Train for one kind of career, excel in a totally different one. This is the story of Renee Tang. “I went from high finance to property marketing, just like that,” says the confident and impressive Director of Pacific Place Jakarta. “It was a difficult transition at first because I had no background in marketing. But it was also good because I just tried to look at my programmes and activities based on common sense and my instincts about what shoppers would look for.”
Renee spent most of her early life overseas. “I moved to Singapore at the age of 7,” she recalls. “I went to school there until I was 13 and then moved to LA, where I stayed until I graduated from UCLA.” She studied at University of California Los Angeles, where she made the dean’s list and earned a Bachelor’s degree in Economics in 2002.
During her time at UCLA, Renee interned for a summer at the Holiday Palace resort in Poipet, Cambodia, where among other tasks she restructured all historic cash ledger entries into accrual basis financial statements. She later interned at Merrill Lynch in Los Angeles, where she researched US fixed income and equity markets to aid high net-worth individuals in capitalising their portfolios. After graduating from UCLA, Renee went on to University of Michigan to gain her Master’s degree in Accounting in 2003.
Armed with her degrees, Renee joined Merrill Lynch Asia Pacific, working in its Hong Kong and Singapore offices from 2004 to 2006. Among her duties, she advised on a US$168 million investment by United Overseas Bank and executed IPOs and other deals worth between US$400 million and US$600 million for corporate clients including Tata Motors.
In 2007, it was finally time for Renee to return to Indonesia. She took a position in the finance department of Pacific Place and began working under the supervision of Tan Kian, CEO of Duta Mutiara, and Commissioner Daniel Budiman.
“Mr. Tan is very direct,” says Renee. “He says what he means. He will tell you off if you do things wrong, but in a good way. I would rather have someone be honest with me if I’m missing the mark. He was hands-on at the beginning, but as the management team became bigger he delegated all responsibilities to us.”
Renee was part of a team of just three people at the very beginning. “I joined in August 2007, when Pacific Place was still a construction site,” she recalls. “We opened in November. Soon after we launched, Mr. Budiman asked me to move into marketing. Although I wasn’t sure about it, he encouraged me to try. He sensed that I would be good at the work.”
The highlights of her days in marketing including working with world-class partners like international event planner Preston Bailey. “Under his direction, we made 10,000 paper butterflies in many different colours for a summertime display in the atrium,” Renee recalls.
“It was an amazing project, the first time we worked with an international decorator. It was an honour to meet him and work with his team. We also worked with Swarovski to create a crystal Santa for Christmas 2013. Another time, we hired an aerialist from Russia who hung 8 to 10 metres from the ceiling and did a series of stunts. She did two shows a day for three weeks. She insisted on not having a safety net.”
Milestones for the mall during that period included the arrival of Galeries Lafayette, which signed a 10-year contract to become an anchor tenant, and the creation of an alfresco dining area on the ground floor. “That project came about after Potato Head opened and made a huge impression on everyone,” says Renee. “Thanks to Potato Head’s example, the concept of lifestyle F&B became a big thing at Pacific Place. Then Hard Rock came in four years ago, which was all part of the plan for lifestyle F&B. We’ve also seen Cork & Screw, Superloco and Chamber open restaurants and bars in the mall.”
As for the fashion side, “When Prada and Miu Miu came in in 2013, it was on an exclusive basis. These are their only stores in Indonesia. This development solidified our position as a distinctive luxury mall. Meanwhile, good friends like Hermes and Louis Vuitton have been part of the Pacific Place story more or less from the beginning.”
After Renee had completed five years in marketing, Budiman asked her to move up to the extremely important position of head of leasing, which she describes as “the heart and soul of the business – it’s where the revenues come in, and it’s a stressful position,” in 2013. “Maybe the timing wasn’t perfect from a personal point of view because I had got married and I was pregnant,” she smiles. She has a two-year-old daughter, while her second child is due in June.
Renee is still responsible for leasing today: “It’s enjoyable work for me. I get to meet with the tenants and learn how they work, and how as landlords we should interact with them and support them.” Her main objective is to manage the leasing of spaces at Pacific Place Mall in order to create more traffic and sales for the benefit of all tenants. It’s a job that’s getting trickier all the time as malls and retailers face increasing digital competition and have to adapt their businesses to survive.
“I enjoyed my marketing role, but after a while the work became repetitive,” says Renee. “I asked about the possibility of moving into the leasing department, and I was pleased when the opportunity to move over came along.”
There have been ups and downs along the way, of course. A big disappointment, says Renee, was when former anchor tenant Metro, which occupied 10,000 sqm, declined to renew its 10-year contract. “We were anticipating it,” she admits. “They got off on the wrong foot when they decided to go for a higher concept and named the department store M. They brought in an architect from Europe who created a design that would probably have worked very well in Germany. But it was a bit cold, not welcoming, for Indonesian consumers and they didn’t respond well to it. The store subsequently reverted back to the tried and tested Metro concept, but it was always a bit of a struggle for them to recover.
“What we learned from all this was that having two department stores was one too many for the mall. Right now, we are into a new phase for the property in which we are converting the space Metro once occupied into speciality areas that are in line with each mall level’s tenancy mix. The ground floor level will be for luxury and high-end dining, the first floor for beauty and fashion, the second floor for living products and electronics. Best Denki will relocate, along with Goods Dept and Clarins. We are also bringing in a new non-retail tenant, Wall Street, the language school.
“Meanwhile, Galeries Lafayette is changing to meet the changing tastes of consumers. They have reduced their women’s fashion by half and brought in fresh attractions like a Starbucks Reserve café and a new area for children. Contrary to some rumours, Kemchiks supermarket (another anchor tenant) is undergoing a major renovation after 10 years and is due to reopen in February. Also in February, we will be welcoming H&M. They will take the space on the first floor that Goods Dept. used to have. On the entertainment side, CGV cinema is renovating and will convert two of its regular auditoriums into Gold Class.”
Renee believes that in the next five years, malls will adapt to changes in the market by offering shorter contracts of three to five years and striving to find more non-retail tenants. “There will be more emphasis on entertainment, on giving families and children fun things to do and eat,” she says.
As she prepares to return to the mall from her office to review how the day is progressing, Renee grins as this writer bemoans the many closures of record stores and book shops that have taken place in recent years.
“It’s sad I know, but we have to keep up with the times,” she says. “Millennials don’t want CDs anymore. They prefer to download or stream their music. They read books and magazines on their phones. In an era when people are increasingly buying even their groceries and other essentials online, brick-and-mortar malls and retailers have to keep coming up with new experiences to attract customers.”