What prepared me to lead as CEO

with David Kong, founder and principal of DEI Advisors (and former CEO of BWH Hotel Group)

Good morning. Humble. Hardworking. Helpful. The trifecta of great leadership - and mentorship. And those three words define David Kong - who was the longest-running CEO of any major hotel group. Today, he shares with us the specific skills that helped him most on his journey to becoming CEO.

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What Prepared Me To Be CEO

with David Kong, founder and principal of DEI Advisors

David Kong

When David Kong retired from BWH Hotel Group, he was the longest-running CEO of any major hotel company. Today, he shares with us the things that helped him on his journey to becoming CEO, including building a diverse skill set, honing intuition, developing strategic thinking, and learning how to listen well.

Building a diverse skill set

David’s journey from busboy to CEO included stops in every major area of hotel operations, from food and beverage to finance - and shows the importance of being multifaceted.

“You cannot be a one-trick pony.”

David Kong

"You can't be just good at one thing; you need to learn to be good at many disciplines,” he said. This philosophy guided his own career as he made a deliberate effort to understand every part of the hotel business. This desire to broaden his abilities led to a rich and varied career that made him a desirable general manager candidate early on.

But it wasn’t just about functional expertise. David also emphasized the importance of being a good team leader, taking a personalized approach to understanding and motivating those around him.

“People are wired differently and you can't be all things to people. You have to be very customized in your approach to what people's needs are and how you help them.”

David Kong

Honing intuition and strategic thinking

According to David, intuition and strategic thinking are vital at executive levels. He learned the importance of trial and error in honing these skills.

"You have to try new things. If it works, you learn to do that. If it doesn't work, you learn not to do that - and over time, you build wonderful intuition."

David Kong

David’s path to leadership across business units - including business process reengineering efforts and launching the first Hyatt.com website - cultivated both intuition and a strategic approach that prepared him for greater leadership.

Becoming a great listener

One skill that is sometimes overlooked but critical to David’s success was the ability to listen well. He highlighted this by reflecting on his time as a consultant, where he learned to actively listen.

"Listening is a key ingredient to success because when you are actively listening to someone, you make that person feel important."

David Kong

It’s a skill that ended up impressing the board of directors at Best Western, and led to his CEO role, David shared. “They told me they hired me not only because of my experience but because I listened well."

Character is the foundation for it all

But beneath all of these things is the importance of strong personal character, David told me. He underscored trustworthiness, dependability, and integrity specifically.

You have to be a trustworthy, dependable, respectable person. Trust is the foundation of any relationship, and you've got to build that foundation first.

David Kong

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