Winnie Chiu has been president of Dorsett Hospitality International since 2011 and in that time has successfully brought the Chinese hotel group to the UK, opening two hotels, with several more in the pipeline. She talks to us about leadership, why core values are important and key things to consider when running an international business
Winnie Chiu is one of Asia’s leading businesswomen and has been dubbed ‘one to watch’ by Forbes. Having studied at King’s College London she worked in Hong Kong, the UK and Malaysia as an investment banker, shopping mall developer and burger chain operator before entering the world of hotels. In 2009 she joined Dorsett Hospitality International as chief strategy officer, going on to become an executive director in 2010 and president of the company the following year.
The group has received numerous awards for hospitality excellence, including Best Valued Hotels Group Award 2014 by Mediazone Group, Best Hotel Chain at the Travel Weekly Asia Reader’s Choice Awards 2015 and Most Progressing Hotel Group of China at the China Hotel Starlight Awards in 2016.
Having monopolised the Hong Kong market, Dorsett first expanded into London in 2014 with the launch of Dorsett Shepherds Bush. The company’s second hotel, Dorsett City, officially opened in March this year and there are plans for further hotels in East London’s Alpha Square, as well as Crouch End’s Town Hall.
Dorsett Hospitality International has also just announced that planning permission has been approved by the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham Council to transform the Shepherd’s Bush Palladium - and construction is expected to begin this year on 74 new serviced apartments, along with commercial space on the ground and lower ground floors.
If that wasn’t enough to keep Chiu busy, Dorsett has also just acquired a small company with hotels in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic as a platform to expand further into Europe. We caught up with her to talk about leadership, managing a team and the key to running a successful international business.
When did you realise the world of hotels was the one for you?
When I was 13 I did work experience at The Ritz Carlton Hong Kong – the Old Ritz Carlton before it got pulled down and rebuilt. It was such fun – I got to do a rotation of different roles and an overnight shift. I’ve always liked people development too, and when I later went on to work in Food and Beverage I realised I could do more within this area in the hotel sector.
What’s your approach to handling cultural differences when working in different countries?
I just embrace it! Cultural differences can be huge, given the history of a place and religion of the people; and each city also has a very different work culture. A company is a small thing in comparison to a city, so you can’t expect to change a culture – but you can embrace it.
What is key to successfully managing a hotel team?
I don’t think there’s a set way, but to manage your team you need to manage yourself first and to actually know yourself. It’s important to know your own character. I’m a very optimistic person and see opportunity in everything. You need to find a team that complements you. When it comes to mine, I make sure they speak up if I’m going in the wrong direction.
How important is company culture?
I like to delegate a lot and it’s hard to do that if you don’t share the same culture or the same values with people. Core values are so important, and we do quite a lot of core value training at Dorsett with different universities – we just did one with PolyU in Hong Kong, a university for hospitality. Training is not just what you learn from the teacher but what you learn from yourself. I also think it’s important that everybody is away from work for two to three days, so they can socialise, get to know their team and begin to understand the different characters in it.
What lessons have you learned throughout your career?
That we all have different mentors with different expertise in everyday business. At Dorsett, my board members all act as my mentors, so there are many people I can call upon if need be. I’ve also learned that you can inspire staff and colleagues, but you can’t actually change them - so to put them in the right place and give them a good career path can be hard. It’s our job as leaders to make sure people flourish, but it’s easier said than done. No one is perfect, everyone has strengths and weaknesses. But it’s our job to recognise these and put someone in the right role for them.
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs looking to embark on international careers?
Be open-minded. Search for what you want and be open to your research. Once you have embarked on that journey always try out things. You should always review, adopt, review, adopt – it’s a constant journey. Don’t be afraid of failure. Also: stay curious, because then you’ll ask questions and learn about the place you want to do business in.
And finally, what do you do to recharge and switch off?
I really enjoy my job so it doesn’t often feel like work. I do have my free time though, so try to make the most of it by going for walks. I use exercise to switch off and I enjoy using the gym and attending yoga classes. I also make sure I get some sleep – sleep is very important.