Skift Live

Ronald Akili


Potato Head Family

Ronald Akili is an entrepreneur, innovator and changemaker who thrives on challenging the status quo in every industry he touches.

The Jakarta, Indonesia, native spent his teenage years in Hawaii and studied at University of Hawaii before returning to his home with a mission in mind: to put Indonesia on the map. Ronald began his professional career inspired to promote Indonesian architecture, which he did in 2007 by cultivating the archipelago’s first residential project with a sustainable philosophy. He called upon 10 of the best architects in Indonesia to design 20 homes, each one unique but united in a shared context. Not a single tree was cut, the natural contour was left intact, and the structure was built using only locally sourced materials, with a vegetable garden for the community and the existing lake revitalized for water treatment use.

This journey to create Jakarta’s first green destination was a precursor and testament to Ronald’s vision when it comes to finding sustainable solutions in the pursuit of living well. Next, Ronald followed his heart into the food and beverage (F&B) industry, opening a restaurant with his business partner for his wife, Sandra, a chef who later ran the kitchen. That “fun project” was called Potato Head, and it sparked a movement even he did not expect.
After just one year, Potato Head expanded to Bali, where the original concept grew into a venue comprising restaurants, a beach club and entertainment. Potato Head quickly became the first destination for every visitor to the island, and redefined the idea—both locally and globally—of what a beach club could be. Even as Ronald’s unmissable creation became known as one of the best in the world, he wasn’t finished evolving.

Next, Ronald took on the hotel industry, building Katamama, an all-suite boutique property that put Indonesia’s incredible craftsmanship and artisans on the global map while amassing acclaim and accolades from the likes of Condé Nast Traveller, Travel + Leisure and TripAdvisor. All the while Ronald fine-tuned his master plan for Potato Head, which he had begun to see as an opportunity to not only serve guests but inspire them. He envisioned a creative village, a notion previously unheard of in the industry. Drawing from his education and personal experience across art, real estate, F&B and hotels, he carefully conceived a lifestyle brand and destination that would empower visitors through rich culture, sustainable innovation, a fun-loving attitude and the tropical lifestyle that’s so core to Bali’s and Potato Head’s DNA.

Desa Potato Head—“desa” meaning village in the Indonesian language—opened in 2020, the realization of Ronald’s decade-long personal growth and vision. Its 225 rooms, six restaurants and many experiences were thoughtfully crafted by the community, for the community, a cross a carbon neutral campus. There is a music recording studio, gallery, sustainability workshops for adults and children at Sweet Potato Lab; a curated library, listening lounge and co-working center called Studio Eksotika; and a streaming station called Headstream, which broadcasts talks and musical programs from local artists and rising stars 12 hours a day. Transparency is a key tenet of Potato Head, especially around where the food comes from and where the waste ends up. Ronald’s “Good Times, Do Good” motto enables travelers the opportunity to balance incredible experiences with actions that make the world a better place. National Geographic, Architectural Digest, Departures, Conde Nast Traveller and Travel + Leisure have praised Ronald’s efforts with Desa Potato Head.

Ronald’s mission is using the hospitality industry to spread goodness in the world and improve the planet. Potato Head is the first carbon-neutral company in the region, in partnership with the United Nations, and is dedicated to zero waste, claiming the first zero-waste restaurant in the region, Ijen. While serving 3,000-plus people daily, just 3% of rubbish goes into a landfill, with the other 97% managed through recycling and reuse, including much that is transformed into functional, beautiful products and hotel amenities. Ronald’s latest venture, Wasted Collective, is a brand of apparel, footwear and travel essentials made from recycled, reused or recrafted materials.

By continuing to innovate solutions and push the boundaries of regenerative hospitality, Ronald has become a leader in the industry. In 2021, he was recognized by Condé Nast Traveller as one of 20 people taking action to look after the planet. Potato Head supports and invests in young changemakers, too, by partnering with Green School Bali. Through his actions, Ronald models responsibility and family values, welcoming and caring for every guest as a friend and encouraging interaction between members of the community, however short or long their time in the village. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Potato Head began a community farming initiative dubbed Sweet Potato Project, and harvested roughly 1,800 kilograms of food while providing more than 12,500 meals to the local community, delivered in buses fueled by used cooking oil.

Ronald’s emphasis on family and culture has roots in his own jet-set upbringing—his Art Nouveau collector father, Rudy Akili, founded the prominent Jakarta travel agency Smailing Tours, and so he grew up traveling the world. He is a voracious reader, typically consuming one book per week on subjects ranging widely, from design to self-help. Ronald currently lives in Singapore with his wife, Sandra, and their four children.

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