We spoke to Brendon Meppem, Area General Manager Indonesia for IHG and General Manager of Holiday Inn & Suites Gajah Mada, who was born and raised in “down under”, Australia, about his experiences in the hotel industry in both the Western and Asian realm. 

Tell us a little about yourself – about your background and your journey as well as inspiration in the hospitality industry?

I started my career in Australia and one of my first jobs was washing dishes. Initially, I would work mostly in areas related to F&B in different parts of Australia including Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide, but then I slowly moved up the ladder. I have always loved eating and cooking food, which is why the F&B industry was my starting point but instead of moving full time into the kitchen I decide to be part of the front of the house.

I started working as a General Manager (GM) in New Zealand and lived there for seven years. I moved back to Australia for a brief period before working in Malaysia for 2,5 years. I finally moved to Indonesia in 2015 and have been here ever since. I have been working for hotels under the IHG brand for 13 years now, including this one (Holiday Inn & Suites Jakarta Gajah Mada)

Another reason why I love the industry is that it gives us the opportunity to work and travel. This job allows you to work in different cities and countries, work with and meet different people – such opportunities are very rare. I have worked with a lot of fantastic leaders from different countries who have helped my career grow and challenged me in different ways. While moving overseas can be quite daunting, it is an incredibly satisfying part of the job to broaden and widen your views.

Given your past experience in Australia and Malaysia, can you tell us how does the hotel industry and experience as a GM differ here in Indonesia as compared to those two countries?

Running a hotel in New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, and Indonesia is similar in a couple of ways – For one, you are dealing with a lot of guests and a big team, so the day-to-day operational matters are very similar. Just because you are working in Indonesia, it doesn’t mean that you’re only dealing with Indonesian guests, in fact, you deal more with foreigners – so the basis of doing so is the same in all of these countries.

However, the markets between these countries are obviously very different. In Australia and New Zealand, you will find that the market is more mature as it has been established much longer. Meanwhile, the South East Asian market is still growing in terms of both the population and investment. One example is that hotels in Australia or New Zealand tend to be older. It is rare to find a lot of new ones opening as frequently but in Jakarta itself, you are likely to find new hotels sprouting every year. And since the market is still growing, it provides more opportunities for the industry and for people to develop their careers.

Another big difference is that hotels in New Zealand and Australia are highly focused on sustainability and being environmentally friendly. This can be found in every aspect of their operation, including the products they use, their waste management system and where their produce comes from. In this part of the world, it is still a “work in progress”.

Also, the cost of running a hotel in Western countries is a lot more expensive compared to hotels in South East Asia, so this surely affects the management system – i.e. the number of the workforce, the level of services and products offered and more. 

Tell us some of the unique points that you would like to highlight about Holiday Inn & Suites Gajah Mada? How do you stand out from your competitors?

First and foremost, we are a brand that is globally known as family-friendly, so our features such as our rooms, pool, gym, and restaurant are tastefully designed to suit the needs of all kinds of travelers. We are also located at Gajah Mada, one of the original areas of Jakarta, which is in the center of the city so it is very convenient to travel to places. It is also adjacent to Citywalk Gajah Mada.

Our hotel also stands out because of our space. For one, our room sizes are pretty big, starting with 40sqm. We also have a variety of room types that is different from other hotels. We do not only offer standard rooms and suites, but we also have a studio, one and two-bedroom long-stay suites, which can be rented out for a long period of time – even for a year or more. So this helps us cater to a larger market.

We also have three floors dedicated to meeting spaces. These floors consist of two grand pillar-less ballrooms and 21 meeting rooms, totaling up to 2800sqm of space. The area also features minimalistic, fresh designs and spacious terraces. So it is a great place for business meetings and social events. Our hotel is also complemented with a massive parking area, featuring more than 950 car spaces.

In addition to an International restaurant, we have a dedicated team of Chinese chefs that cook and serve a wide range of Chinese cuisine, especially for events. You could also request for a private Chinese dinner at our restaurant. This is a unique aspect because it caters to one of the biggest cultures in the country and in our local area.

Can you briefly talk about your management and leadership style and how has it changed over the years?

To be a GM in this day and age, you need to be more commercial, tech-savvy and digitally in tune. I used to be very operational-based and I would not be too involved in the Sales and Marketing aspect but now we have to be able to do everything. For example, making hotel bookings now are very different, everything is digital so you have to understand how to manage and review that.

Ultimately, my management or leadership style is all about empowering and trusting people to get things done without micromanaging their day-to-day work. It is also important to motivate my team to have the same drive in delighting guests. Everything I do is to ensure guest satisfaction, so my staff should feel the same. I believe it is all about coaching and mentoring people the right way. I too had several mentors in my career, so I need to provide the same guidance to my team for them to grow.

You have been appointed as the Area General Manager in Indonesia for 9 hotels around Jakarta, Semarang, and Surabaya, including Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn Express. Tell us how do you maintain the workload and stress that comes with managing a variety of hotels at once. How have you overcome such challenges?

My primary role is as the GM of Holiday Inn & Suites Gajah Mada, but I am also the Area GM of hotels across Java since 2016. My job is to ensure that the GM of these hotels reach their targets and objectives as well as drive their performance. I also help IHG liaise with the owning company of each hotel. What helps me manage with the workload is having a supportive team, who are motivated to achieve their goals. 

Work-life balance is important for everyone and it works differently for each individual. I think it is important to allow time for family and just you – for self-development, to learn new skills and reflect on important matters.

What advice would you give an expat looking to move to Jakarta? What should they expect?

It depends on where they come from because if they are expats from around South East Asia, then they would already have an idea of what to expect. But for expatriates from the Western world, it could be quite a culture shock at first. One of the main challenges is the traffic, but it is an issue found in most Southeast Asian countries. 

However, one of the most positive aspects of this country is the people. They are genuinely very warm and welcoming. Indonesia is such a service-orientated country so they have the willingness to please and learn, and they value guest satisfaction.

What do you like to do during your free time?

I like food and coffee so I like to try new restaurants and cafes as often as possible. I also enjoy occupying myself working out at the gym.

Do you eat to live or live to eat, and what is your favorite cuisine?

I totally live to eat. I enjoy almost everything. It’s almost impossible to choose my favorite cuisine, even for the top three. It changes based on the mood, feelings, the season, the weather, the day and etc.

But if you ask me what is my favorite type of food, I would say seafood and desserts, particularly chocolate. I also enjoy spicy food so I am very much keen on Asian cuisine.

By: Divyha Pridhnani-Bhojwani