No detail is too small for Sonia Cheng to consider when it comes to personalizing the properties in her Rosewood Hotel Group. That goes especially for the new Rosewood Hong Kong, which the 38-year-old CEO opened earlier this year in her hometown on the waterfront property that her grandfather first developed more than four decades ago. “I know exactly what is lacking in the hotel market here and what Hong Kong people would want to see,” says Cheng, sitting in the hotel’s commodious bridal suite inspired by her own search for wedding venues. “Every Rosewood property has an individuality where it celebrates the local culture.” The Harvard-educated entrepreneur worked in investment banking and private equity before taking the helm of her family’s Rosewood brand in 2011 and leading its expansion. Now overseeing a portfolio of 67 properties globally and a brood of four young children at home, Cheng appears to be juggling it all.
What’s the biggest challenge of running a company?
Hiring and developing the right people. It’s a people business. So, managing different personalities, different backgrounds, different skill sets, being able to identify the strengths and weaknesses: It’s crucial for the business.
What do you look for in an employee?
Passion, humility and being collaborative.
What’s the best business advice you were given?
My father and my grandfather gave me lots of advice. My father always emphasized that people will make your business successful. My grandfather was a very humble man even though he was so successful. That was also how he built a really great loyal team that helped build his empire.
What’s the first thing you do when you get into the office?
As soon as I arrive, it’s straight to the emails.
Your biggest pet peeve at work?
Texting on the phone or when people get distracted by the phone when we’re in a meeting.
Your preferred form of communication?
I’ve been using WhatsApp a lot. It’s quick and easy messaging. But email still works because it gives you time to think before responding. Sometimes with WhatsApp, because you know people are waiting for your reply, you can be too hasty. In the end, an in-person meeting is best to encourage transparency and communication. That’s what holds a culture together.
What do you do every day to keep yourself sane?
I try to fit in a workout. I run on a treadmill at home or take kickboxing and circuit training classes near our office. It’s quite efficient, like 45 minutes.
What would you tell your younger self?
When I was younger, I was even more impatient. I tended to want to move things very quickly, sometimes too quickly. It’s important to take the time to really think through strategies and decisions. That would be something I would advise my younger self.
What’s something that you would want to improve in your work life?
Work-life balance. I’m always trying to find a good balancing point. It’s never easy. I think trying to find time for myself is important.
Do you believe in to-do lists?
I do. My list is so long. It’s never-ending.
How do you cultivate female leadership in the company?
We don’t actually make an effort to make sure that we hire women. We hire for the skill set rather than the gender. For some reason, most of our senior leadership is female. It’s just natural.