tv Leaders with Lacqua Bloomberg September 10, 2016 4:30am-5:01am EDT
you don't see that every day. introducing wifi pro, wifi that helps grow your business. comcast business. built for business. ♪ haslinda: hello and welcome to "highfliers." that show that gives you a 360 degree view of asia's business elite. we made one of asia's youngest and most prominent hoteliers. this millennial is leading a billion-dollar brand. she is helping to expand its presence east and west.
let's meet sonia cheng. ♪ haslinda: with properties from new york to beijing, sonia cheng is taking rose woods altra luxury hotels to the next level. ♪ haslinda: they have welcomed everyone from rockstar legends to heads of state to hot shots in the corporate world, but that is not enough. she is learning to double rosewood's portfolio and make a massive push into asia. >> good to see you. haslinda: time now for this high flyer to join us and map out the luxury route ahead. ♪
haslinda: sonia cheng, welcome to highfliers. sonia: thank you. haslinda: you took over the company at the ripe old age of 29. you have been pretty aggressive in your strategy. i mean, you talk about the carlyle hotel in new york, other iconic hotels including the one in paris. were you trying to prove a point? sonia: yeah, i think that when i started, i am sure because of my age, and that i don't have the standard resume of a hotel professional, people were probably questioning if i could do it. i think that really incentivized me, and pushes me to achieve the goals and the vision that we were setting out to do. haslinda: it was new world hospitality, that was the brand. but when you took over rosewood, you decided to use the rosewood brand. why? sonia: the rosewood brand is
known more globally so we thought it is more appropriate to use it as our umbrella brand. haslinda: and you have always wanted a luxury hotel brand as well. that has always been your vision. rosewood just fitted quite nicely. sonia: absolutely. when i started eight or nine years ago, i wanted to create a luxury brand from scratch. i have a vision, i have a concept of the brand. the rosewood beijing property was supposed to be my first flagship of this luxury brand. i even had a name for it. haslinda: and the name was? sonia: i might even create another brand for that name. it was a vision i was having and the concept aligned and everything complemented each other and fit perfectly. i believe the rosewood at the time had so much potential to be an even greater brand. haslinda: your grandfather, cheng yu-tung, he decided to get into the hotel business because he couldn't get the service he needed or wanted when he was in the hotel once. he wanted a glass of milk, but
could not get someone to deliver it to him so he thought, i can do it better. how much inspiration do you get from your granddad? sonia: a lot. he has been a wonderful role model for me. when you work within the company, you understand how much respect my grandfather has because he is so down to earth, he is so humble, even though he is such a successful businessman. that kind of humility is very inspiring for me, and how he created such a loyal group of people who work for him. i think it is very important. at the same time, the fact that he has the long-term vision of creating these landmarks in hong kong and in china, the inspires me to also create something of my own, and is something different. haslinda: it is a family business. was there apprehension? when you had the vision, was dad or granddad nervous? sonia: no, they were very
supportive. when my grandfather and dad started, they were one of the most successful visionaries in the hotel space. they were the first people that developed luxury hotel in china. the hotels they developed in hong kong have been able to set standards for the hotel industry for years to come so they have become a role model for me. when i started with this company, what i wanted to create, i think they see similarities of what they wanted to do 23 years ago. they have been such a great inspiration and i wanted to, three generations down, achieve something similar. haslinda: you are possibly the youngest, if not one of the youngest hotel ceos out there. one of a few, very few women in the industry. how difficult was it for you starting out?
sonia: there were definitely challenges in the beginning so what i did, i disregard what other people think. i just go with my gut, go with what i believe in, and in the beginning i took a crash course on hotels. i studied sales and marketing and the hotel operation, how does a kitchen work, how does human resources work. so, within a short few months, it was a very steep learning curve. and it actually propelled me to work harder to make up for some of the standard experience that i should have. but i do not believe it is something that is necessary because i bring a different perspective, i think, to the industry, and it complements with the team of professionals i have hired which have 30 and 40 years of experience. haslinda: truth be told, you always wanted to be different even and harvard when economics was popular, you chose to read applied mathematics. so, you have always wanted to be
different. sonia: yeah, i take that is my character. i think i have always wanted to stand out of the crowd. i do not want to go with the flow. and like with rosewood, i push the team to always be ahead of others, to always go out and explore because the whole industry is constantly evolving. haslinda: be a millennium do you think that is an -- being a millennial yourself, do you think that is an advantage? do you think you know the inspiration of your generation? sonia: i think it helps that i am in that age category. i think that age category complements very well with my team, who are more seasoned hotel professionals. i think had been in that age category, being in the younger generation, i keep a very open mind, and i see things differently, and i bring a different perspective. i do think that the new
generation do look at things differently. they get attracted to different channels, for example. when we look at marketing in the past, traditional advertising, print is the way to go but now we should be focusing on social media, we should be focusing more on the digital channel. we should look at the different strategies of advertising at -- advertising and positioning ourselves. haslinda: what is the key to playing with the big boys, to being a global brand? sonia: i think hiring the right people, holding the right culture is very important component of creating a successful hotel brand. ♪ haslinda: next on highfliers -- sonia: they are not looking for glitz and glam anymore. it is not about chandeliers. haslinda: no chandeliers. ♪
♪ haslinda: sonja, when you acquired rosewood, you talkedcqe brand, which was five years ago, rosewood has been a very established brand in the u.s. mostly in the u.s., mexico, the caribbean, it has been a brand that has been established for 30 years. we think this philosophy really resonates with today's affluent travelers, and we wanted to take the brand across and introduce the brand to other parts of the world in asia and europe. so, when we acquired the brand with our background and connection in asia, we thought it is a great marriage to bring the brand across through asia and introduces wonderful philosophy to this part of the world.
haslinda: what is that philosophy? what is the rosewood dna? you are talking about the next wave of travelers. sonia: nowadays, the affluent travelers are not looking for the traditional glitz and glam anymore. it is not about chandeliers in the hotels. haslinda: no chandeliers? [laughter] sonia: no chandeliers in the hotel. it is all about the experience that you give to the guest and the customers. and it is about personalizing the experience and creating a special experience for our guests. for example, we launched rosewood, the brand in asia two years ago in beijing, and rosewood beijing has been a very successful flagship and introducing the brand to our guests. constantly, we get great guest feedback saying we just want to stay in the hotel all day because we provide such a great experience. we bring the culture and sense of place of beijing and to the hotel. haslinda: including the restaurants. sonia: we do not create typical hotel restaurants. we create standalone restaurants
that are inspired by the local cuisine. we cater to the local residents of beijing. we cater to the local residents of beijing, so it becomes a destination for the local people. so, we bring the culture into the hotel rather than having the guest go out. that is the ideal and the experience, the journey we want to create. haslinda: your strategy in the next five to 10 years, i know there are a lot of expansions planned. share with us. sonia: we have 16 hotels in the pipeline under construction so our target is to double the portfolio in the next five years. we are very selective when choosing our next hotel. we want them in the right location, the right city. we do not want to be a cookie-cutter hotel chain. you want to be a special collection of really, truly landmark properties. so that is our strategy for rosewood.
we want to be one of the leading hotel operators and asia. our lifestyle hotel brand is really a fun, edgy lifestyle brand targeting the next generation of travelers that are much more liberal, much more open-minded. it is not stuffy. it is introducing the informal hospitality to this new generation. we have 27 around the world at the moment, and we are targeting to double the size and the next couple of years as well. haslinda: what are you looking for in a location? are there attributes it must have? sonia: definitely, a good location is very important. haslinda: history? sonia: history will be an advantage so sometimes we look at heritage buildings that have a strong culture, and a strong story behind it.
something very attractive to us. rosewood london was open in a building that was built in the 1920's and it has a beautiful courtyard, has a very strong history. it all fits. we also look at exotic resort locations. we wanted to explore locations in terms of resorts that are untapped as well as the ones that are very popular as well. so, it depends on the location, and the vision of the owner, whether we are aligned, and the program as well. haslinda: you have a very strong and experienced management team. was it difficult putting that team in place? you have people with 30 years experience in the industry. sonia: it was definitely not easy. i remember when i just started, this company was about eight years ago. and, eight years ago, i was 28. 28, 29. i was supposed to run this company. i was supposed to create this brand and create this wonderful portfolio and have the vision.
and at that time, i did not know anything about hotels. i grew up surrounded by hotels that my family has been developing for a long time, but actually being in a hotel and running a business, it was definitely my first time. so, to convince this team of professionals where they are the best professionals in the industry from all of the successful, international brands, to come over, was a very challenging task. it takes a lot of persuasion. haslinda: what was the selling point? sonia: i think it was very exciting for them to be part of a young company where they can really roll up their sleeves and create a culture from scratch, and create what they really believe in, and what they are passionate for, and build their own team, and be a cofounder almost. they are not just working for a big hotel company but they are
part of the making of a brand. haslinda: is it more difficult getting talent in asia versus the u.s., europe? sonia: i think different regions have different challenges. at the end of the day, it is about creating an environment where associates are very passionate about what they do. they believe in the vision, they believe in the dream, and you allow them to have the opportunity to grow. for them, it is very important, particularly for the young generations. they want to know what their career path will be. they want to know that they will be moving along. i think it is about engaging them and giving them opportunities. and for us, the senior leadership, my philosophy is that we are very down to earth. we engage our people to be part of the creation of the company, so i think that is something that is very important, and great loyalty within the company. haslinda: coming up --
♪ haslinda: you have achieved so much in about 5, 6 years. is it increasingly difficult to meet expectations, exceed expectations? and you are a go getter as well. you set a really high bar for yourself. is it difficult? sonia: you know, it is a great challenge. when you continuously raise your bar, it is something that we push ourselves to achieve because i think the industry is constantly evolving, things are changing very fast, and we have to push ourselves to move forward. we have to be continuously ahead of others, that is the goal we set for ourselves. haslinda: growing up, you had the best of both worlds, east and west. you were educated in harvard. how does that help you develop a global perspective?
sonia: yes. i grew up in hong kong so i have a very strong asian values. my family is very traditional, they are very chinese. so, i think that sets a very good foundation in terms of the values that i believe in. and then when i was 13, 14, i went to boarding school in the united states and i spent eight years there. i think the blend of east and west has helped the way i manage my company and the way i see the business, both international, having an international view as well as very strong asian values is very important, particularly in this industry. it is already globalized. so asia, being such a strong feeder market to the west and being able to understand the culture in asia and how asian people think, and the philosophy, it helps as well.
haslinda: it is very asian and very chinese to consult the elders before making a decision. how much does that happen within the family before you make decisions for rosewood? sonia: so, my father is a very, i guess, i would say cool boss. [laughter] haslinda: and a cool dad. sonia: he is not micromanaging. he actually gives you the freedom to build a business on your own. from time to time when it comes to major decisions we will need his approval, and i'm very transparent with him and very direct in terms of what needs to be done, and what needs to be reported. and of course, there will be ideas and incidents where we disagree, and i will not be afraid to speak out and voice my opinion. haslinda: but how our differences ironed out? sonia: usually i win. [laughter] haslinda: because you are the daughter. sonia: no, no, no.
because he is very experienced and he has a lot of strong business acumen so there's a lot i learned from him. one thing i make a conscious effort to do is listen to others. it is not always about what i think is right. there are so many people around me that have such great experience that you need to learn from, so, i listen a lot to my father. and at the end of the day, we would banter, we would argue, we would share ideas, and somehow come to a conclusion together that we are both involved with. haslinda: there is a chinese saying that wealth never survives three generations. your the third generation. how do you view that? sonia: yes, i have heard that saying. i mean, there is definitely -- i have not failed yet and i hope that i will not, but there is a
pressure to excel, and a pressure to succeed because seeing how my father has been so successful and my grandfather has been so successful, you do not want to be the person who pulls everything down. so there is a significant amount of pressure on your shoulders to keep this legacy, and to create the next success story for the family. haslinda: you have proven to be very dedicated, very committed, because i remember you cut short your honeymoon to go back to work. what happened? sonia: yes, i am very passionate about the business and very passionate about the brand we are creating. it so, there are certain sacrifices you have to make in your personal life. haslinda: and your husband was ok with it? sonia: he was ok with it, and i stand by the decision. it is so important to be there and to be present and to be really hands-on, and involved in the business, and to work with a
team very closely to create the business. haslinda: and it remains a juggling act. you are a mom of three. how do you spread yourself? it must be very thin. right? it must be tough. sonia: it is a challenge. i have three children and my oldest is three and a half, my youngest is five months. it is definitely not an easy task to balance, but i think it is about how you make most of your time. when i am at work, i really focus on being productive and make the most of my time at the office to do everything that i need to do about the business. and then when i'm with the children, i do not get distracted by work, and i focus 100% of my attention with the children as well. so, that balance helps keep me sane and keep me balanced. haslinda: do you see yourself as a role model? at 35, mid-30's, you have achieved so much.
you are probably seen as a role model to a lot of girls, women out there. do you see yourself as one? sonia: i am not sure if i am a role model because of my experience, and the journey i've had, i probably can give quite a bit of advice to younger girls and boys, not just girls. [laughter] sonia: for the next generation. hopefully, they can learn from a me but for me, i still have a lot to learn. there is a lot of room for me to grow as well, and i'm constantly looking for different learning opportunities, and constantly looking to discover new experience and ideas. haslinda: your own ambitions for yourself maybe 10, 15 years from now, if you were to look back, what would you like people to come i guess, admire you for, or acknowledge the achievements of? sonia: 10, 15 years down the
road i would love rosewood to be the hotel brand that everyone is talking about. that we are the trendsetters, we are a company that everyone would love to work for. we are the role model that everyone looks up to. so 10, 15 years down the road if that is something i have created, i will be very, very happy and very proud. haslinda: sonia cheng, thank you so much. sonia: thank you. ♪
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