President of Dorsett Hospitality International Winnie Chiu On What She Learned From Her Father
When a family business has deep roots, its youngest custodians can feel bound by tradition. Winnie Chiu, however, chooses not only to honour the past but also to make decisions that will serve the company her grandfather, Deacon Chiu, founded for the challenges of the future.
After graduating from university in London, Hong Kong-born Chiu worked as a financial analyst before joining Far East Consortium International in 2005 as the director of property development. Founded in 1950, the company deals in property development, hotel management and gaming across Asia, Europe and New Zealand.
When Chiu was appointed president of Dorsett Hospitality International in 2010, it had 11 hotels in seven cities, a portfolio that has grown under her leadership to 63 hotels in 30 cities—from Wuhan to London—with a new property set to open in Australia this year. Her first project was overseeing the construction of Plaza Damas, one of the largest commercial projects in Kuala Lumpur, when she was just 23. “I do recognise the head start I was given but I consider myself to be a diligent and respected businesswoman. I choose to work for my family’s company because hospitality inspires me and I’m proud to continue my father’s legacy. But would I have this role if I wasn’t entirely competent? No,” she said in her 2014 interview with Tatler.
Today, her determination is steadfast and her focus is on building the Dorsett brand. Here, the mother-of-two beckons Tatler into her world.
The last time you were on our cover, you had just made Forbes’ list of Asia’s top 12 businesswomen. How did that feel?
It was very humbling to be recognised in such a prestigious list for the role of women in business. I am always looking to use my influence to inspire others to continue to give back and to show women all the possibilities that are out there for us in the business world.
Did you always want to become a hotelier?
My personality drew me to the hotel business. I’ve always loved to watch people and companies grow, I like to experience new things and I am constantly on the lookout for new investment opportunities. As far back as I can remember, my family has been in the cinema, media and even the amusement park business. The one thing that always stood out to me was how they were able to create experiences that brought joy to others. The hotel business has such a wide scope, which keeps me excited about what we do.
What is the biggest lesson you learnt from your father, David—executive director, chairman and chief executive officer of Far East Consortium International—before taking the reins?
My father is incredibly hard-working. He is passionate about everything he does and has always led by example as a kindhearted and warm leader, which is something I strive to be myself. He has taught me that while it is essential for you to always be ready to come up with new ideas and adapt your product offering, it is equally important to invest in and nurture your team. For any professional, it’s not just about succeeding but creating a culture that is long-lasting.
Yours was one of the first hotels in Hong Kong to become a designated quarantine facility for inbound travellers. How have you had to alter your business as a result of Covid-19?
We had to be quick to cater to higher standards of hygiene and safety, and we moved fast to implement AI technology for more efficient cleaning. Dorsett Mart was launched last October to offer gym equipment, groceries, Covid-19 test kits and even CBD oil to help guests relax. We also launched monthly Zoom activities like wine tastings and HIIT classes at our designated quarantine hotels. We partnered with Harmony House [a shelter for abused women and children in Hong Kong], to provide more than 500 hotel room nights for victims of domestic violence.
Coming from a loving family, I know the importance the family environment can play in shaping an individual and hope to provide some relief to those who are currently struggling. We were also the first to provide accommodation for the medical teams in Wuhan, London, Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong. In total, we have looked after more than 4,000 frontliners as well as 150,000 quarantine guests in our hotels globally. Most recently, our hotels in Europe have been appointed as vaccination stations too. The pandemic has only reaffirmed the importance of our core values.
What would you say is your biggest strength? And weakness?
My biggest strength could also be viewed as my weakness. I’m an optimistic and creative person but this also means that sometimes I may be too much of an idealist. Thankfully, though, I surround myself with people who can speak very directly and openly to me, so that I can see things from all perspectives.
How has motherhood changed you?
Becoming a mother has been the most rewarding experience. It has made me a better person and has forced me to work on my patience. My kids have inspired me to get even more involved in helping to build a kinder and more sustainable world to pass onto the next generation.
What are your hopes for the future of hospitality?
I’m part of the third generation of our family business and have had to tackle the traditional misconception that being eco-friendly is expensive. We provide quarantining guests with reusable cutlery and washing-up liquid to encourage them not to use disposable tableware. My hope is to continue to work towards more sustainable hotel practices. We are putting in place a number of measures to reduce water consumption, single-use plastics and food waste, as well as providing our guests with an all-around greener experience through the introduction of solar panels and bio-diesel energy generators.
What are you looking forward to in 2021?
I am eager to have the border open and for travel to resume. I am excited to share that we will be opening our first hotel in Australia—the Dorsett Gold Coast—at the end of the year. This will be followed by Dorsett Perth, Dorsett Melbourne and Dorsett Brisbane, which are already in development, as well as three new properties in London. Back home, Dorsett Kai Tak will be our new Hong Kong flagship as part of the Kai Tak development. I am also working on an eco-farm project in Sai Kung, which will offer visitors a green educational experience and raise awareness of sustainability through a series of farming activities.
How would you define success?
It’s about the legacy I want to leave behind. Both my grandfather, Deacon Chiu, and my father were always enthusiastic about giving back and taught me a lot about inheritance—not inheritance of wealth, but fostering education, family values and love. Now that I am a mother, I am even more determined to devote my time to the younger generation through education, cultural and artistic development.
Do you have any advice for women in business?
It is important to surround yourself with happy people and to believe in and trust yourself.