Alumni interview: “I can run a hotel, but can I build one?”

2 Mar 2015 | by Les Roches


Charles He Les Roches Internatinal School of Hotel Manegement alumnusCharles He, a Chinese national, graduated from the Bachelor in Hospitality in 2000. He is currently the Managing Director of Alliance Advisory and Hospitality Management, based in Shanghai, China.

We interviewed him to learn a bit more about his career, and how he got to be where he is today.

  • Charles, after graduating from Les Roches, what kind of job opportunities did you have?

When I graduated from Les Roches, I had a very good offer to go and work for the Hyatt Regency in Washington DC in the US. I received my visa and off I went to the US. However, I never quite made it to Washington, as I ended up working for a marketing company alongside one of my friends in Houston, Texas. It was perhaps an odd career choice for me to work for a marketing company after spending 4 years studying hospitality management, but I had the opportunity to learn a lot about the US market and to understand how some major companies operated, including some hotel companies. I believe this was a vital learning experience that definitely helped me as my career progressed.

  • So, what came next in your career?

Well, after around 1 year working in marketing, I took a position of Assistant GM for a new Marriott property near Houston Airport. I was part of the pre-opening team, and we all worked very hard to get the hotel up and running. A year later, I transferred to another Marriott property closer to the center of Houston. After 2 years at this property, I became Area Director, overseeing 3 properties in Houston.

In my forth year with Interstate Hotel and Resorts, the largest independent hotel management company in North America, who is the franchisee and manager of the three Marriott properties, I was assigned the role of VP of Finance. It was in this position that I had the chance to work with Goldman Sachs who at the time had invested in 22 hotels and wanted to transform the portfolio. Once the largest franchisee and strategic partner of Marriott, Interstate also worked with many other leading hotel brands such as Starwood, IHG, and Hyatt, so I got to learn about the broader hospitality industry, and the workings behind all of the top-tier hotel brands.

In 2008, I was called to return to China, and to bring my experience with me. I worked with CITIC group, responsible for setting up their hotel management company and day-to-day operations as the Chief Operating Officer. We had 12 existing properties and 4 new properties; all needing the right systems and people putting into place. After 3 years, I moved to Portman Holdings, as the GM of Portman House, heading the hospitality division with the opening of its first and flagship property in Shanghai.

In 2012, I took up my first consultant’s job with Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels as the Senior Vice President and Head of China Advisory. By this point I knew that I could run a hotel, but could I build one and develop something new? It was a natural progression for my career and a new challenge.

  • So, now you’re working for Alliance Advisory and Hospitality Management. As the Managing Director, what are your main objectives?

Alliance Advisory and Hospitality Management is a company that specializes in hospitality and commercial real estate consulting. We provide a range of services, from positioning and re-branding of properties to fully executing of the project and analyzing operational proficiency, all with the aim of achieving enhanced financial results for an investment. Our role as a hospitality advisor is to look after the interests of the investor, property developer/owner and operator by utilizing our knowledge and experience to support and shape investment strategies.

I would split my role into 2 major components. Firstly, sourcing new business. It is vital that I maintain good working relationships with clients and help to solve their problems.

Secondly, finding the right people. I have worked with many different types of people throughout my career. It’s important to have a team who I can trust to execute and deliver results for the client in order for the business to function in the way it should.

  • What is one of the most exciting developments or acquisitions you have worked on?

Well, we are currently working on an amazing new project in Wuhan city, Hubei Province. We are developing a mixed-used complex housing a 5-star hotel, a 200,000m2 shopping mall with an indoor theme parks and a state-of-art theater, 2 office towers, and a high-end residential subdivision, covering a total area of 1.5million m2. It’s a project we get to see through from the very beginning until the end. We started with feasibility study and market positioning, presenting to investors and government agencies, finding operators, and negotiating contracts. We have signed a contract for the theme park with the same operator that runs Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi, so you can understand the kind of level that we are expecting.

Now, we have just started the project management phase, meaning we are working with architects and interior designs to plan the construction. The construction should start at the end of 2015. Once complete, we will prepare to open the property including procurement and marketing, followed by asset management in the future. It’s really exciting to be involved in a project that is so innovative and creative that is so different than anything else.

  • Wow, we can’t wait to see it when it’s complete! What is left for you to achieve in the future?

For the near future, I would like to continue to expand Alliance in China, and also to expand with our partners in Europe and the US. One day, I would like to go back to work in operations. I like talking to people, and to become part of it – to get back to my passion.

  • Sounds great, what advice would you give to a young student who may be considering a career in hospitality?

I would probably have 3 pieces of advice:

Firstly, you need to get a solid ground early. Complete your studies, and then go out there to get your hands dirty and get some real experience. Sometimes, young people are in a hurry to have too much too soon, and expect a managerial title without solid experiences. In the long term, this will not pay off for your career.

Secondly, it’s important to understand yourself, your life and your passion. If you’re going to have a successful career in hospitality, you need to make sure it’s an industry that you love. My biggest passion was working in operations during my 20s. It was like running a show every day, meeting people from all walks of life and giving me a window to the world.

Les Roches


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