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7 Questions on Leadership with Carl Wee

Name: Carl Wee

Title: Vice President, Technical Services, Asia Pacific

Organisation: Wyndham Hotels & Resorts

In his capacity as Vice President of Technical Services at Wyndham Hotels & Resorts Asia Pacific, Carl is responsible for leading his team in managing architecture, interior design, and construction of hotels across their 18 different brands in the region. Blending design sensibilities with business acumen in their work for hotel Owners in maximizing returns right from planning through construction has also helped Wyndham set record growth numbers of hotel executions and openings in APAC over the past 10 years.

A passionate advocate for sustainability and technology in hospitality, Carl believes balancing efficient green construction with market-led data-driven design is the key to improving guest-centric experiences for a prolonged environmentally responsible future.

Prior to Wyndham, Carl began his career as an architect and has since served in management roles thereafter for international hospitality and real estate companies such as Ascott and Capitaland – managing design and projects, as well as undertaking technical advisory of acquisitions and divestments on various asset classes (including commercial, industrial, residential other than hospitality) across the globe.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope Carl's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

Meeting the needs of team members. Everyone has different expectations from their jobs - and it varies between the 2 extremes of viewing it as a career that can only be satisfied by continuously climbing the corporate ladder, and the other perspective as a stable means to pay bills and provide for families. These 2 demands are not mutually exclusive so the key is delicately striking a perfect balance.

COVID had also introduced the concept of WFH (working from home) which allowed team members time with family commitments during the work week so even post-COVID some calibrated flexibility is still appreciated and should be considered.

Upon recruitment or onboarding of your team member - it's important to understand the needs of every member so you can try as best as possible to address them; not only for the member but also balancing it fairly across the entire team, so that individual team members are happy whilst functioning at high capacity to attain targets collectively as a team.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

Well, I was fortunate to have had a long runway since young - back in junior school I started as a representative for subjects, moving on to leading my class and even being the conductor of my orchestra in high school - so I was no stranger to responsibilities, managing peers and delivering results.

However, I'd say the key metamorphosis came during my couple of years serving my nation in the army (all Singaporean males like myself have to serve National Service) - as they said that was when boys became men. Starting as a recruit with everyone else, I managed to move up the ranks training to be a sergeant, and eventually crossed over to officer cadet school to complete my service as a young lieutenant. The army is a microcosm of society with folks from all walks of life - interaction was beyond boys of similar educational backgrounds. There were guys from the streets, and I even had the opportunity to represent and counsel a peer at a military court. Those times allowed me to grow tremendously in my capacity as a leader to manage team member's expectations and drive targets. Even though I was of higher rank in that environment, it was never about the rank; it was identifying what makes your platoon mates tick - sometimes it was as simple as motivating them with more free time and rest after they completed a required activity within a shorter time.

That foundation paved a solid foundation for my corporate path now.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

Work days usually start by preparing my boys for school together with my wife - getting them to be fed and clothed, before sending them to school and then heading to the office.

Our boys' schools start pretty early so that ends up with me usually being first at the office way before my colleagues get in. It's good really - since with the office being quiet for about an hour I can effectively get prepared and focus on tasks for the day (or the week if it happens to be a Monday) and dive straight into them.

Then it would be a full day of meetings/calls/emails with just a simple lunch for pause in between.

When work ends I'd meet my fairer half and then pick up my boy from school; thereafter we'd have a family dinner together - I believe in the saying "A family that eats together, stays together" - and that is about the only time we can connect and interact as a family.

After dinner, it'd be time for a bit of me-time to wind down either with some reading or exercise before putting the boys to bed.

Then the cycle repeats!

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

Address difficult conversations and challenging situations promptly.

This popped up due to some misunderstandings between team members who had to work closely together - as a leader I had to step in and mitigate expectations so that each individual team member's needs could be heard and yet be able to place him/herself in the shoes of others to make the team efforts work.

Through my leadership journey, I've come to realize that the difficult part is not managing the work; it's managing people to carry out the work.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

"What Got You Here Won't Get You There" by Marshall Goldsmith.

There are many nuggets of leadership wisdom in there. Some of them were insightful, especially the parts on communication - which is a fundamental skill when managing a team. In success - give recognition and show appreciation. In failure - take responsibility, apologize, and follow up on improvements.

Till today this book can still be found on my shelf, and I go back to it every once in a while for reminders. Go read it.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

Be humble, listen, and learn - especially from those team members who are more experienced than you.

Being a leader doesn't automatically give you the necessary credentials on full knowledge of what you are managing - it only means you (probably) have the necessary skills to pull a team (members of which are presumably competent in their disciplines) together completely what the company wants your team to achieve.

During my capacity as a young leader, I've found myself admiring the breadth/depth of expertise in my team members and learned much from them - it's akin to getting hindsight from their successes/mistakes which truly accelerates your professional capacity even as you lead them to complete the team's objectives together.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

There was once when a team member came to me with a resignation letter - he was visibly apologetic since I had only recognized his efforts via his annual appraisal recently which allowed him better remuneration, so he probably didn't feel like it was the best reciprocation to be leaving the team, and he explained to me that he was thankful for the opportunities and trust given to him in his current capacity so it wasn't so much about the company nor leadership but a rare chance to venture onto another adventure (at even higher pay) which had a pull factor, so he felt bad for wanting to leave us.

I sat him down and firstly congratulated him on being able to progress to a better position outside of the company, and then explained that I empathized with him - I've been in his shoes before, there's nothing to be apologetic for; the ability to land a better job out there was a testimony of the good work that he had done in his current capacity for our company and our team. He was appreciative and even commented that I was different from his previous leaders who would usually be cold towards resigning team members.

To this day I still meet this ex-teammate often for meals to catch up and reminisce about old times.

I'll end on this note: Remember that everyone at work (and in life) is a person trying his/her best just like yourself. So being colleagues at a workplace is typically just transient, but building relationships and being friends for life should be what matters most.

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