An Interview with Peter Liew: Five Stars from the Ground Up

Peter Liew’s journey in the hospitality industry started at the front desk in Malaysia. Along the way, Peter Liew (MBA ‘04) picked up a UNI MBA, which helped launch him to his current position at the top of China’s luxury hotel business.

UNI Business: You have spent your entire career in hospitality. How did you get your start in the hotel business?
Peter Liew: It started with a fire, literally. A neighbor bought a burned out hotel and offered me a job as a housekeeper and working the front desk. I was 17 at that time. I left the job to go to college but returned to the industry within a few years of graduation and haven’t strayed since.

UNI Business: What do you like about the hotel business?
Peter Liew: I find the rush of working with different groups of people a thrill — from the guests, to the workforce, to owners and designers. As an industry that fulfills a fundamental need, it seems very basic and simple, but changing customer preferences and evolving social norms keep things interesting.

UNI Business: What was your first hotel?
Peter Liew: I was the youngest controller working for the Holiday Inn group, and my youth and lack of ties meant I was the perfect candidate to travel to China’s “wild west.” In 1991, I moved to the city of Urumqi to open the first Holiday Inn in China’s remote northwest Xinjiang region.

UNI Business: Why did you decide to pursue an MBA degree?
Peter Liew: At the time I was working at The Peninsula in Hong Kong. I was 40 years old, and my son was 2. It was time to update my skills, and I wanted to learn in an international learning environment. I also wanted to set an example for my son that learning is continuous.

UNI Business: Why did you choose the UNI MBA program in Hong Kong?
Peter Liew: It took me more than two years to find the right MBA program to fit my needs — some are more focused on human resources, sales and marketing, or management, and I was looking for a broad program that could help me with hospitality. I also liked that my classmates came from a variety of backgrounds and industries, which meant that we were able to learn much from each other.

UNI Business: What part of the MBA curriculum proved most applicable to your current job?
Peter Liew: I still constantly refer to the product development studies we undertook as part of the curriculum because when each new hotel is designed and built, we have to look at it as a unique project, aiming to understand and meet the needs of a very specific market sector.

UNI Business: What is your latest project?
Peter Liew: I am now the general manager of Suzhou Jinghope Hotel Development Limited, a real estate development and industrial investment company responsible for a number of high profile projects in the city of Suzhou. I have been involved in the construction and opening of the InterContinental Suzhou, a luxury hotel located in the city’s Suzhou Industrial Park.

UNI Business: How are you, as general manager of the development group, involved with InterContinental?
Peter Liew: Jinghope owns the hotel and appoints InterContinental to manage it at a fee based on performance. The deal includes the use of trademark and systems support from InterContinental. My role is to “bridge” the two parties, aiming to achieve a win-win situation. I need to understand the objectives and concerns of both industries and mitigate wastes of internal resources and handle conflicts within the partnership. To obtain the trust and respect from both parties, it is important to demonstrate professionalism, integrity and knowledge in both hotel operation and hotel ownership.

UNI Business: How was the InterContinental Suzhou packaged and designed to appeal to its target market?
Peter Liew: The primary consideration was to build a five-star luxury hotel, but many factors that would affect the design had to be considered. A location in the city’s business district meant that many people wanted to label it a business hotel, but I insisted on keeping the branding more broad to appeal to a wider range of potential customers. After all, the industrial park would have a residential population of 1.2 million with many family-oriented amenities and a high potential to attract leisure visitors and tourists. To me, this meant the positioning of the hotel required consideration for two distinct target markets: it had to provide convenience, efficiency and connectivity for business travelers and still attract leisure travelers with its design and leisure facilities. Another important consideration was the global nature of the businesses in the industrial park and the diverse national origins of people who work and live in the park. This meant the design would have to be open to multiple cultural influences while projecting a unified concept.

Overall, when we combined the preferences of the owner with these different considerations, a few key design characteristics emerged for the InterContinental Suzhou project: timeless, elegant and unpretentious with modern comfort and multiple cultural influences. In a tour of the completed hotel, I can show you how each and every one of these characteristics is incorporated.

Hong Kong may be a small island, but with its established financial regulation and proximity to mainland China, it has become a center of global capitalism. Not only is Hong Kong home to the most competitive job market in China, but also one of the most transient. A recent survey of employees reported that 38 percent of professionals in Hong Kong were planning to change jobs within the next six months. Earning a UNI MBA in Hong Kong can be a great asset for those looking for an advantage in an increasingly competitive job market.

The above content is taken from UNIBusiness: Celebrating 10 Years in HK, The Alumni Magazine of the College of Business Administration University of Northern Iowa 2011-2012

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