Maria Lee: Dialogue with an Adventist hotel manager in China

Maria Lee is a true first lady. To be able to work in a male-dominated society is one thing, but to excel in that world is another. Devotion to duty, a will to succeed, and doing the best in whatever is given charted her way to career heights—from managing linens in Hong Kong Adventist Hospital to managing a chain of hotels in Hong Kong. Mrs. Lee first attained the status of a hotel manager in 1987 and now holds an executive position in the Peninsula Group, New World Hotel, and China Travel Services Ltd.

In 1997, after working as deputy general manager of the Hong Kong China Travel Hotel Management Ltd., overseeing 21 hotels in Hong Kong, Macao, and China, Maria founded the Cheer Success Hospitality Management Ltd. She is now the general manager of Hong Kong’s first cyber boutique hotel—the newly opened Best Western Rosedale on the Park, located in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong. She also holds the title of Managing Director of Rosedale Hotel Management Ltd. Her most recent project involves the operation of Plaza Canton Hotel in Guangzhou, China, which has been renamed recently to Rosedale Hotel Guangzhou.

As hectic as her schedule is with managing all the hotels and implementing the new projects, Maria, who joined the church as a teenager, has not failed to keep herself from devoting her talents and expertise to the work of the Seventhday Adventist Church. She currently serves as the lay representative from the Chinese Union Mission in the Northern Asia-Pacific Division Executive Committee. In addition, she is a board member of the Hong Kong Adventist Hospital.

Maria, tell us a little of your family background.

I was born in a family of four, and grew up with three younger brothers. When I was 11, I had my first work experience —a summer job tutoring kids, thus earning my pocket money while attending high school. It was this job that first gave me the opportunity to meet people from various backgrounds and strata of society. It also instilled in me a sense of responsibility and an independent spirit. My parents recognized this ability to take care of myself and raised no objections to my attending youth meetings, although I sometimes got home late in the evening.

I understand that you were not born in an Adventist family. What were the circumstances that led to your joining the church?

I first became acquainted with the Adventist faith through a circuitous and miraculous route. My father, a smoker, joined the Five-Day Stop Smoking Plan in 1966 at the recommendation of a colleague. He was then invited to attend an evangelistic meeting conducted by Pastor Milton Lee, a veteran missionary in China. Two years later, my mother and I were baptized into the church after having Bibles studies with the pastor.

How about your educational background? Did you attend any Adventist schools?

I attended the Hong Kong Sam Yuk Secondary School and graduated in 1973. After working as a dietician at the Hong Kong Adventist Hospital for one year, I was given a scholarship to study Food and Nutrition in Philippine Union College. Unfortunately I was able to complete only the sophomore year and had to return home because of my mother’s illness.

And then?

I joined the Hong Kong Adventist Hospital as head housekeeper. At 21, I was the youngest department head. Later I completed certification as a hotel housekeeping executive, and then in 1985 obtained a diploma in hotel management from the American Hotel & Motel Associations. I also attended the General Manager Training Program at Cornell University.

After four years of service at the hospital, I accepted the job of assistant executive housekeeper at Peninsula Hotel, one of the top 10 world-renowned hotels. Since then my career has taken a turn upward. The first three months at Peninsula were tough. However, that experience helped me acquire a genuine management concept, as well as ethics involved in hotel management.

I understand you were interviewed by a journalist from the World Hotel Magazine.

The journalist wanted to find out what helped me to become the first woman general manager in Hong Kong. I have been perceived as a “futuristic” manager. I like new ideas and concepts and want to make things happen, rather than follow the trends of the past. I must praise God that I received my first leadership training through participating in youth activities of the church.

What special features in your management style attracted the attention of the magazine?

I guess it is the ABCDE management concept that I apply in my work, and I employed the “C” concept in building up the Rosedale.

A = Alignment, which means that all the staff have the same goal and the same vision. We cascade the company vision from the managerial level to the rank and file. We conduct training courses based on this concept for all the staff, including the newcomers. The impact is so powerful that everyone thinks he/she is part of the business.

B = Business is business. In hotel business, we have to know what our customers need and provide them with all the facilities that will enhance our business to ensure they have a nice stay away from home.

C = Concept. Our service is cyberfriendly, courteous, comprehensive, compact, convenient, competitive, clean, cozy, confident, consistent, committed, customer oriented, and always connected.

D = Dedication and devotion. Each of the staff is expected to be fully devoted to the company, dedicated to being a good leader and worker—providing good service to the guests, as well as being a good citizen.

E = EQ and ethics. Our ethics is to be sensible and rational in management decision, to make sure that we “walk the talk” and deliver what we are committed to. I always consider the Bible with its maxims and injunctions as my best management encyclopedia.

You strongly believe that business and automation will be the future trend in hotel business. Can you tell how these improve guest service and operational efficiency?

Automation sounds expensive, but it is a long-term saving issue. For example, in using the web-phone, guests do not need to carry their computers and can retrieve their mail by web mail worldwide. The digital enhanced cordless phone (DECT) allows the guests to go for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or the business center without missing a call. Moreover, our overseas agents/corporate companies can access our room inventory instantly. For this reason, we have the win-win-win situation between the hotel, partners, and clients. This has resulted in more efficiency and proven cost-effective and time-saving. In addition, the elevators are locked and can only be entered by room keys. As a result, we have zero instances of theft and robbery, giving our in-house guest a sense of security.

Our intranet connections have created a paperless office which is environment friendly. There is no more delivery problem and delay, and confidentiality can be maintained. The in-house broadband access is a great benefit to our guests, and we are offering it free. This is one of the reasons for the corporate and fund managers to return.

With the hectic schedule you have, how do you find time to contribute to the work of the church?

In order to attend the annual meeting of the Northern Asia-Pacific Division, as a lay representative, I have to request four weeks of vacation, although my boss has only two. I am actively involved in the choir of my local church, organizing retreats and lay activities during Sabbath, as well as other church programs. I spend time in counseling fellow church members and praying for them. In addition, I strongly support all the church fund-raising projects as well as scholarship funds.

Can you tell us how you witness to your non-Adventist colleagues and clients at the work place?

In my dealings with my clients and colleagues, I try to adopt a Christian approach. For this reason almost everyone knows that I am a Christian and that I go to church on Saturday. In fact, I am the only one who does not need to report for duty on Sabbath in a company with more than 2,000 employees. I have given my boss no reason to complain regarding my taking the Sabbath off, for I promised to work 44 hours every week, and I have often gone beyond the required hours of work.

Moreover, I love my job and do it with passion. In my dealings with colleagues, I adopt the guidelines from the Bible: I perceive the beauty in people rather than dwell on their weaknesses. I am a good listener to my subordinates, and I show respect for my boss. I deliver what I promise, and I appreciate the challenges rather than fret over the workload.

What advice can you give those working in a non-Adventist environment?

Adventist workers are being perceived as very dedicated and conservative. If we live up to our Christian standards and practice the principles in the Bible, we can be effective witnesses for God. It will also help if we maintain an open attitude and not be bothered by criticism leveled at us by those who believe that we are materialistic when we work outside the denomination. Just remember that we can still contribute to our church’s mission as witnesses to people who would not otherwise have any contact with an Adventist and learn about Jesus Christ. Commitment to our faith and devotion to our duty is the key.

Interview by Mary Wong. Mary Wong (Ph.D., Michigan State University) was until recently director of children, family, and women’s ministries for the Northern Asia-Pacific Division. She writes from San Jose, California. Her e-mail address: Maria Lee’s e-mail: