Claire Chiang is an entrepreneur, social activist and an author. Senior Vice President of Banyan Tree Holdings and a co-founder of Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts, Ms. Chiang is also chairperson of Banyan Tree Global Foundation. A former Nominated Member of Parliament, she has been recognized by numerous establishments for her contributions to business and society with awards such as Woman of the Year, the Public Service Medal as well as the Hospitality Lifetime Achievement Award, which she and her husband Ho Kwon Ping received at the 2009 annual China Hotel Investment Summit.

The Impact Quarterly team caught up with Ms. Chiang to learn more about how resilience features in the many impactful activities that she is involved in.

1. What has resilience meant for you in your career? How have you grown to become a resilient leader?

Resilience is about an inner strength fortified by experiences which had been painful and were overcome. It is a stretched band of stoicism to take life’s deal as is, and to work upon it to achieve the next level best. That mental attitude to never say “I quit”, or “I die” are the foundation pillars of resilience.

2. Banyan Tree’s story is one of resilience, starting with the rehabilitation of a previously uninhabitable tin mine in Thailand into the successful hotel brand that we know today. What does resilience mean to the company’s operations as it continues to grow and expand into other locations?

We operate in diverse areas in terms of geography, race, religion, cultures, gender and ages. Such diversity will require a strong disposition in managing differences and accepting rejections and conflict. The overcoming of these differences through understanding and fellowship help to build strong characters which are more inclusive and resilient.

In the last two decades, our group has gone through a series of natural disasters and political upheavals which had tremendous impact on our business. Our ability to stay afloat above waters, unwaveringly abide by our principles of operation to do what is right for our business, our associates, vendors, stakeholders and shareholders – is for me the test of our business resilience. The way we build, fit out and buy for our hotels, train and develop our staff, feed and educate our workforce and the surrounding communities are part of this persevering journey of doing what is meaningful and purposeful. As we expand and grow, we bring these foundation values to where we operate with the aim to influence and nurture our partners and communities to do good.

3. As the Chairperson of the company’s sustainability arm, the Banyan Tree Global Foundation, how do you balance the need to be profitable while keeping “harmonious development” at the core of your corporate philosophy? It would be great if you could provide examples of initiatives that the company has undertaken or plans to undertake to maintain this balance.

I have stopped justifying that we should do good in order to do well. We simply do what we think is good and the right thing to do. As long as businesses operate on a clear set of principles and are value-based, they are sustainable. That is more important. Doing good might not have any correlation at all in business performance. It has however direct impact on brand image, talent motivation, guests’ satisfaction scores and personal pride. Insofar as these dimensions are equally important factors in achieving business success, then having a socially responsible ethos becomes an attractive tool for talent recruitment and business sustainability.

4. In addition to being a successful businessperson, you have also been an outspoken advocate for women leadership. What sort of initiatives can be taken to boost resilience in female leaders so that they can realize their full potential?

Women have to get themselves out in public to be noticed and heard. We should not blink in the dark or fear being criticized. I encourage women to take up positions in committees to lead and serve, learn and nurture. They should discover themselves and engage in self-branding effort to become effective leaders.

The next critical step is to be bold, to take the arrows from detractors by fortifying ourselves with convictions based on clear reasoning and personal judgment; and be ever ready to change our mind about anything with new information and perspectives.

5. In your view, where does the world need to invest most if we wish to have a resilient and prosperous future?

The world is good at investing in hard infrastructure like brick and mortar, bridges and armaments. We build cities but not people. We are even better at judging people based on a narrow matrix of pillars which define success. This only ends up crippling young minds, hearts and souls before they have a chance to show what they can do.

We have to work harder at growing a culture of inclusiveness by approaching education with a broader perspective in defining its purpose and relevance. I feel we have to go back to basics, to invest on people, the way we learn, live, manage our health, engage in sports and the arts and relate to one another. Meaning, this century is about humanizing capitalism by optimizing the abundant resources to discover our purpose and fit for the greater good.

Amy Duffuor, Business Development, IIX
Manny Fassihi, Research and Assessment, Shujog