“I have always loved drawing since I was young. I used to sketch imaginary worlds and I still draw and paint,” says Chief Development Officer of The Ascott Limited, Mr Leong Teng Wui. For as long as he can remember, Mr Leong had always wanted to be an architect. At 46, he can safely say that all his childhood dreams have come true. Architect, urban planner, developer, he has done it all.
“As I grew older, I discovered that I also loved learning about the physical world. And I loved Science, Math and the Humanities. Architecture has all these dimensions,” says the man who holds a Bachelor’s degree in Architecture from the National University of Singapore and a Master’s Degree in Urban Design & Architecture from Harvard University.
Designing a Global Home for the World Traveller
These days, Mr Leong is channeling his passion for Architecture and his 15 years of experience in designing living spaces to create a home away from home experience for millions of guests in over 250 serviced residences across nearly 90 cities under The Ascott Limited.
“We design our environment to evoke the warmth and comforts of home and to create a sense of community so our guests feel like they’ve never left home. This is how we differentiate ourselves,” explains Mr Leong.
In the London residences, there are reading rooms and parlours reminiscent of English mansions but reinterpreted for a contemporary touch. In one of the Vietnam properties, an edible garden has been introduced.
Beyond design and amenities, Mr Leong also incorporates local touches in the décor for a taste of the hospitality and culture of the country. From fabrics influenced by traditional Indonesian Ikat (a dyeing technique) designs in Citadines Kuta Beach Bali to Thai cultural artefacts in the Bangkok serviced residences and specially curated artwork, furniture and furnishings in the Parisian suites that are unmistakably French, great attention has been paid to details to make the host country a home for Ascott’s guests.
Creating a Sense of Place at Work
This knack of helping people feel comfortable in a place is something that is seen in Mr Leong’s leadership style as well. To foster a sense of ownership of the job and loyalty to the organisation amongst his multi-national staff, he empowers them to make decisions and to innovate.
“I create a safe environment where they are free to try and take managed risks on innovation projects initiated by themselves and in their area of work. I tell them to fail fast and small, and learn from it. That is the key to being anti-fragile,” shares Mr Leong.
“To tap on their passion and energy, I help them connect their contribution to the larger goal of the company. I get them to understand that it is more than just a job they are doing. They are embarking on an adventure to blaze a new trail in hospitality.”
Likening his leadership style to nurturing a forest of bamboos where each can prop up the other and grow, instead of a Banyan tree which, while big and strong, casts a shadow where nothing much can grow beneath its shade, the man who heads Ascott’s professional team of architects, interior designers, engineers, project managers, cost & contract managers says, “I can’t be the only one thinking for the company. Leadership is all about stewardship. You are safeguarding the company for the next generation. My goal as a leader is not to groom just one successor but to grow a group of leaders in the second and even third generation.”
Drawing Inspiration from a Childhood Ambition
Interestingly, Architecture is not just his passion; it was what gave him the opportunity to meet the love of his life, too.
“My wife is also an architect and we met at work,” he reveals with a smile.
Because Architecture features so much in their life, the Leongs make it a point to broaden their horizons during their leisure.
“We are serial learners,” he laughs. “When we got married, my wife and I decided we would learn at least one new life skill a year, especially pursuits or hobbies we didn’t have a chance to pick up when we were younger.”
Thus far, the adventurous couple has pursued everything from skiing to fencing and even “one valiant attempt with salsa dancing”. The one hobby Mr Leong and his wife of 11 years have really developed a love for is sailing.
Designed to be a Home
For the man whose career centers on designing global homes for others, Mr Leong’s idea of home is fittingly earthy.
“Home is a place where memories are made, where rituals and routines are set, and experiences gathered. Without these, a house would simply be a shelter not a home,” he says.
That is why he is in the midst of rebuilding his terrace house so that it can accommodate his parents and parents-in-law, too.
“The central feature of my new home is the kitchen because my wife, my mom and my mother-in-law love to cook. It harkens back to the Asian idea of the hearth as the centre of life. We wanted to recreate the social kitchen where everyone gathers,” he explains.
Drawing from memories of his carefree childhood when home was in the kampong (village) of Jalan Jurong Kechil where he would romp with his neighbours and fish in the canals, Mr Leong’s new house is designed to incorporate plenty of greenery, edible gardens and open spaces.
With a child and elders living together under one roof, the new house will be an even more welcoming respite, given the fact that Mr Leong travels “up to a few times every month” as part of his job.
But he has this to say of his many sojourns, “Wherever I go, I am meeting up with my colleagues from different parts of the world and living in our Ascott properties. So it never feels like I am going away because it is my home away from home.”
Spoken like a man who has perfected the art of making others feel at home and understands the heart of what makes a home.