Enter, The Indian Expat General Manager of an International Chain Hotel: Barun Jolly Moves to Indonesian City Close to Borobudur as Crowne Plaza GM
IT IS NOT unusual to find an ‘expat’ general manager of a hotel in any part of the world – in fact, there was a time when Swiss and German hoteliers were most sought after for this position – but it is hardly as common to find an Indian leading from the top a hotel outside India and its neighbouring South Asian nations. Barun Jolly, formerly of the Crowne Plaza New Delhi Okhla and Radisson Blu Paschim Vihar, has just joined the rare ranks of Indian general managers of international hotels operated by international chains.
As he takes charge as General Manager of the Crowne Plaza at Semarang, Indonesia’s fifth largest city located in Central Java, Jolly looks all set for an international hotelier’s career. My knowledge of Indians in similar positions may be limited, but I can only remember Rajeev Menon, who was recently elevated as Marriott International’s Chief Operating Officer for South-East Asia and the Pacific, becoming General Manager of the Sydney Harbour Marriott in 2004, after putting in three years as boss of the Renaissance Mumbai Hotel and Convention Centre and Marriott Executive Apartments in Mumbai. Menon is a role model for many young hoteliers I have known.
Jolly, who always looks as happy as you’d expect a person with his family name to be, will head the newest international hotel in a port city that is as steeped in its Dutch heritage as it is in its cacophonous modernity. The 300-room hotel, Jolly informs me, has 300 rooms, four dining destinations, and it is next to a Paragon mall, which anyone who has visited Bangkok knows a lot about.
More importantly, it is a two-hour drive from the ninth-century Buddhist temple of Borobudur, which was re-discovered by the founder of Singapore, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, when he was the British governor of Java in 1814, and is today one of UNESCO’s most popular World Heritage sites. Jolly is confident that though a Crowne Plaza, typically, is a businessman’s hotel, the property he heads will become popular with leisure tourists propelled by an Indiana Jones type of fascination for ancient monuments and their many mysteries.
A 1997 graduate of IHM Jaipur, and a rooms man with a sharp understanding of F&B, Jolly opened his innings at The Oberoi New Delhi and then was a part of the pre-opening team of the Grand Hyatt New Delhi (one of the best hotels to open in the city, till Grand Hyatt moved out, and we know the rest of the story!). After four years at the Grand Hyatt, Jolly spent another formative part of his career at The Imperial at a time when Pierre Jochem was the hotel’s general manager. It was from Jochem that Jolly imbibed the principle of running a successful hotel: “Positioning first, guest profiling second, and then business will follow.”
It helped him give the Radisson Blu Paschim Vihar a direction it was desperately looking for in the nine months he headed it after a successful pre-opening stint at Crowne Plaza Gurgaon, followed by its sister hotel in the heart of the Okhla industrial area. “Find the right price point and the positioning,” Jolly would keep advising his team. He positioned the hotel as an upper-scale destination for weddings and meetings, priced the rooms less than Central Delhi and Gurgaon hotels, and kept F&B price points below those of Central Delhi.
Quick to realise that 70 per cent of the hotel’s banqueting business comes from social events, and recognising that neighbouring West Delhi was a strong F&B market, Jolly sweated the 40,000-sq-ft banqueting area at his command. There were times when the hotel would have four weddings a night, with the average turnout being in the range of 900 to 1,200 guests, so, unsurprisingly, the hotel ended the FY2014-15 with a banqueting APC of Rs 1,800-1,850 – the highest, according to Jolly, outside the high-returns Central Delhi market. “We clocked a 6 per cent revenue growth over the last financial year and a 5 per cent rise in profitability,” says Jolly.
Personally, I believe Jolly delivered his best as General Manager of the Crowne Plaza New Delhi Okhla, a position he moved into after opening the Crowne Plaza in Gurgaon and, before that, serving as Director of Rooms at the Hyatt Regency. His most notable achievement was to launch and run successfully the dual cuisine, Chinese-Italian restaurant, Chaobella (although his Dilli-6 food festivals were equally remarkable because of the research that went into them). It was the first experiment of its kind in an InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) property and it is now going to be replicated in other hotels of the international chain across India.
I had reported earlier in www.bwhotelier.com that IHG’sCEO, Richard Solomons, has green-lighted the development of the restaurantfor a rollout across the country. Solomons, while presenting his company 2014 financial results, pointed to the uniqueness of the Chaobella experiment. It serves, he said, the two favourite foreign cuisines of the Indian market – Chinese and Italian – at the same venue, so you can have dim sum and pizza in one outing. Interestingly, he mentioned Chaobella in the same context as Cai Feng Lou, IHG’s signature Chinese restaurant, which will see a global expansion into 50 hotels. Is Chaobella also likely to go global?
Well, as Jolly goes global, he’d certainly want Chaobella to follow in his footsteps. But before that, he has a new market to study closely and win over, and a new set of expectations to address. An expat GM’s life, charmed though it may seem to an outsider, comes with its share of new lessons to be learnt and unusual demands to be fulfilled.