Meeting Winnie Chiu is something of a breath-taking experience.
It’s not just the high-octane energy field she seems to inhabit, nor necessarily the sheer breadth of her activities, or the staccato monologue that pours out of her (she can pack a phenomenal amount of information in the space of a few minutes), punctuated by her work ethic and business strategy commentary – rather, it’s the jaw-dropping realisation that in the space of a few years she has accomplished enough to rival many a grey-haired tycoon.
The Hong Kong-born, UK-educated business administration graduate could have easily taken the “scenic route” through life– she is a scion and heiress apparent of the Far East Consortium Chiu dynasty.
Instead, having worked for Credit Suisse post-graduation and toyed with the offer of heading their operations in Japan or Malaysia, she threw her formidable energy and passion into developing one of Kuala Lumpur’s most affluent shopping malls in Malaysia, which was part of a mixed development comprising 2 blocks of serviced apartments, retail shops as well as offices. Not only was she overseeing the construction of it, but also tenant occupancy which she increased several-fold in the 3 months preceding the grand opening.
Reader, sit back! Winnie Chiu was 23 at that time.
The narrative flow moves at vertiginous pace on to the building of her Dorsett brand, a group of some 32 hotels in Asia, Europe and now Australia. Somewhere in between she also managed to establish a vastly successful burger chain operation in HK which she sold in order to focus on building more hotels.
Lest you are tempted to dismiss her Monopoly-like expansion as a post-Brexit asset acquisition exercise, she outlines her strategy with the impressive precision and foresight of a hard-boiled entrepreneur.
‘Know your customer’ is an adage many ignore when mapping out the shiny path to a successful project. Not Winnie Chiu – she unpacks the Chinese consumer market for you in a few short minutes and if you ever thought that the middle was not profitable enough, think again – she just reinvented it.
Her 4-star city hotels cater to a new generation of Asian travellers who prefer to spend on brands than on hotel suites and grand ballroom splendour. She makes sure that their hotel card comes pre-loaded with discounts, perks and a Handy mobile phone with loads of data, so that they don’t have to pay for roaming.
Loyalty, as you can imagine, is high, especially as she finds the time to do her own customer research, listening to guests’ comments in hotel lifts and at breakfast, and taking note.
The London Dorsett Shepherds Bush Hotel will soon have a sister, the Dorsett City in Aldgate, launching in 2017 and her Australia operation includes, in addition to hotel expansion, partnering with a Sydney-based casino giant.
BBeyond’s focus is, of course, on philanthropy and this one of the reasons why we have chosen to profile Chiu.
She is one of these transformational philanthro-capitalists who approaches every non-profit project with a strategic business outlook, but from the position of the donor or sponsor, understanding that charity giving has to be a win-win proposition.
One of the youngest ever members of the board of governors of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Society, she was instrumental in rebranding the HK Phil, making it more relevant to her own generation.
Volunteering to direct the orchestra for a few minutes for a full stage performance would have been a major challenge for her, but raised considerable funds and has since become anecdotal.
She is extremely passionate about her work on the executive committee of The Academy for Performing Arts and the opportunities that cultural exchange in general offers young people.
In fact, she is a tremendous giver to young people – not just in terms of funding a variety of educational programs and scholarships, but in dedicating her own time. Mentoring and teaching, from business to basic job interview skills, Chiu has earned some heavy weight credentials on the philanthropy stakes precisely because she takes this personally. Anyone can open their wallet, but how many of us would offer our time?
Ultimately, she says, the lesson is cross-generational and cross-societal: none of us has an entitlement to anything; if we want to succeed, we have to put in the work.
Listening to her, I cannot help but wonder what she does for fun. The question seems to take her by surprise because she simply doesn’t know how to stand still. When pressed, she conceded spending a couple of hours at the Royal Academy, indulging a passion for art.
BBeyond is privileged to meet some of the most outstanding people on the planet. Winnie Chiu, an attractive 30 something and a natural born leader, is incredibly impressive and inspirational.
Impressive, because of her mastery both of the finer detail and the overall picture – her grasp of the market and vision for the future are nothing short of staggering.
Inspirational, because, well beyond understanding the rules of wealth oblige, she has positioned herself as a game changer on the philanthropy stakes.