Langham’s Leser keeps calm and looks to the future

GOSTELOW REPORT—“I think face masks help prevent spread but more importantly they raise the self-conscious that something is not normal. If you don’t wear masks, bad habits might kick in,” says Hong Kong-based Stefan Leser, CEO of Langham Hospitality Group.

“Everyone here walks around with masks and I do think Hong Kong is on the right track. Apart from schools, everyone in Hong Kong returned as normal after Chinese New Year. Hong Kong was on the way up until impaired by a second wave of the virus, brought in from outside,” he continued. Now, all entries to Hong Kong come with a compulsory 14-day quarantine.

Stefan Leser, face mask in hand and isolated in his Hong Kong apartment, photographed from afar by Mary Gostelow
Stefan Leser, face mask in hand and isolated in his Hong Kong apartment, photographed from afar by Mary Gostelow

Leser is self-isolating in his Hong Kong apartment, looking out at, well, buildings. Fortunately, around him he has some eye-catching art pieces.

“When I moved to Hong Kong in May 2018 I knew nothing about art but our owner, Dr. Lo Ka Shu, is a knowledgeable collector. To have these pieces around me is so impactful, particularly now, when no one should be separated from their families (my wife is back in Switzerland),” he explained.

“Dr. Lo is a very good owner, he is a doctor and very rational. Our differentiation is that we are owners and operators and we take care of assets, and when business returns they will be in better shape than ever,” Leser said.

Langham Hospitality Group has a total of 22 operating hotels in the U.S., U.K., Hong Kong and Mainland China, Australia and New Zealand. It owns all its properties, apart from 11 in mainland China, with the exception of the two in Shanghai.

In all, it employs 8,000 worldwide. The company has kept on all its people in greater China – “they are the center of what we are doing.” Leser, like all management, is taking a pay cut, and he is encouraging, at all levels, unpaid leave and home study, via eCornell and LinkedIn.

“I do believe that, particularly at this time, short-term should not hurt long-term. Travel restrictions permitting, there is no need to cut Langham Hospitality Group’s development. The hospitality industry is very resilient – even in normal times we deal with the unexpected every day of our working lives. I have a very mature team and I have structured calls with all my GMs, to provide them with whatever support they need right now. It is my job to understand the different situations in different locations. With properties in four continents we are very well prepared to share practices around our portfolio,” he explained.

Looking ahead, Leser is sure, however, that the pandemic will have a major impact on the future state of the industry.

“We might, indeed, see changes in how the world operates,” he said. “Although I do not like the current situation, I have always operated under the principle that I do not get excited about something I cannot impact.

“Some people admittedly get nervous in crises. I learned long ago in my earlier airline days, having to cope with equipment and natural disasters, that I am one of those who keep calm when things get tough. I know that, every minute without let-up, I need always to keep in mind what’s best for our employees, guests and companies,” he explained.