A BMIHMS Success Story: Jack Widagdo Wins the 2019 Hyatt GM of the Year Award

Even when he was young, Jack Widagdo has always known he didn’t want an average life.

Originally from Bali, Indonesia, Jack came to Australia as a child and went to school in Perth. Once he graduated, he packed his bags and left Western Australia, ready to start the journey of his life. After some time moving around, from Towoomba to Brisbane, he settled in Sydney, and decided it was time to get an education.  

The promise of a life filled with adventure led him to look into options for studying international hotel management.

Team Joyride – Celebrating the opening of Mandapa. a Ritz Carlton Reserve in 2014

“My typical Asian parents always wanted to me to be in either medicine, law, or finance. My heart told me there was something bigger and more interesting to pursue: becoming an hotelier.

There was another hotel school in Sydney that I considered, however I had heard a lot of good references about the BMIHMS brand. Studying in Blue Mountains was the best choice I made.

I have always wanted to be a hotel GM, I just did not know how, when, or which path I would take before reaching that point.” – Jack Widagdo

Jack moved to the Leura campus, to begin a Bachelor of Business in International Hotel Management. Living and working alongside the other students in the simulated hotel, Jack thrived and excelled in his studies, eventually winning commendations, a place on the Graduate Success List and 2012 Alumni of the Month.

“I graduated with Dux of the Year, it was something neither my parents or myself expected on graduation day. In the same way, all the awards I received in the following years, including the more recent ones 2017, 2019 (from Hyatt China) were unexpected.

I guess when you are focused on what you do, you don’t really think about awards. It’s just like how in hotels you don’t focus on getting a must-have great guest review. You focus instead on making their experience great, first of all.”

Since graduating in 2001, Jack has had a long and diverse career in hotels across Singapore, Thailand, China, Indonesia and Australia.

Like many working in the hotel industry, he started from the bottom and worked his way up.

“I had a relatively low-key start of many years in Sydney & Melbourne, starting from Food & Beverage front-liner & supervisory, Rooms Division (housekeeping, bell boy, front office, night audit / manager) before then making a mark in Sales & Marketing (Revenue Management).” 

It was in 2009 that his big break finally came along, with the re-branding of the old Ritz-Carlton Jimbaran to AYANA Resort and Spa. Jack was hired as the Regional Director of Revenue, reporting to the General Manager, and from then on his career went from strength to strength.

“It all went up hill from there on. I kept being in the right place at the right time, working for the right people. Various roles took me places to Thailand with Four Seasons, and island property in China with Kempinski, back to the Bali jungle in Ubud with Ritz-Carlton Reserve, then back to remote China with Alila (where I am now, Alila Anji). You see, it’s been a long journey but, if you’re persistent, you get there!”

Jack is now the General Manager of Alila Anji, which has been integrated into the Hyatt system. Alila Anji is a remote resort in regional China, located in a beautiful, natural setting.

“Seventy percent of our staff members are employed directly from the nearby villages and I enjoy working with them. It’s a pleasure to wake up in the morning with a majestic view of the lake, bamboo forests, mountains covered with white tea plantations, and fresh air from being 130 meters above sea level.”

This year, he won the General Manager of the Year Award for his great work in managing that resort, presented by Hyatt. Congratulations, Jack!

It’s the special quality of bringing out the best in his workers that brought him to the attention of management.

Jack (right) in a Traditional Balinese attire during a High Tea for Clients Appreciation Week

 “The craft of being an Alila hotelier is quite something. I enjoy seeing our team members implement new ideas through trial and error, on a daily basis. We don’t keep bad habits too long purely because of SOPs, or because things have been done the same way for some time.

I enjoy rotating my managers in each operational department every 3-6 months. Yes! A Front Office Manager has plenty of transferrable skills to spend time in the Food & Beverage Manager’s seat, and vice versa. I love pushing their limits, even if they have not thought about their own strengths!”

Over the course of a long career, you certainly learn a few things about how to run hotels well, and how to stay in the hotel game as the world changes around you.

What have been some of his successes and challenges over the years?

“Staying this long in a hotel career is certainly one of my biggest successes. It’s a challenge in itself to constantly battle your inner craving to switch industry, or run your own business.

Big successes also come from turning over smaller successes consistently. Each small progress, such as; seeing each assignments finishes, converting lagging properties into award winning hotel, having happy employees, satisfying owners financially, engaging communities, returning guests. Each small success makes a successful hotel. This is an endless circle, it starts with strong leadership, then happy employees.”

Jack certainly runs hotels well, because everywhere he works, he seems to win an award! So, what’s his secret? Does he have for young hoteliers who might want to follow his footsteps?

“Enjoy the process and don’t rush for the Managers title. Take time to learn instead from great & inspiring Managers and Directors. If you enjoy the adventure that different roles, different brands, various locations can offer, then you’ll enjoy the hard work.

Evolve in your roles often enough that you are not a city-hotelier, resort-hotelier, chain-hotelier, nor pre-opening specialist… but a true hotelier, however many keys the property has.

Put your heart, mind and soul into even your smallest acts. If you’re a waiter, be the best waiter! This is the secret of success. You will learn from both great bosses and not so great ones. Be helpful and fair. Travel comfortably & un-comfortably often. Attend events, even if you have to travel, to network & learn industry trends. Read books. Stay connected. Your reputation will build over time.”

If you’d like to have a career in international hotel management, you may want to start with a degree at BMIHMS, like Jack. See here for more information on the courses on offer.

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