Q: You owned and ran your own business before quitting to go into hospitality, what made you make that decision and why hospitality?
A: In high school, I had dreamed of owning my own business; it was how I measured success. After I graduated, I started supplying Japanese tatami to shopping centres in Beijing, but after a couple of successful years, I realised I wasn’t particularly enjoying myself.
I hadn’t really thought what to do next, but the opportunity to study hotel management for three years in Switzerland arose. The school was incredible, set up like a five-star property where you could really learn about every department and it gave me the opportunity to do two international internships.
Q: Where did you intern?
A: The first time was for six months in England, near Oxford. That’s when I realised that I’d received an extremely high level of training and education in Switzerland. It really opened my eyes. I was the first intern to receive an award from the hotel for achievement and they asked me to stay.
My second internship was an F&B management position in a Marriott hotel in the US. Again I learned so much and discovered that my passions were travel and interacting with people, so hospitality was a great career choice for me! I still find this work more rewarding and interesting than owning my own business.
Q: What memories stand out for you from that experience?
A: My manager was a great mentor and he taught me how to deal with situations and to create memorable experiences for guests. The first month he told me to just be on the floor and find out what the guests wanted. This had a huge impact on my future and how I personally manage my team – focusing not just on skills but also, most powerfully, how to create guest memories.
Q: Do you have a special memory from that time?
A: I remember some guests saying: “Seeing your smiling face in the morning somehow made my day.” It’s such a simple thing, but had a huge impact on me. Passion and energy from one person can spread through a team and have a positive influence on guests too. That was when I decided that this was a career that I could follow for the rest of my life.
Q: Your first job was at Beijing Marriott West, a boutique hotel, then you were on the pre-opening team for China’s second Westin hotel, The Westin Beijing Financial Street, an extremely busy business hotel where you worked for six years. Moving to Bali to the premier St. Regis Bali Resort must have been hugely different, how did you adapt?
A: Yes, it really was different. In Beijing, we had 700 rooms and mostly corporate customers. It was busy from early morning to late evening. The pace is so different in Bali, initially even when we were running at 100 percent I really didn’t feel busy.
The biggest challenge for me was adapting to the different work culture. In Beijing, everyone is very straightforward and very direct. Employee turnover is very high and everyone knows that with The Westin Beijing Financial Street on their resume, they can easily find work elsewhere.
Customer demands were also different; they wanted an instant response. At the St. Regis, the clientele were high profile and naturally had very high service expectations. Eighty percent of the employees were Balinese, so I had to adjust to be able to work productively and effectively in that environment. I had to learn about the local culture and habits to find a way to achieve our common goal.
Q: With your F&B background, have you been involved much in the restaurants at The Laguna?
A: Yes, I’ve been involved quite a lot. I love food, I love to eat and here at The Laguna, as it is a Luxury Collection hotel, every aspect of the hotel, including the menus, must incorporate local elements so that we can give guests a true sense of place. As travel is my passion, I find this aspect fascinating; I want to experience what the local families are doing every day. So we strive to transfer the Balinese story into everything, including our restaurants, and spend time creating ways to link our F&B to the local culture to make things truly memorable for our guests and give them the opportunity to experience some of the hidden charms of Bali.
Q: How have your experiences in Bali impacted on your personal life?
A: It has been a life-changing experience. The culture is amazing, spiritual and so unique. The local people follow their rituals every day and we can learn so much from this. The more you learn, the more you understand their reactions and behaviour, which helps me a lot with people management.
Q: Who would you say has had the biggest influence on your professional life and how did they influence you?
A: I’ve been lucky, all my managers have really been great mentors and helped shape my career. My mother has also always encouraged and supported me to follow my own path, wherever it takes me.
Q: What advice would you give to people interested in working in hospitality?
A: Being able to enjoy the moment makes such a difference in this highly demanding work. It’s a hard industry, but your passion will lead you to success.