Saturday February 16, 2013

Dorsett president lights up the occasion with her charm


Chiu says the most important aspect in her business is scalability. Chiu says the most important aspect in her business is scalability.

GONG Xi Fa Cai to all who are celebrating Chinese New Year (CNY)! Last week, we were invited to The Emperor restaurant in Grand Dorsett Subang to enjoy a delightful CNY luncheon and Power Lunch session with Winnie Chiu, president of Dorsett Hospitality International. Radiantly youthful and decked out in a modern shift dress, Chiu walked into the restaurant epitomising beauty and power. She explained that as a woman, she takes great pride in her appearance, but that the icing on the cake of being a notable woman is the endorsement deals that come with it, something she greatly enjoys.

“I'm a spokesperson for SK-II. It's really nice because they launched a campaign with my work and to guess what I like to do. It's all related but it also gets people to know our brand more and to know hospitality more. So, I love that. I also do it for a few other brands like Bulgari (jewellery). You get to wear nice jewellery and all that. It's fun.”

Chiu, while exuding great ebullience and being remarkably friendly in her demeanour, admited that of late, she's been wary and interview-shy, especially when the focus was on her as a personality as there had been times when her privacy had been invaded.

“The Hong Kong media is very different. It's interesting. The financial media is fine, but the paparazzi is a different story altogether; they really chase after you. They chase you in a Mercedes and you don't know that they're chasing you. Or, when you're in the lift ... I'm very alert and I don't press my floor number first because they'll try to press a floor higher than you and be snapping you in the lift with their camera phones. Then, sometimes, if there's news about the company or something personal, they would need a photo with the story so it would look like an interview or something. I seldom do interviews and never get personal,” she told me, as we discussed the difference in media behaviour around the world.

As we talked and our photographer snapped her pictures, our lunch was served. As it was the CNY season, first up on the menu was Salmon Yee Sang. We took a moment's break to messily toss it and welcome in the new year in a chorus of “bonus, prosperity, look young and keep fit!” in a jovial mood.


Before going into the details of the upcoming business developments, Chiu gave me a little insight into her professional background.

“When Plaza Damas just opened, it was the first time we had expanded into retail. I took the position three months into its opening, and it was only 30% occupied. So, I had to see six tenants a day to convince them. I also learnt about the construction business. As I'm the very “kan cheong” type, I was really worried that my air-conditioner ducts would be tapped. As once you covered the ceiling, you would never know, every night, I would walk about inspecting the ducts and wouldn't let them cover the ceiling before I signed off. It was so interesting. You learn all that. All my M&E experience is from there. Now, I know about the air-cooling systems, etc. It's all a journey, it's very interesting. And that's how I began my career in my family business.”

The retail business also inspired Chiu to venture out on her own, resulting in her funding a burger chain.

“I let my franchisee run it now. It's called Freshness Burger and I got the master franchise from Japan. I didn't have the money to pay the franchise fee but they knew I really loved the brand and I was training in the kitchen. The most important aspect in any business is scalability. It helps me dramatically in all the things I do. We had eight shops in Hong Kong. I learnt so much,” she reminisces, while sharing that for her, life is a journey of growth and that although she had loved that phase of her life, her commitment now is to her family business.

She still manages to indulge her love for the retail industry through Mayland. “We have bought the Phoenix Plaza and it's undergoing renovation. I think it will be opening in the second or third quarter this year. One thing special about our company and what I have really learnt from my father is value creation. At the end of the day, whatever we do, whether in people development or asset development, the question is: How do you create more value? That property was once abandoned. The first time I went in there, there were bats flying around. But we're kicking it off again. It's going to be called Cheras Central. I'm very excited about the opening.”

The four I's

As we talked, our conversation flowed into what Chiu calls the “four I's”, which are the core values of their company Innovation, Inspiration, Initiative and Integrity. She cites the Silka hotels' “Stay, Shop and Save” programme as an example of innovation that they've implemented to complement the concept behind the value hotels.

“Silka is a value hotel. How do I give you back value? We make things very tangible. At the end of the day, consumer behaviour is a habit. You tap into the habit and you can build stickiness. When you build stickiness, you build loyalty. We have a programme called Stay, Shop and Save' that works with over 50 retailers in Hong Kong. It's about exclusive discounts at their shops. Tourists get discounts at SaSa, Chinese herbal stores and other major shops. We've had it for a year and we're extending in to Malaysia. It's only for Silka.”

Touching on Silka hotels, Chiu elaborates that alongside the Stay, Shop and Save programme, they've been brainstorming even on things such as laundry room facilities to add to the concept of being a value hotel. She explains that these are all touches to let her guests know that staying at a Silka hotel really is a value deal. Chiu says that they are confident about the success of the brand and that although expansion plans are not in the pipeline in the immediate future, they are working on it. “We will be looking at franchise models. We're finding my SOP (Standard Operating Procedure). I would only want to do it if my SOP is completely streamlined.”

New developments

“I'm very bullish about London. Asian Wallet Strategy. It's in place. We buy at Shepherd's Bush because it's opposite the biggest shopping mall in Europe. Asians like to shop indoors. At the end of the day, I look at numbers. If the numbers are right, you go for it,” Chiu remarks, as we look at a table outlining their development projects.

Going through the table, she points out their latest acquisitions and sales.

“At the end of the day, what I like most is value creation. This summarises my company's DNA. I talk about value creation to all my shareholders and stakeholders. So when I do that, I need to recycle my capital. Since listing, we've already sold three hotels. But every time I sell, I buy back. After I sold The Mercer (with sales proceeds of HK$289mil), I bought Dorsett London. The only analysis I have to do is whether I'm confident that this property would generate me more yield. When we sold Dorsett Regency Hong Kong (with sales proceeds of HK$800mil), I bought The Matrix London the very same day.”

To date, Dorsett Hospitality International has 16 hotels in operation, with eight hotels scheduled to open within the next few years. Closer to home, Dorsett Singapore is scheduled to open on April 1, 2013, and the Dorsett in the Kuala Lumpur City Centre is going through major renovations (Chiu has Dorsett KL pegged as one of their flagship hotels). With all that's in the pipeline, it's not surprising that Chiu's days are jam-packed with activities, and we're lucky to have caught her during her short stay in Kuala Lumpur. So, on that note, we drew our lunch to a close, so as not to delay Chiu from dashing off to attend a budget meeting.

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