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Industry Soars to New Heights

Irma Djohan has successfully navigated pilots' careers at BIFA and consistently maintained top ratings at her luxury resort, The Legian Bali.

When she was a student, Irma Djohan knew that if one was to succeed in business, it was vital to excel in finance. Finishing up her undergraduate studies in Banking—from STEKPI School of Business and Management—she moved to Sydney to pursue a Master degree in Commerce from the University of New South Wales.

Returning to Jakarta, she says she didn't want her father—the late Robby Djohan who had a distinguished career in Indonesia's banking industry as well as a short stint as President Director of Garuda Indonesia in the late 1990s—to help her find a job in banking. Eventually she found work as staff consultant in risk management for Arthur Andersen (now part of EY) and later in Private Banking at Bank Danamon. Later, at the recommendation of her father, she established the Bali International Flight Academy (BIFA) in 2009. Djohan started the school to address the lack of flight schools in Indonesia at the time. The school has since produced over 650 pilots, of which over 500 are currently employed with national carrier Garuda Indonesia.

Students are offered loans (from Bank Niaga or BII) to take up their studies which has expanded opportunities for those looking to make a career in aviation. High school graduates are encouraged to apply although many students have also earned their undergraduate degrees upon enrollment at BIFA. For its part the school has the latest facilities including such aircraft as the single-engine Cessna 172 and the multi-engine Piper Seminole.

Students go through a rigorous pre-enrollment test including medical and psychological exams before they can train. So far the school has produced 8 full-fledged captains from the first few batches of the programme. Five per cent of the graduates are women, and while not a significant amount, the number is growing, Irma assures us. While BIFA was once in partnership with Garuda Indonesia where graduates could go on to work for the national airline, graduates can now apply to any company. The multi-engine aircraft training offered to them prepares them to "master's degree" level and increase students' employability.

It hasn't always been easy for Irma, however. Recognising that she was a female leader in a generally male-dominated industry, she says she proved over the years that she, as a woman, could be decisive - and successful. She also points out that many of those in the aviation industry — including pilots and trainers.

Not one to stay focused entirely on one business, the larger-than-life personality is certainly a business professional who wears multiple hats. One of the other businesses she is part of is in the hospitality industry.

"Three years ago, we decided to take over GHM. We see it's stable but that's it. But internally they have fewer properties," she says, noting that with the internal issues, she decided to manage it herself along with her business partners. "In this Hotel Legian Bali, I see what you need in all industry, the principle is the same. Of course revenue and cost and profit margin are important,” the Managing Director of Legian Hotel Management notes adding that sales, operations and finance—in that order—as being some of the key factors required.

"Banking and the flight school and hotel need the same basics but different factors of revenue, costs and profit margins," she says adding that she organised the structure, evaluated the team and developed the sales and marketing unit.

Property development was another factor and she tells us that refreshing the hotel with subtle changes such as purchasing different paintings for the rooms and other guest areas and curating new menus for the restaurant and the spa were just as important. 

Travelling to Cannes, France for the Luxury Travel Market Fair recently, she notes she aggressively promoted the Legian brand, which helped increase revenue down the road – all part of strategies to ensure the brand stays competitive in a region saturated with options.

What is essential for her is to retain the traditional Indonesian aspects of the brand such as with furniture and fixings, service and of course food. With the largest chunk of the clients coming in from Australia, Europe and the United States, retaining a traditional, classic Indonesian flavour in the hotel is vital, Irma says of the Jaya Ibrahim designs that punctuate the entire hotel.

The Legian Bali's prime market is visitors aged 45 and over, "those with higher disposable incomes, those who want to relax, who need a comfortable, serene place to stay," Irma notes, as opposed to younger guests whose main focus may tend to lean toward spending time with friends at locations that are more trend focused and cater to that demographic.

Irma says she does follow the trends especially given the rise in the lifestyle concept of vacations rather than specific brands. Still, she notes, loyalty will never go out of style. Some of her clients—35 per cent of them—are return visitors which ensures that the brand retains some of its traditions to ensure that return guests get a sense of familiarity when they return. While the hotel is exclusive—with the largest 80 rooms in the region—opening the sumptuous dining areas with their focus on traditional Indonesian flavours to the public has seen a steep increase in revenue, Irma notes.

This year, Irma says one might see a trend in the rise of the 4 and 5 star-level hotels in Bali. What's imperative, from a marketing and finance standpoint, is the development of one's secondary and tertiary markets especially in light of the Mount Agung eruption that began in late 2017 and the challenges it might pose this year.

The Legian Bali has recently partnered up with the Nihiwatu to help those in transit with a place to rest before heading on to "the world's best hotel".

This August, the Legian is set to expand its reach to nearby Lombok. Located strategically on 1 km of pristine beach, the new property currently in construction overlooks Mount Agung on one side and Mount Rinjani on the other. A location Irma is incredibly proud of and has seen vast potential in for developing the brand. The new hotel will retain all the traditional classics of Indonesian design. After all, it's time the world discovered a gem that's just as much a piece of paradise as Bali.

As the New Year begins, perhaps this is Indonesia’s time to showcase women leaders and the many successes that can be garnered when women are encouraged to lead the way.

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