Banyan Tree Group Senior Vice President Claire Chiang
A No-Nonsense Path to Entrepreneurship Success
Claire Chiang believes that the more volatile things get, the more temptations abound, one has to stick to one’s principles.
A No-Nonsense Path to Entrepreneurship SuccessBy Ming-ling Hsieh
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 602 )
Claire Chiang, co-founder and senior vice president of the Singapore-based Banyan Tree Holdings, offers insight into how she progressed from neophyte business executive to running a hotel and resort business spanning several brands. Chiang believes that the more volatile things get, the more temptations abound, and in spite of uncertainty about consumers and markets, one has to stick to one’s principles. Following are excerpts from her speech:
Prior to going into business, I was a sociology teacher in Hong Kong and Singapore for 16 years. Then I married a journalist (Banyan Tree co-founder and group executive chairman, Ho Kwon Ping). We share a love of traveling, and over the course of our travels came to feel that traveling is a powerful platform bringing together culture, society, and economics. And then by happenstance we somehow became entrepreneurs.
One day in 1983, after taking in a gorgeous sunset in Phuket, Thailand, we bought a 360-hectare plot of land on impulse. Only after purchasing it did we discover that it was situated on an abandoned tin mine and was not fit for development. However, we felt that we should stand by our decision and see it out. So we had experts remove the top layer of soil and revitalize the property, slowly and step by step, transforming the old tin mine into the Angsana Laguna Phuket Hotel.
Today, the Banyan Tree Group operates 40 hotels and resorts in over 50 locations across 10 countries around the world.
We operate multiple brands under our umbrella, but our guiding principles remain unchanged: Green planning, humanitarian and historical caring and outreach, and sustainable development form the basis of our genes and corporate culture.
For instance, we mandate that hotels must plant 2,000 trees each year, and to date we have planted 500,000 trees. The same applies to our Banyan Tree Galleries, supporting local crafts and providing local artisans with market information to help them create more outstanding works.
Instead of all the children moving from the countryside to the city, it is better for them to stay in their village and benefit from vocational counseling and help for their studies.
Meet Volatility with a Firm Attitude
Over the course of running businesses, we have encountered and endured numerous challenges.
From the 1997 collapse of the Thai baht currency to the Asian financial crisis and the Boxing Day tsunami that devastated Southeast Asia, it has never been easy. Many times we were close to collapsing, only to make it through thanks to support from our bank and our staff members.
Today the world is changing faster than ever. We live in the VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) age, and in response I have developed my own VUCA counter-strategy to combat it, namely Versatility, Unwavering, Connectivity, and Attitude.
Attitude is especially important. Even though competition continues to intensify, one thing that no one can take away from you is your thinking and attitude – you can see the glass as half full, not half empty. Consumer target audiences are constantly changing, and we must claim the high ground and see rainbows, not dark forbidding clouds.
In running businesses, I have found that extensive reading gives me something to fall back on inside, mainly the values and principles you keep in your heart and how you act in life. No matter where you are, bring your integrity with you, and everything will work out fine.
I’ve been in China for many years, where the temptations are many. But I must stay above it and make it clear to business counterparts how things are done: They know that I don’t give empty compliments or beat about the bush; I don’t drink or smoke, don’t go to karaoke, don’t give gifts, and I eat regular meals, not big feasts.
I ask those government officials, who are mostly younger than myself, to call me “big sister,” and soon enough we’re speaking on casual terms, like a family. I also have an advantage as a woman, in that, when I say I don’t smoke or socialize at night, people respect that.
Translated from the Chinese by David Toman