Meng Lo

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Monday, March 05, 2012 

under Education & Career by Raphael Seghin

Would you mind talking a little bit about yourself and your background?

Born and bred in Malaysia, in Penang, a small island in the north part of Malaysia. A sleepy town, but a very touristy town. So I guess it’s a good introduction as to why I got into this job.

When I was finishing my A levels, I talked to my counselor about what I should do next. He said: “Have you ever thought of the tourism industry? Look, this is the up-and-coming industry of Malaysia. The government is going to put a lot of money and effort to put Malaysia on the map.” And at that time, there were very few people doing that. Certainly none of my classmates went into hotel management. It was a risky choice. 30 years later on, I have hindsight, but I think I can safely say, to any young person, as long as you enjoy what you do, if you are happy, you can succeed. That is the best advice I can offer. Obviously, it has been a long road, a career that took many turns.      


What were some of these turns?

One of the things about working in the hotel industry is that there is a lot of movement. It’s nice at first, it’s very interesting, you’re exploring, you’re on an adventure, but after a while, as you get older, it does have it disadvantages. My family has made a lot of sacrifices for me and my career. It’s difficult for the children to adjust, new friends, new school, new syllabus, etc.

Very early on, after college in England, I joined a local Malaysian company called Merlin, and it was a pretty progressive company, at that time. They put me through my phases then suddenly they said: “Meng Lo, we are going to give you an opportunity. There’s a small little hotel we want you to open.” If I tell you the name of the island now, I’m sure you know it. It was Pulan, Langkawi. 30 years ago, there was only one hotel in Langkawi. And I was asked to go to another part of the island to open up a 20 room chalet, facing the sea. Naively I said: “Wow that sounds great.”

The hotel was located in Tanjong Rhu, on a site later occupied by the Radisson and the Four Seasons. The hotel was so close to Thailand that I could stand on the beach and see Thai islands across the sea. One night, at 3am, Thai pirates came to our hotel, and raided our bar. They came with weapons. But I was very lucky. They couldn’t open the safe, so they asked the security guard for the manager. And that guy, until this day I thank him. He said: “Oh, the manager is in town,” even though I was actually in my room. And since town was fairly far away from the resort, they gave up. They took the booze, of course, but they left. 


Do you get to choose your assignments?

Well yes, of course, but sometimes, things don’t open up when you want them to. After spending many years in the U.S., then back in Malaysia, I was sent to Shanghai about 10 years ago. At that time, I was actually thinking about somewhere else in Southeast Asia.    


What would you say is the most rewarding aspect of being GM of a big hotel?

I think, from a personal point of view, it’s all about relationships with the people that you work with. There are two of my old co-workers, from my postings in Sabah, who have become GMs already. My assistant at the Courtyard has become a GM. I think what gives me a lot of gratification is to see that people I’ve worked with, I’ve managed to be part of their success, and I’m happy that somehow, I was able to influence them, show them a road map.

I think that’s also what makes Marriott such a great company. Our whole philosophy is one of mentorship and development. I worked for several other hotel companies, but I always see how even my managers are always willing to set time apart to try and help out the people they work with. They will always find time to sit down privately and say: “Look, what can we do for you?” So, in that sense, my own personal thinking fits very much into the company’s approach. 


What, in your opinion, would you say is the difference between Marriott and some of its competitors?

I’d like to answer that from a different angle. I think what makes Marriott so special is the culture and the values that go into the company. This company has a long history. Mr. Bill Marriott Jr. is our Executive Chairman, and he always tells us: “If you take care of your associates, your associates will take care of your guests, and the guests come back again and again.” Taking care of our associates has been one of Marriott’s core values. 


You worked in several different countries throughout your life. What is the most unique thing about working in China?

There are a lot of unique things about China. Obviously, the culture. I am, ethnically, Chinese. My great grandparents came from China. So, coming back, I had to re-learn how things work here. It’s been a learning experience. But I can tell you, China will go very far. They have made such a quantum leap in the last 30 years. So I’m coming back to my roots.


As GM, what are some things that you have set as a goal for this hotel?

Well, our positioning for this hotel is to make it a a MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions) hotel, a convention hotel. Our meeting spaces, the number of rooms, our location, the product, the brand name. It’s all part of the whole package. We might not have the biggest ballroom, or the largest inventory of rooms, but we do have certain unique features that will give us an edge, like our knock-out seller LED screen in our ballroom. It’s 9 by 5 meters. High resolution. It’s quite unique. But it’s not just that. Our location, right at the crossroads of Shanghai, ensures that our guests, and theirs, have a good time. We are where the culture is. And for people coming for big meetings, they are looking for location. We have that. We have the product, the location, the brand name. But of course, most importantly, we have a very good team of people throughout the entire hotel.