For Peggy Fang Roe, Marriott International’s chief sales and marketing officer for Asia-Pacific, travel comprises a large part of her role, which covers 20 countries, 21 brands and over 550 hotels in the region.
Having devoted more than a decade to the hospitality industry and being a frequent traveller herself, what makes or breaks a hotel stay for Fang is what she likes to call the hairdryer experience. “Can you can find it? Is there is a plug near a mirror to use it? This says a lot about how thoughtfully the hotel was designed,” she says, adding that something as seemingly simple as that could make all the difference to customer satisfaction, an aspect that sits at the core of the Marriott International brand’s values.
“Our business is about creating great experiences for people and getting them to that ‘wow’ moment when they see really great service. I think everything we do is with that spirit and in wanting to achieve that,” explains US-born Fang, now based in Hong Kong.
Even before commencing her career with Marriott, Fang had enjoyed curating experiences, making hospitality the perfect industry for her. “That has always been in my DNA — whether it was hosting a dinner party or taking people on a trip. When I look back at the things I enjoyed doing most in life before I took this job, it was always those types of things.”
But it was not until a few years after business school that Fang — who has a bachelor’s degree in organisational behaviour from the University of Michigan as well as a master’s from Harvard Business School — discovered where her passion lay. “When I was introduced to Marriott and learnt more about running hotels, I became incredibly enamoured with the whole thing. I knew pretty quickly that I was going to be in this industry for a long time,” she says.
Fang has chalked up 15 years in the field, which she says feels less like a job and more like a part of her life. In her current role, she is responsible for the go-to market strategy for Asia-Pacific, which includes brand management, marketing, sales and distribution, revenue management, digital and communications.
Her previous jobs in various industries laid the foundations for her present career, which explains why she thinks one should never be afraid to try new things. The master black belt holder of the coveted Six Sigma certification owes her knowledge of structure and process to her tenure at GE Capital, where she worked upon finishing business school. Her job at Silicon Valley start-up homestead.com taught her “to roll up my sleeves and get things done”.
The learning process continued at Marriott. “The 10 years spent at the headquarters grounded me in the company’s business strategy. It also brought me closer to the market, which, in turn, helped me understand how we can bring more exciting things to the customer.
“Taking a zigzag [route] helps in your career because you collect all these different experiences and they come together to create something more unique in terms of your value proposition … You never know what you are going to discover or what door is going to open,” Fang remarks.
One of the latest projects she worked on saw a successful partnership between TED, widely known for its TED Talks that are as inspiring as they are aspirational, and Marriott, which culminated in TED Salons taking place on its properties across the world. “It is a very nice fit with the [Marriott] brand, its history and what we believe in. We believe travel brings new ideas and our hotel helps facilitate that sort of innovation,” says Fang, who was the moderator of a panel discussion at the TED Salon held in Bengaluru Marriott Hotel Whitefield with the theme “Women in Innovation”. It involved women’s health advocate Zubaida Bai, whale conservationist Asha de Vos and agricultural entrepreneur Trang Tran.
In the course of her work, Fang became increasingly involved in issues pertaining to women and developed a keen interest in them. One of her initiatives is the collaboration between Marriott and Asian University for Women in Bangladesh, which helps women who are the first in their family to get a college education.
“Most of them are part of the emerging market where it is not assumed that women would go on to get an education. So, they go to work. Besides paying for their education, the scholarship helps pay for the families so that the woman will not feel bad about not working anymore,” says Fang, adding that upon graduation, the scholarship recipients go back to their home countries to contribute predominantly in the form of social enterprises and NGOs. Marriott also provides internships and mentorship to expose the interns to the private sector, which has proved invaluable in arming them with the skill sets needed.
Fang’s role focuses on building the Asia-Pacific customer base, localisation of the loyalty programme, digital and distribution strategies and driving hotel performance, all of which she executes with the support of a more than 2,000-strong sales force that she manages.
“It has been interesting for me working in this role, in an American company but right in the middle of the largest growth opportunity for travel in Asia, with China being the largest source market. It’s fun! It is almost as if all the elements of my history and culture are fusing together to create something for the future,” says Fang, referring to her Chinese heritage and growing up in the US.
Her job has taken her around the globe, an aspect that is not entirely unfamiliar to Fang, who grew up experiencing the adventurous spirit of her parents. She fondly recalls family road trips in summer, covering almost every state in the US. Having lived in different parts of the world, Fang says Hong Kong, which she now calls home, is her favourite city because of its efficiency and mobility convenience and the exposure her two young children get.
“It is a very intellectually stimulating place. When we moved here, we expected it to be more China-focused but it is turning out to be a very international experience.”
It remains to be seen if her job will take her to another city next and what exciting challenges lie ahead but what is certain is that Fang will be prepared to take them on with gusto.
This article first appeared on Nov 19, 2018 in The Edge Malaysia.