Managing with élan
L’hotel Group GM Sylvia Chung is driven by her love of the job and passion for the industry, writes Andrea Zavadszky.
L’hotel élan is a cool oasis in bustling Kwun Tong. The ground floor is surprisingly quiet – probably because the reception area is on the top floor. However, two stylish chairs made of recycled material, but looking more like velvet, are available for those who need to wait here or have a rest.
“This was our GM’s idea,” says the concierge proudly, pointing at of the environmentally friendly chairs. He also explains that having the check-in on the top floor makes the ground floor more upmarket and pleasant for those who come to the restaurant from surrounding offices.
These thoughtful touches are just some of the things Sylvia Chung has implemented as general manager of hotel development and operations at Chinachem’s L’hotel Group – a job that involves both paying attention to the smallest service details and making major decisions on the hotel’s future direction.
The position of hotel general manager is usually taken by men globally. Chung says that when she first took up a general manager role at the Miramar Hotel (now the Mira) in 1997, there were only two or three other women in Hong Kong who held similar positions. Even now, she says, there are only about 10 women out of roughly 100 hotel general managers in Hong Kong.
Chung is now in charge of three hotels that she helped open since joining Chinachem in 2009: L’hotel Island South in Aberdeen, which opened in 2010; L’hotel élan in Kwun Tung, in 2012; and Lodgewood by L’hotel in Mongkok, which opened in Mongkok last year.
“I wear different hats. Half of the time, I am a general manager, running the three hotels. It’s about budget, business development, service … The other half of my job is hotel development – meeting with architects and interior designers. But when you develop a hotel it is not only about the structure – I am also involved in the brand development,” she says.
Boundless energy is required to do all these jobs, she says. Chung usually starts at 8am by reading the sales reports, followed by a morning meeting of about 30 minutes to an hour, including discussions with the salespeople about their plans for the day.
She spends the morning in one hotel and the afternoon in another, and is now working on a fourth hotel opening in Wan Chai, as well as on some smaller projects.
Chung usually leaves work after 9pm and only sleeps five to six hours a night. What carries her is her feeling of responsibility, the expectations invested in her and her passion for the industry.
Meeting clients and guests from all walks of life keeps her energised, no matter how late it is. “The most important thing is that it’s fun. I don’t really treat my job as work. This industry is 24/7; I treat clients as friends – after sunset it’s happy hour.”
She believes that the challenge of getting the most out of a day is the same as akin to a hotel striking a balance between meeting the demand for quality service.
“I fit into the industry very well; it’s very dynamic and rewarding … an important industry with a high contribution to GDP.”
She encourages her staff to be flexible and make their own decisions without referring to her, but also finds time to sit down with them for a chat in the coffee shop, where they can feel more relaxed.
“Dialogue and understanding is very important. It’s all about communication – it enhances the relationship. So I find time to talk to them, even if it’s only for 15 to 30 minutes,” she says.
Inspired by her guests, leaders in other industries and friends, she is invigorated by seeing things change and wants to be a change agent herself. “Being creative is to change the present to a better future, because we want to be better and there is always room for improvement.
“During the process, you make people grow with you. Ultimately, you make people happy by helping them, which in turn makes you happy.”
She strives to improve herself, from soft skills and her inner self to physical training. She says the most important thing is to think positively, which will lead to positive actions.
It is difficult to squeeze family life into such a compact schedule. She used to spend Sundays with her two daughters and a son. But now they are grown up, with their own full schedules.
She has found the best way to stay close is to take up their hobbies and do things like yoga together. “I am very much influenced by my daughters. I try to pick up their hobbies; I learned scuba diving with them,” she says. As a result, she is now a certified rescue diver.
Shining from the inside
Sylvia Chung shares some advice on staying passionate in your job.
Make work enjoyable “Bring happiness to your clients … the job should be fun.”
Keep transforming “Change the present and change tradition for a better tomorrow. To me, that is creativity.”
Improve yourself “I still keep training. I practice my soft skills, grow and develop my inner self and keep physically well.”
Build inner strength “I’m still learning, trying to find better ways to release my inner energy and to squeeze in time to read philosophy books.”
Be constructive “Think positively, especially from the heart, and then you can change negative things to positive.”