work culture between Indonesia and other parts of the world?

Here are a few things that apply to me in my role. a) Relationships and relationship building still form a more significant component of doing business than in the West. The mantra “relationship first, then business” still applies. b) Organizations here tend to be more hierarchical. c) There is less of an entrepreneurial mindset here. I believe it is changing slowly and there are now some creative Indonesian entrepreneurs, but as a general comment the climate is less innovative. d) The hospitality industry here is viewed as a good career. People are keen to join the industry and Indonesians are good at it. Not so in the West. e) Patience and persistence are two critical leadership competencies in this part of the world.    

 

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Indonesia Expat is Indonesia's largest expatriate readership (formerly known as Jakarta Expat and Bali Expat)