Belonging to a private members’ club has long been a unique representation of wealth and power in Asia—particularly during the 1980s and 1990s, the elite couldn’t get enough of their local country club’s slatted plastic deckchairs and poolside club sandwiches (that were mediocre, at best).
Now, there’s a new breed of private members’ club that caters to the next generation’s appetite for culture and community. More substance than status symbol, these spaces serve as conduits for creativity through programmes that revolve around the arts, current affairs and networking, alongside exclusive, intimate experiences.
One such establishment is Mandala Club, owned by Singapore‑based real estate and events company Mandala Group. “Everything we do is blanketed in the human need for meaningful connection, whereby we can create depth of community,” says Ben Jones, the co‑founder and CEO of Mandala Group. “If you’ve got 2,000 members and they don’t know one another, it’s not a community—it’s just a group of people. Our job is to facilitate genuine connection.”
In 2021, Mandala Group officially acquired and renovated the 22,000 square feet, four‑storey heritage shophouse at Bukit Pasoh that was formerly Straits Clan, a private members’ club that paid tribute to Singapore’s clan associations. After taking over the space from home‑grown hospitality company The Lo & Behold Group, it officially rebranded the property as Mandala Club.
Read more: 5 Exclusive Private Clubs In Singapore
There were some concerns from existing members and the community at large during the transition: could a group that’s essentially run by foreigners really embrace and represent Singapore’s creative set, or was it destined to become another watering hole for expats? To that, Jones says: “Mandala is a company that was born in Singapore—and which is proudly Singaporean. If someone wants to tap into the dynamic and exciting elements of arts and culture in this country, [Mandala Club] is the place to do it.”
Born in Wales, Jones was five years old when his father, a teacher, got the opportunity to work in Hong Kong. His family lived there for six years until a head teaching role at an international school in Penang brought the Joneses to the Malaysian state.
“My father still lives in Penang,” says Jones, who returned to the UK to finish secondary school before attending the University of Bath, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science, Business Administration and Management. But Jones had other interests. In his teens and early twenties, he shares, he would buy Wallpaper magazine rather than men’s fashion titles such as GQ. “I was always a very creative person and in school, my passion was always design,” he shares. “But after graduating, I had the opportunity to get into investment banking. And in the 1990s and early 2000s, banking was what tech is now: the big industry where everyone was earning lots of money. Everyone wanted a piece of it.”
Investment banking ultimately brought Jones back to Asia, where he worked at Goldman Sachs and then UBS in Hong Kong, before moving to Singapore to take on a role at VTB Capital. “It was a kind of homecoming. London is one of my favourite cities in the world … but only to visit,” he quips. “Asia is home.”
While living in Singapore, and after about a decade of working in the finance sector, Jones’s penchant for design became an itch he had to scratch. His first venue was gastropub Oxwell & Co, followed by the beloved cocktail bar Operation Dagger, which was a mainstay on The World’s 50 Best Bars list before it closed permanently in 2020.
“It was that classic ‘banker sets up a side gig’ situation,” says Jones, who was hands‑on in the interior design process for his venues, all done in‑house. He then took his ventures to Bali with the development of premium beach club Ulu Cliffhouse and a series of luxury private villas, including Mandala the House, which, with its sunken living room and glass‑bottom pool, is one of the most copied villas on the Island of the Gods.
“All of these projects combined my passion for design and hospitality. There was a point about four or five years ago when my wife said to me, ‘You’re putting half of your heart and soul into two things. You should pick one and do it as best you can,’” Jones recalls, adding that even though he wrestled between the stability of banking and the excitement of following his passion, he ultimately chose the latter.
In 2019, it all came full circle when Wallpaper, the magazine that inspired his love for design, published a story that read: “In just a few years, [Mandala Group] has become something of a byword for luxury accommodation in Bali.”
During the pandemic, Jones and his team added five more villas to their Bali repertoire with The Residences, four three‑bedroom villas in the heart of the island’s Berawa district, and Mandala the Oasis, an impressive five‑bedroom villa in buzzy Canggu complete with a private gym, a Moroccan‑style rooftop and an infinity pool overlooking rice paddy fields. When travel restrictions to Bali eased in early 2022, Jones travelled to the island in April on a dual mission: to see the newly built villas for the first time and to return to Ulu Cliffhouse, which welcomed its first major international act—Berlin‑based South Korean DJ Peggy Gou—since Bali halted international travel due to the pandemic.
Following the trip, an elated Jones took to Instagram to post a spirited caption accompanying a gallery of photos from his trip: “Onwards, upwards … because Bali’s back! Canggu was buzzing, all our properties are full, [Ulu Cliffhouse] had over 2,500 through its doors for Peggy Gou, and there is some new exciting stuff in the pipeline!”