At just 31, Roy Liang may have accelerated up the hospitality ladder to become general manager of Singapore’s Oakwood debut, Oakwood Premier OUE Singapore. His age, however, bring advantages and challenges in equal parts.
He graduated after completing a tourism and hospitality scholarship with CapitaLand, and he began working his way through the company’s different departments – from housekeeping and front office to engineering and security – in jobs that “you don’t learn in university”, said Liang.
A bigger challenge followed shortly – not in the area of hard labour, but in needing to build soft skills. Liang explained: “I’m young, and my face makes me look even younger.
“I had to build very good relationships with department heads and staff to prove that I was sincere about learning, and not some privileged kid that was parachuted in.”
He recalled that the first two years was spent gaining trust from different departments – a challenge that pushed him to work even harder.
Liang shared: “This humbled me from the beginning, and the people-management skills that I picked up through the different properties I worked in taught me a lot.”
Before Oakwood, Liang moved through six properties that also took him to serviced suites in Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur.
“I experienced different stages of the hospitality product, such as pre-opening, business development, renovations during operations and even closing for redevelopment. Each of these posed different challenges and gave me a complete journey of serviced apartment operations,” he said.
It was in Kuala Lumpur when Liang hosted Oakwood’s previous vice-president of operations, who offered the young man an opening in Singapore.
He described: “When he explained that this was going to be the most luxurious serviced apartments in Singapore, that attracted me. With the strong backing of Mapletree, Oakwood has the opportunity and capital to expand, and I was excited to grow along with the company.”
Recalling what drove him to take up the new challenge, he quipped with a chuckle: “They wanted someone young and with the drive to do the seemingly impossible task of opening a hotel in four months.”
Assuming his post in February 2017 ahead of the hotel’s opening in June last year, Liang was the first employee and began recruiting his team, which proved to be one of his “biggest challenges”.
He elaborated: “In the beginning, I just couldn’t sleep at night, because all I could think of was ‘tick-tock, tick-tock, time is running out’. It was pretty much a one-man show until my team started to form. But we shared pride in being able to survive those sleepless nights to open by June.”
Now that Oakwood is up and running, the next priority is carving out and establishing the young brand in Singapore, said Liang.
“Corporate clients have become used to other players in the market, such as Ascott, Frasers and Pan Pacific. How do we convince them to swing their business to us? We have to give them faith and assurance that their bosses, CEO and SVP will be taken care of, and that our rates are competitive.
“So we have tweaked our strategy and insisted on having certain facilities. For example, we are the first serviced apartment here to have (a restaurant in house), (which allows us to provide) in-room dining and a full breakfast buffet – including live stations and cold-cuts,” he pointed out.