May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a special time set aside each year to celebrate and acknowledge the rich contributions and impact of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to the history and culture of the United States.
This year, the observance is touching my heart, for a number of reasons. It comes just a few months after Kamala Harris, the first person of South Asian heritage, was sworn in as the Vice President of the United States. It also comes while India is in crisis battling record cases of COVID-19 and we’re witnessing ongoing violence, hate speech and harassment of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in this country.
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are an important part of Marriott International’s global workforce, as well as its owners/franchisees and suppliers. We have built our company on the belief that our strength lies in the diversity of our associates, customers, suppliers, hotel owners and franchisees. We simply can’t compete in a global marketplace without diverse perspectives, experiences and voices powering our business.
Today, I’m excited to share some of these diverse voices. In a series of posts throughout the month, I will introduce you to a group of people who are typically behind the scenes at Marriott International but who are truly the heartbeat of our business – our incredible hotel owners and franchisees as well as our suppliers.
These are highly successful entrepreneurs with a lot of great advice to share. Their stories will move you and perhaps inspire you to become a hotel owner or supplier. I’m biased, but I think it’s a great career choice.
Here’s to celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
Joseph Fan, founder and president of Brighton Management in Newport Beach, CA.
I grew up in Taiwan and moved to Southern California when I was nine years old. Back then, real estate was cheap in Orange County. My parents bought a 29-room motel in 1976 and we moved in. I worked the front desk, took care of the pool and was everybody’s runner – going to the grocery store for guests or out for fast food. The guests always said, “Keep the change!” and I became a 12-year-old with a lot of cash. It gave me a real interest in entrepreneurship. I earned a business degree at the University of Southern California before attending an executive education program at Cornell University for hospitality management. In 1992, I came back home to work for my parents, who owned seven hotels by then.
What key decision propelled you forward?
I got laid off by my parents, who didn’t like my wild ideas about the future of hospitality. I told them people were going to book hotel rooms on something called the internet. I said they needed to place coffee makers in every guest room. They promptly handed me a box for my belongings. I started my own company in 1994. I asked relatives and friends to invest, and a number did, particularly my uncle – a successful physician – who helped me buy six hotels in the first five years. We now own 50 hotels – including a number of Marriott Hotels, Courtyard by Marriott, Four Points, Residence Inn, Fairfield Inn and Fairfield Inn & Suites – as well as some apartment buildings and shopping centers.
How has COVID impacted your business?
It was horrible. We had to shut down our restaurants, bars and banquet rooms. We laid off 2,000 people and just tried to keep everything afloat. But 99 percent of our hotels stayed open. Business is better this year than last year.
What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?
Get a mentor. Ask people – who know what they are doing – for advice. When you want to learn to fish, do you read a book? Or do you ask the fisherman who’s been out on the water for 50 years? Understand your capabilities and be realistic about your goals. Most importantly, trust your instinct.
What are your parents doing now?
They are semi-retired and own just one hotel. They’ve come a long way. My mom has an iPhone, she’s on Facebook and WeChat. She likes to send me YouTube videos.
I love everything about Joseph’s story. I grew up in a family that owned a hotel and restaurant, so I understand what it means to work a front desk as a teenager. I admire how Joseph pivoted from the tough early experience of being laid off by his parents to pursue his own vision. His journey has been extraordinary, rooted in humility and a network of people who believed in him. We can all learn from Joseph – success often comes with risk, innovative thinking and an eye to the future.