18 November 2019
Aloysius Lee (inset) will be the chief executive of Millennium & Copthorne Hotels from next March. Photos: Millennium & Copthorne Hotels, Shui On Land
Aloysius Lee (inset) will be the chief executive of Millennium & Copthorne Hotels from next March. Photos: Millennium & Copthorne Hotels, Shui On Land

My business mentor takes helm of London-listed hotel group

A homegrown manager is set to take the helm of a 1.8 billion pound (US$2.86 billion) London-listed hotel group with over 100 properties worldwide. 

Starting March next year, Aloysius Lee Tse-sang will be the chief executive of Millennium & Copthorne Hotels, leaving his current position as chief executive of South Beach Consortium, which develops a mixed-use real estate development near Raffles Hotel in Singapore.

Lee is a dear friend of mine. In fact, he has been more like my business professor in the past decade.

Our friendship started one Sunday when I was a reporter and he was a PCCW executive. I was scouting for a story on a listless day and I started calling people on my directory.

As expected, no one took my calls. Except for one: Lee returned my call although he had left his company.

That was how I learnt an important concept: courtesy. It means doing something in a very polite way, which often looks unnecessary. It also means returning a reporter’s call just to say he no longer works in the company, a very non-Hong Kong way of doing business.

This trait seems to be in his DNA. It’s second nature to him; he does it without thinking.

Lee worked at Singapore Airlines for 18 years before moving on to the travel agency and cruise business. After PCCW, he went back to the travel sector, becoming managing director of Lotus Travel. It was there where I learned a lot from him.

He took me as an observer to his business meetings, where I was given a ringside view of how companies really work.

One winter, I joined him on a two-day business trip to Shaoguan, north of Guangdong province, and Zhangjiajie in Hunan to see how things are going with his cable car business.

Whoever said business travel was fun should try waking up after barely a few hours of sleep to catch an early flight to Hunan, and even an earlier flight on return. It was a punishing journey, but I learned a lot from the experience.

Later he moved to Shanghai to work as managing director of Shui On Land. I began to visit him regularly and stayed in his place. He was a stickler for discipline both at work and at home. He was always hungry for new ideas.

And he was up for any job that tickles his fancy. Once I joined him on a visit to Yunnan, where he prepared the campfire program for his boss’ honeymoon.

In Singapore, he was tasked with running an office and an integrated development that includes a Philippe Starck-designed hotel.

I have been visiting him there every year for the past three years, the latest being last week when I was privileged to join a group of young designers from the Hong Kong Design Centre. The hotel is set to open in April next year.

Lee is working fervidly on the project, and I know he will finish it on time and within budget. That’s his trademark.

And while he works, he is generously showing me how the business world operates.

I am thus very happy for him on his promotion. In his new capacity, I guess my classroom will extend to London, which means flying a few more hours to get to the country we miss dearly for its governance.

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EJ Insight writer