Twenty two high quality restaurant and bars across Asia and in Europe-plus an exceptional boutique hotel at the IndoChine Group property in Kalim, near Patong.
Not bad for a 42-year-old, Laotian, Thai, Australian raised, “bloke” who never worked behind a bar or waited on tables in his life.
But Michael Ma, otherwise known to hundreds of his closest friends as, “The Dude,” is no ordinary “bloke.”
In 1999,, he started IndoChine Group of bars and restaurants with a philosophy of integrated cuisine drawn from his roots in Asia, a Laotian mother, a Thai father, a sense of Asian history and an innate talent for partying.
Michael recently sat down to tell Phuketindex.com how he’s done it in just over a decade.
Michael Ma’s unrelenting, energetic enthusiasm for building the IndoChine empire is undiminished after more than a decade.
The Phuket property-“our second biggest investment ever”-has six bars, restaurants, Surin beach club and a total of just under 300 rooms across villas, condos and a five star boutique hotel in possibly the best location in Asia. [IndoChine’s first venture into the hotel business]. Add in magnificent two to six bedroom villas, two to four bedroom condos and studio apartments and the site can cater for any type of visitor.
Says Michael: “Overall it is the best site you can have in Asia. It combines great views, a beach nearby, rain forest and being on the side of a mountain, all close to the large population centre, Patong.” He also looked at other places like Bali and Uluwatu, Indonesia; Sawarak, Malaysia; India, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Krabi and Koh Samui, but found there was no comparison to the Phuket site.
The Kalim Beach enterprise is the Thailand platform for further expansion. Michael hints at other Thai investments in the future. IndoChine Group is already 50-50 partner in a management company with two highly successful American resort companies, ResortCom and LaTour Group.
But that’s the now.
What about the before with Michael Ma? How did he achieve such success in a relatively short space of time, particularly his preparation for being an award winning entrepreneur, award winning host and all round “cool dude” was not exactly textbook.
An Unconventional Path
Like other successful entrepreneurs-Richard Branson of Virgin Group, Tony Fernandes of Air Asia-both friends of Michael, Michael Ma is a bit off the wall. It’s the secret of their success.
Michael started his career on the edge early; he got kicked out school aged four for stealing fi ghting fi sh from school boarders. The fish went in his pocket but he went out of the school, expelled! The incident underlined his love of animals and led to his long career in conservation, working with global environmental NGOs such as IUCN.
After obtaining a double major in economics and marketing in Australia and a successful career as an economist and commodities trader he started his first IndoChine restaurant and bar in Singapore in 1999.
All that without serving behind the bar or being a waiter!
Michael’s explanation for this somewhat strange phenomenon is that he learned on the job. “We listen to our customers. I am a customer. We do continuous testing. You can go out and spend time working in a bar and a restaurant, but the reality is that running a business is not that simple.”
In the early days this desire to make a strong statement, meant Michael having the confidence and drive to beat the competition. “Being cheeky I said to myself I could outrun these guys. From the outset I wanted to be at the top. I sized myself up against others regionally and globally.”
Michael sees development of the IndoChine signature experience as taking the best of every possible culture, cuisine and lifestyle to develop “hybrids,” a cross pollination of ideas. And what you will defi nitely find in every IndoChine bar/restaurant outlet, is a party.
Party Animal Keeps on Going.
Michael’s unrelenting partying days started at around 14 years old. As he says: “It’s in my DNA. When I first started I had a day job, but my night job was partying.” Does he get tired of it? The answer is an emphatic “no.”
And why shouldn’t he when IndoChine is regarded as “the “iconic place to go in Singapore and, now, with the opening of Surin Beach Club: Stereolab at Surin Beach, on Phuket? The beach club, which Michael’s sister Sue, who is responsible for the Thailand development, initiated and put in place, is packing in late night party goers from nearby up market hotels and around the island.
It is being further extended from the nightclub and restaurant area out onto Surin Beach. As Michael describes it: “It [Surin] is a beach going F and B [food and beverage].”
Other developments in Thailand are in the works, but cannot be divulged yet. Abu Dhabi and Dubai outlets, or joint ventures, are also on the radar screen.
For Michael Ma, father of two children, peripatetic regional traveler, party animal, businessman, environmentalist and host-with-most, Thailand is very much, at present, a positive work in progress.