‘Plan your work and work your plan,’ suggests Michel Koopman, General Manager at The Leela Kempinski Gurgaon, as he settles in with a glass of Perrier for the ‘grueling’ interview with Millennium Post. A month (and a little more) into being at the helm of affairs for the hotel, Koopman has big plans and perhaps the best part of it is that he is brilliantly methodical when it comes to executing them (trust us, he had a PPT!).
Despite a traditional educational base of Greek and Latin, Koopman had no plans of becoming a doctor or a lawyer he says. Since he was too young to join the hotel school at The Hague ( Higher Hotelschool for Hotel management) – he was only 20 then – he had to wait it out. So the journey that finally began with Assistant Chief Steward at the Amsterdam Hilton, has traveled far and wide and found base in India, for now.
And we say for now because by the looks of it, Koopman loves to travel, there isn’t a place in the world he hasn’t been to it seems. When we asked him about it and he started listing the places he has seen, we had to stop him and asked him for places he had not seen instead. Amsterdam, Jakarta, Bali, Osaka, Perth, Canberra, Melbourne, Pudong, Shanghai and the list goes on. ‘My first visit to India was when I had a ponytail,’ laughs Koopman, that was years ago and perhaps then, he had no idea that life would come full circle.
Speaking about his past experiences, Koopman says that he learnt to hone his analytical thinking in schools but the more real, on-hand training came from all the work he did on the side while he was still a student. From scratch in the hotel business to managing a team of workers under him, Koopman picked the tricks of his trade working it out for himself. ‘You have to take two steps backwards to take a huge step forward at times, it is the catapult effect,’ says Koopman explaining that there were times when he took a designation cut in his career to make sure he learned the right things.
‘It is essential to get your core values right,’ says he and goes on to say that this is the exact philosophy he has planned for Leela Kempinski. Everyone in the staff should know what exactly is expected of him or her and then develop skills along those lines. At this point Koopman shares a delightful anecdote on the man who swept the floors at Cape Canaveral. When asked about what he does – the man had replied – ‘I make sure that men can walk on the moon’ Confused much? So were we till Koopman explained that according to this man, if he did not do his job right at the lowest rung of the NASA operations, something would go wrong up the ladder right till the Apollo 11 launch.
‘The idea is to develop, empower, engage and reward people and everyone should know what is expected from them- that is the Dharma Chakra,’ says Koopman. The Leela caters to making guests feel like king, guests like their privacy and space and we should respect that, he adds.
So what are the big plans for Leela Kempinski? ‘I want to focus on the strengths of the hotel, fine tune those and make sure we follow our Vision - To be recognised as the leading International luxury hotel by our primary target markets, corporate and MICE. The hotel will exceed the expectations of our colleagues, guests, owners and The Leela. Our values are aligned with Athiti Devo Bhava,’ he says.
While the restaurants on the property – Spectra and Diya are definitely on Koopman’s list – he wants to bring up the concept of signature dishes in the hotel. ‘Fine dining is passe,’ he says. The man loves his food, his wine and his occasional cigar – so we trust him. ‘The idea is to authenticate. People in India focus on one great dish, which they want it right and will travel a long way to experience it. That is what signature dining is about,’ explains Koopman.
While he can’t wait for his twin daughters and wife to join him in India, Koopman keeps himself busy with his sports and books. Nothing to complain about, we say!