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Posted: Friday, 22 December 2017 18:10

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Wine India Moves: Michel Koopman of Leela Gurgaon Moves on

Dec 22: After almost 5 years of working very successfully with the Leela Ambience Gurgaon, the Netherlands- born Australian hotelier Michel Koopman, General Manager has decided to move on and is quitting the hotel today, on December 22, leaving strong foot prints especially in wine, writes Subhash Arora who had an exclusive chat with the suave and affable gentleman, followed by dinner at the recently launched avatar of Diya Restaurant

No, there is no mistake in categorising Michel Koopman in the Wine India Moves category, rather than the Hotel India Moves. As a General Manager of The Leela Ambience Gurgaon, he did so much for the wine promotion actively that if there were to be an Award for the Best General Manager, promoting wine actively in the Delhi-NCR, no one else would deserve it batter than Koopman.

Tireless Wine Promoter

His agenda to set things straight in the wine area was clear when he got rid of the old wine stocks at throw-away prices, streamlined the list and reduced the prices, shortly after he joined the hotel in 2013. He has been a bindas wine promoter where many General Managers would falter or succumb to the financed department’s diktat of low beverage costs. ‘I want wines to sell, not  sit in the shelves while we boast of low beverage costs.’ 

He has also started the concept of offering multiple labels at banquets which have become big earners and sellers of wine during the last 5 years. ‘Every wedding/ banquet we sell 3 whites and 3 reds. We must give a selection to the customer without any extra charge. It does not cost extra but helps the customer. I see a lot more potential in this area.’ Surprisingly, the hotel has managed to sell substantial quantity of champagne too.’ When I asked him it was perhaps too expensive and more and more people buy Prosecco, he says, ‘I feel Champagne does sell well. There are several rich people who have enough money to spend. They just need to see the value.’

What are the trends he has seen during his last 5 years at the Leela? ‘I have seen a lot of difference in the 5 years I have been at this hotel. Young people today want to spend less on cosmetic looks and more on the quality of food and what they drink. In terms of revenues, we must have double in the last 5 years.’  For the reasons known to everyone, right now it is stagnating though.

He has managed to rationalise and cut down the number of labels in each restaurant. ‘For instance, here at Diya we have 24 labels; 30 including the sparkling wines-all geared to Indian food. At Zanotta, our Italian fine dining restaurant, we have around 40 labels about half of which are Italian’.

‘I have reduced the prices on wines. By organising several wine dinners and tastings, we have always been helpful and educative. Interestingly, wine focus has helped us improved the quality of food. Unlike earlier, our chefs can now do the wine food pairing now. Another thing I have done is – wine was double the price of whisky when I came here.  It is not the cost per glass, but how you get the customer to order an extra glass.’

Training is the Mantra

Fore Michel Training is the key mantra of management. A good manager must be a leader, coach and a manager. ‘Training, training and training is the mantra which is important-we keep on doing it continuously, he says.’

But where is he headed now? India or overseas-perhaps with a higher profile job! ‘Right now I am taking vacation for 2-3 months, he says with a laugh,’ an instant indication he is not going to reveal his future plans. ‘I have worked for almost 5 years in the hotel. I am a hands-on kind of guy. I have been heading 27 hotels in Shanghai. So it is not important for me to seek a higher designation or manage more hotels. Been there, done that! It’s just that after 5 years I felt stagnancy settling in and I needed a change. The thought came to my mind a few months ago only and I put in my papers in October.’

Michel quickly adds, ‘I have worked in 12 hotels-this is among the top 3 hotels I have worked in .This is an amazing hotel The company gives you the freedom- owners are very supportive people. I never forget it is owner’s money. I entertain much more than other general managers. This restaurant (Diya) is not about making money, but quality and perception. Earlier  people did not talk about the quality here, they were complaining  about the food’  it was too heavy, and boring and too traditional. So we changed the decor- at only Rs. 6 lakhs! We have made the prices very reasonable. The food is light and pleasing to the palate. It’s all about flavours now.  We have to be receptive to the change and the management has been quite supportive.

Koopman has been very appreciative of the management. ‘Quality of construction here is absolutely top class. Mr. Gehlot is a quality oriented operator. This hotel is the benchmark property for him as a developer too. His son Aman and daughter-in-law Surbhi Gehlot have been excellent to work with. Of course, I have had to wear two hats-the owner hat and the Leela hat. We have to give the best return to the owner but in a correct and honest manner and I have been able to maintain a good balance. ‘

‘One thing I like about Leela, they are not a cookie cutter company. We believe in no short term goal but long term customer experience’, he adds.

Michel Koopman has made hundreds of friends at the Leela Gurgaon and one hopes his career choice would be to stay within India (in fact I would be willing to bet he will stay back.) In that sense, I hoped it was Adios and not Goodbye to a man who did great for wines and the clients;  especially wine lovers will miss him.

Good luck to him for his future assignment and Jai Ho!

Subhash Arora

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