To the hotel born
Although Carina Chorengel is the daughter of Hyatt ‘royalty’, her parents made sure she started on the ground floor, where she grew to love the industry
She may have grown up in Hyatt Regency hotels in Hong Kong, Singapore and London, but the last thing Carina Chorengel – Asia-Pacific vice-president of brands at Hyatt Hotels – considers herself is a “hotel brat”.
Her father, iconic German hotelier Bernd Chorengel – who retired as president of Hyatt International in 2007 after 25 years in the company – and her mother, Filipino author and public relations PR practitioner Marla Yotoko, were conscientious about raising Chorengel, her sister and brother in as normal circumstances as possible, despite the constant and convenient presence of service staff. “We had to fix our beds, arrange our clothes and we weren’t allowed to use room service,” she says. “If we had to go down to the lobby to leave to be with our friends, we always had to dress up.”
Not surprisingly, the urge to join her father’s world was instilled early in Chorengel, who was fascinated by the unpredictable hotelier’s routine, as well as “the chance to meet a lot of interesting people” – which included Mick Jagger and his then partner, model Jerry Hall, who once came for a meal at their apartment. “I didn’t even know who they were,” she laughs.
Graduating as valedictorian from Chicago’s Sacred Heart School at the age of 16, Chorengel was accepted at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration. Earlier, her parents had tested her commitment by sending her to work in back-of-house operations at the Hyatt Regency Singapore and The Ritz in Paris. “I worked in the kitchen – I cleaned pots and pans, mopped the floor, chopped vegetables. I really enjoyed it. It made me want to join the hotel industry even more.”
For obvious reasons, Hyatt was not Chorengel’s choice for a first job, but an irresistible chance to join the pre-opening team of the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong as a corporate trainee came along. Back in 1989, she explains, hotels were not sprouting up everywhere like they do today. “[The hotel] was the first of its kind. In a hotelier’s life, to do a launch is a very, very special experience,” she says.
Having a name synonymous with hotel royalty came with its own challenges, she recalls. “It made me work harder and stay under the radar,” she says. “Fortunately, Dad was all the way in the US, and whenever we were together, we had one rule – never to talk about work. I felt I needed to prove what I could do. But after a while, people learn to see you for who you are, and not for what your last name is.”
Manning the front desk, Chorengel caught her supervisor’s eye with her people skills. Whenever a guest had an issue that needed to be resolved, she was delegated to “fix” the problem. “I used to get sent a lot [of guest issues], and somehow I managed to appease them,” she says. “That probably came from my being half-Asian, half-European and having lived in Asia, Europe and the US. At a young age, I had to learn to fit in. Whatever the guest’s nationality was, I adapted to that, as well as listened and tried to understand what it was they needed.”
Rising to director of sales and marketing at the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong, she left when she and her husband decided to start a family. After her first son’s birth – she now has two – she asked for a part-time role and was snapped up by the regional office as marketing projects director. In the role she oversaw the launch of new facilities such as The Plateau spa in Grand Hyatt Hong Kong and i.Sawan and Barai spas in the company’s Thailand properties. For almost eight years, she operated on flexi-hours to be with her children as much as possible. “You can actually be anywhere – all you need is internet service and a computer,” she says. “You can do a lot at home if you’re diligent and do your best.”
Although returning to full-time work in 2008 –first as vice-president of sales and marketing for Asia-Pacific, and now overseeing the strategic development of Hyatt’s portfolio of brands across the region – she remains intensely committed to her parental duties. “I really make an effort to come home at 6.30pm to spend time with my sons and do their homework with them,” she says. “I don’t feel guilty about it, and I encourage my team to do the same.”
Chorengel still puts in some work after the children have gone to bed, communicating with the Chicago head office for assorted matters and clearing e-mails before midnight. Her “me” time is usually after the boys leave for school in the mornings, when she hops on to her elliptical trainer, which she claims helps her strategise and think out any planning kinks lingering in her mind.
With her strong maternal instincts, it’s no surprise Chorengel enthuses about being around younger colleagues – “a multi-national bunch from Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, Canada, Japan, the US, plus there’s me, part German, part Filipino”. She also volunteers on the interview panel for prospective applicants to the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, an experience that leaves her in awe of the talent with which she comes into contact. “They’re such high achievers and all-rounders involved in activities like piano or the violin, the student council and the community,” she says. And increasingly, these ambitious hotel hopefuls are coming from China, Chorengel notices.
She adds that she has been fortunate to have had several mentors – including her parents – in her career. “They have been such a positive influence on me, so I also want to be a positive influence on the people I touch,” she says. “Mentoring often happens organically through work, and while I spend time with my younger colleagues and support them, there really is so much more that I learn from them.”
LESSONS FROM THE LOBBY
Chorengel shares some “inn-sider” advice
Be humble “Have mutual respect for others, the community and the environment, and live with integrity and humility.”
Learn from others “Surround yourself with people of diverse backgrounds, ages, talents, cultures and nationalities, as these connections enrich your mind and point of view.”
Pass it on “Create success for and through others. Take responsibility for growing the next generation and take pride in developing others.”
Challenge yourself “Be agile in the face of dynamic environments. Encourage people to take risks, experiment and innovate, and learn from both success and failure.”
Simplify “Make sense out of complexity.”