When Sonia Cheng became CEO of the Rosewood Hotel Group, in 2011, at the age of 29, she moved into a role that now involves managing 55 properties across multiple hotel brands in 18 countries and supervising some 10,000 employees. Yet for Cheng, the granddaughter of Hong Kong billionaire Cheng Yu-tung, whose New World Group conglomerate bought Rosewood for $230 million, the most overwhelming task was overseeing the development of one hotel in particular: Rosewood Beijing. “The launch was critical,” she says. “It was the first Rosewood hotel in China. It was like a shop window for the brand for a huge new market.”
The project, which took five years and $120 million to develop, opened in October 2014 in the city’s Central Business District and quickly became the most talked-about hotel in Beijing. The decor in the 283 rooms and suites is muted brown and cream, with touches such as original cloisonné paintings, fine-art prints, and illustrated books about China’s cultural treasures. With Beijing being the art capital of China, works by Chinese artists play a big role throughout the property—from a three-story modern landscape painting in the lobby to energetic Pop Art in the fitness center. The six restaurants have received rave reviews, with the informal restaurant, Country Kitchen, even being described as pretty much on point at every turn. And nowhere in the city is there anything like the Sense spa’s nearly 9,000-square-foot pool, where light from the glass roof floods down onto a tranquil indoor garden.
Before joining the family business, Cheng graduated from Harvard University and worked in finance, at Morgan Stanley and Warburg Pincus, and in real estate. “I know I am not the most seasoned hotelier,” says Cheng of her CEO appointment. “It was a steep learning curve for me, and I certainly did a crash course in the beginning to get myself up to speed on everything—from operations, sales and marketing, human resources, and more.”
Under Cheng’s watch, the Rosewood brand plans to grow fast, aiming to add 32 properties by 2020, to more than double its current 18. Other hotels in Cheng’s management portfolio include New World Hotels & Resorts, which has ten properties in Asia, and pentahotels, with 27 hotels globally.
Cheng is married to Paulo Pong, who runs a wine-importing business and cofounded a number of Hong Kong restaurants. The couple has a two-year-old daughter and a 17-month-old son. What keeps Cheng grounded is following her grandfather’s lead. “He is very humble and down-to-earth,” she says. “Perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned is that no matter how successful you may become, do not fall victim to ego and pride, and it’s always through humility that you really open your eyes to how the world is changing.”