I wake up around 6.45am but that can change a lot depending on which country I’m in and what time zone. My job means that I travel about 80 per cent of the time, but when I’m at home in Chicago I’ll try to get up around the same time each day. The weather plays a big part when deciding what to wear so I won’t decide on my outfit until I see what it’s like outside - but most days I’ll wear a suit.
After several cups of coffee, I’ll head to work. I drive a BMW X5 – I know it’s terrible but I love big cars. It takes me about seven minutes to get to work and I’m usually in by 8.30am. As soon as I arrive at the office, I grab a latte from Starbucks and read my horoscope, which is always on a sign on the counter, just to see if the day ahead is going to be good or bad! Once at my desk I’ll spend the first hour seeing what’s going on in Asia as there’s only a short window of time when I can respond to them before they go to bed. After a quick skim through The New York Times and a run-through of the day’s agenda with my assistant I’m good to go.
I then spend about five hours of my day in meetings, which is far too much for my liking. As president my main job is to make sure the brand is on track in terms of our global objective and that our hotels are being as profitable as they can be. A lot of my day is also spent interacting with people all over the world who’re working with our existing hotels and also trying to set up new (affiliates). We’re currently looking at extending the brand into more countries, so I’ll make sure those hotels fit the brands we want them to go into.
When I became president last year, after seven years with the company, the first thing I did was treat myself to a pair of Manolos! I’ve also had more opportunity to network with other executives, and it has been a pleasant surprise to meet a lot of other female executives. The hospitality industry is still very male-dominated, but I’m seeing more women enter the industry. I think one of the main reasons more women aren’t in involved is because you need to be flexible – you have to be able to move around a lot and that can be a challenge for many women, especially those with families. As I don’t have a family, I can afford to be more flexible.
My travelling quota went up a notch when I became president and I’ve now visited more than 60 countries – some for just a holiday but most for work, as we have hotels in over 70 countries. I travelled through Checkpoint Charlie when there was still a wall separating East and West Berlin, schlepped my way around India and went on safari in South Africa. The one place I really want to travel to is Oman, which is frustrating as I come to Dubai often but haven’t managed to make it across the border! I’d also love to go to Antarctica – just to say I’ve been to all of the continents.
My age surprises people when I first meet them – they don’t expect me to be so young, but I think both my age and being a woman has helped me. I do things differently from men, such as listening more than talking. Men will generally go right in and take control of everything but I think you learn more by listening to what others have to say.
Sometimes I wish I had more of a routine, but my routine is to not have one. When I’m in the office my rule is that I must leave by 6.30pm, because if I don’t I’ll be there all evening. I’m a terrible cook so I’ll usually spend my evenings out for dinner or ordering takeaway.
My piece of advice for other women looking to break the glass ceiling would be ‘don’t be too hard on yourself’. As women we think we have to be good at everything but it’s the ability to not feel you have to take over the world but to take things as they come that really counts. Having the quiet confidence that you know what you’re doing is all that matters.