Interview with Deepak Ohri, Entrepreneur of the Year Best in Asia by the HAPA

Cristian: Good morning Mr Deepak and welcome to www.entrepreneurship-interviews.com . I must say this is my first interview in the luxury property chains domain so be patient with me! Just to start by positioning correctly the interview, you were recently named “Entrepreneur of the Year Best in Asia by the HAPA (Hospitality Asia Platinum Awards)” to add to more than 60 awards your business has received in just 6 years. So what exactly is your company doing that others aren’t?

Mr. Deepak Ohri:  Yes, the honor came as a wonderful surprise as this is the second time I have been nominated and awarded Entrepreneur of the Year. lebua Hotels & Resorts has also received numerous accolades (please see attached) over the past 6 years – something all of the team is extremely proud of.

From the outset, lebua Hotels & Resorts has built its reputation on delivering unique and innovative experiences for our customers. As a luxury group, we’re committed to ensuring each and every guest enjoys our personalized, dedicated service every time they visit.  We pride ourselves on knowing our customers’ likes and dislikes and anticipating their needs before they know them themselves. It is this commitment and dedication to service that keeps our guests returning time and time again.

Cristian: Just by looking at the pictures from your restaurants I can only say: breathtaking views! Where exactly are they located?

Mr. Ohri: Our flagship property is Tower Club at lebua located in the heart of the Thai capital, Bangkok. This is also home to our signature restaurants and glamorous bars at The Dome at lebua including Mezzaluna – our signature fine dining restaurant where twin chefs Thomas and Matthias Suhring create new and innovative menus daily, using the freshest ingredients from both local and international destinations.

The Dome at lebua also houses Asian fusion restaurant Breeze and al fresco dining hot spot Sirocco – which is perched on the 63rd floor overlooking the city of Bangkok. A main feature of Sirocco is the Sky Bar, one of the world’s highest outdoor bars – a must visit for any traveler visiting Bangkok. Other establishments include Distil – the perfect spot for those who enjoy vodkas, cognacs and cigars, or our Oyster Bar which serves a selection of delicious oysters sourced from the USA and France.

The group also boasts an exclusive three suite lodge in Rotorua, New Zealand, nestled at the tip of a secluded peninsula and surrounded by unspoiled lush forest. The property has an in-house chef who creates dishes to each guest’s individual liking from the freshest local NZ produce. The dedicated front-of-house team ensures you can do as little, or as much as you like during your stay.  The Lodge can be exclusively booked, or individual suites can also be booked.

2012 will be an exciting year for lebua as we’re soon to open a new hotel with fine dining restaurants in New Delhi, India, as well as properties in southern France and the Caribbean.

The New Delhi property will be the first of a number of properties scheduled to be rolled out in India, each with their own distinct interpretation of lebua luxury.

Our five to ten year plan is to have a lebua property in key tourist hotspots across the globe.

 

Cristian: What are the main ingredients that make a luxury chain special? Besides the best accommodation and food, what are the feelings and sensations your customers get?

Mr. Ohri: Firstly, we treat each and every customer equally. Secondly, we pride ourselves on our personalized and consistently attentive customer service. Customers who dine or stay at lebua Hotels & Resorts will always feel special. As a business, we’re passionate about remaining true to the luxury and style for which lebua has become renowned.

Cristian: What’s the most interesting culinary experience we could get from one of your famous chefs?

Mr. Ohri: Mezzlauna at The Dome at lebua was recently named Restaurant of the Year (Best in Asia). With acclaimed twin chefs Thomas and Mathias Suhring at the helm – using the freshest ingredients in inventive ways – every guest will enjoy a different dining experience as the menus change daily – an unusual feature in a high-end restaurant.

Mezzaluna in the past was also involved in the Epicurean Masters of the World (2005 and 2007) and in 2007 saw 8 three Michelin Star awarded chefs prepare a meal for THB 1,000,000 (approx US$31,250) per person, which at the time was billed as the world’s most expensive dinner.

One of lebua’s bars is Distil and it is known for offering many items not available in any other outlet in Thailand including 10 cane rum, Belvedere IX vodka, Martin Miller’s gin, Jonnie Walker Blue Label, King George V whisky and, exclusive to lebua Krug Rose (the house champagne at Distil).

Another unique offering of Distil is its Oyster Bar, for which fresh Eagle Rock Pacific Premium Kumamoto and Fines de Claire oysters are flown in twice weekly from the USA and France.

Cristian: Here on www.entrepreneurship-interviews.com most readers are small business owners. Their first impression may be that the heights you’ve reached with your hotels and restaurants are beyond their reach. However, we hear you started way back in 1988?

Mr. Ohri: Absolutely, I’ve definitely worked my way up and have undertaken a range of roles in markets including the US, India and Singapore where I have also sat on a number of advisory boards including the Cornell-Nanyang Institute of Hospitality Management (Singapore) before launching lebua Hotels & Resorts in 2003.

My career started in Delhi where I received a diploma in hotel management from Chennai and I started working with the India Tourism Development Corporation in 1988. After a number of years working throughout the globe with properties such as Kempinski and Taj Hotels, I was ready for a new challenge and decided to move to Thailand with my wife, where I was responsible for the opening The Dome by lebua restaurants including Sirocco, Mezzaluna, Distil Bar, Breeze and the iconic Sky Bar (all considered Bangkok’s top dining establishments).

From one hotel and a raft of high end restaurants we started to build a brand which prides itself on luxury and sophistication – and this will be carried through all our future developments.

For any small business it is important to know your target market, understand what they are seeking in terms of products and experience and ensure you remain committed to seeing your vision come to life – even if there are hurdles along the way.

Cristian: What motivates you to keep going despite having already achieved success?

Mr. Ohri: I firmly believe in never resting on your laurels and always keeping an eye out for the next venue. I love striving to improve and growing the business and am eagerly anticipating the opening of our first property in New Delhi, India, later last year.

Cristian: How is business different in Asia? Most success entrepreneurial stories come from the USA, so I don’t know that much about Asia.

Mr. Ohri:  Asia’s an exciting market for doing business, and particularly for launching new offerings in the luxury sector.  It’s highly competitive and already known for fabulous hospitality which puts the pressure on to stand out from the crowd, but at lebua we never shy away from a challenge!
The expanding economies of China and India are opening up a myriad of opportunities and delivering a new genre of Asian tourist who expects high quality, fresh experiences an unparalleled service. We’re striving to meet that demand and of course to continue to service travellers from further afield.

Cristian: Back in 2003 you were told “Don’t open a restaurant there, there’s no view” and yet by 2009 Sirocco at the Dome at lebua had been unequivocally hailed the restaurant with the “best view in the world”. Is that an example of your belief in your own ability to succeed, even against all odds?

Mr. Ohri: Listening to your detractors never gets you anywhere. If you know your market inside and out, and you employ the best possible team to support you there’s no reason you can’t pursue a dream. In our case, we had designers and architects who understood our vision for the lebua property in Bangkok and together we worked hard to achieve the dream.  The property is characterized by its thirty meter tall golden rooftop – The Dome, and neoclassical balconies. The golden dome is said to act as a beacon to those visiting Asia’s ‘City of Angles’, summoning them to enjoy the breathtaking, views of the city. And today, Sirocco is an iconic spot for locals and tourists to savour a meal; enjoy a cocktail at Sky Bar; and take in the panoramic views of beautiful Bangkok.

Cristian: If you were to start all over again, would you do anything differently this time? How do you know you’re doing things right?

Mr. Ohri: Of course you learn from your experiences along the way but I wouldn’t actually change any of them because it’s been an amazing experience and we’re delighted with the end result! I guess the biggest message from me is to research your market – and your customers – and to have faith in your vision and then work relentlessly to make it happens. Sure, you’ll encounter hurdles and setbacks along the way, but never let them dampen your enthusiasm. Passion for what you’re doing is paramount.

Cristian: What brings you most satisfaction in the luxury business? What makes you happy?

Mr. Ohri: Seeing my vision for the lebua brand come to fruition brings a smile to my face every time.
lebua is now an internationally acclaimed hotel, known for its innovative business strategies and use of cutting edge research and technology. Rated within the top 1% of companies in the world in terms of Customer Satisfaction by TNS research1 (TRI*M Index), lebua’s business management strategies have been the active point of discussion in several top business schools including Harvard, Kellogg, INSEAD, NYU, Columbia and IIMs. Currently, it is in the first stages of being a full-fledged case study at the Harvard Business School.

We remain committed to understanding our customers and ensuring they feel special, each and every time they visit a lebua property.

Cristian: Any wise words for entrepreneurs just starting out?

Mr. Ohri:  Firm up your goals and business plan early on. Always stick to your core values and ensure you have a dedicated and professional team to support the brand vision every step of the way. Above all, have fun, put your heart and soul into it and enjoy the ride – it will be rough at times but it’s exhilarating!