WITH the atmosphere inside Alan Ho's office becoming increasingly cordial, it seemed to be as good a time as any to raise the question almost every visitor to Macau has ever asked - how on earth did the Lisboa Hotel ever end up looking the way it did? Since the hotel opened in the 1960s, its drum tower with pseudo-Iberian crenellations have had generations of visitors to the Portuguese enclave wondering whether the building was a brave experiment gone terribly wrong or a clever marketing ploy. Ho, whose uncle also happens to be Lisboa owner, Stanley, laughed. 'The architect who designed it is also a relative of mine. He told me that people always thought he had no taste because he had designed this gaudy, baroque hotel. 'But the architect added that what none of the critics realised was that the hotel was for gambling, and it had to be baroque to attract attention. And it has been very successful in that. It has a style of its own - whether you like it or not is beside the point.' If Ho sounds a little protective towards the Lisboa it is no surprise, since his 'Uncle Stanley' has entrusted him with many millions of patacas to extensively re-model the hotel's public areas and the 1,039 rooms. From next week renovation work will start on the 600 rooms that were in operation when the hotel opened. Another 460 were added when the new wing was completed in 1993. Work has already been completed sprucing up the entrance, lobby and the shopping arcades that had turned a uniform shade of brown after absorbing more than two decades-worth of cigarette smoke. 'The ceiling had not been cleaned for decades and the marble floors had not been polished for 20 years. In hotel terms these are nitty-gritty things that make the difference between having three, four or five stars,' Ho said. Born in Saigon, Ho went to the United States in 1964 to further his studies, which included spells at Stanford University and Harvard's law and business schools. His education and commercial experience in the US has left its mark, judging by the brutal frankness with which he assessed the contribution of his predecessor at the Lisboa. 'The Lisboa is the showpiece of Sociedade de Turismo e Diversoes de Macau [STDM, the parent company of Stanley Ho's enterprises]. It is extremely profitable. There was no need to allow it to become dilapidated. 'My predecessor did not want to take the initiative; maybe he wanted to do as little as possible and take as few decisions as possible,' Ho said, adding somewhat imperiously, 'No, I have no idea what became of him.' As well as setting a mop and scrubbing brush to the floors and ceilings, Ho decided to end the practice by which a sizeable number of people were getting free rooms from staff as a fringe benefit for spending heavily in the hotel casino. It is a fairly standard practice at casinos worldwide, but the problem was that it was being abused. Although he insisted he has no responsibility for the hotel's gambling operation, Ho's answer was to put all the records of who was giving the rooms away on computer and then to make it clear his uncle would now see a copy of the records every month; the number of giveaways shrunk overnight. A self-confessed wine buff and foodie whose idea of a 'dream holiday' is to drive through France with a copy of the Michelin Guide, Ho has also upgraded the Lisboa's cellars and restaurants. 'We started with the Galera, improving the wine list and working with the chefs to bring a more sophisticated cooking style.' Ho's business card styles him as the general manager of STDM's shipping and services department, the manager of Macau's maritime terminal and the president of Florinda Hotels, the Lisboa's holding company. Yet for many years it seemed that Ho would never work for his uncle. 'I joined STDM three-and-a-half years ago to clear up a misunderstanding that had run for over 20 years,' he explained. 'When I got out of business school in 1971, my father, who was Dr Ho's elder brother, told me: 'Don't think of ever working for your uncle - all your cousins do. You have an education; you can do better than that.' 'I never thought of asking uncle. It was only later that I discovered that he had expected me to join. When I was thinking of making a change to my career plans I checked with him and made sure there was not another misunderstanding.' In the last couple of years, Stanley Ho's daughters Daisy and Pansy, have accelerated their climb up their father's Shun Tak company. But Ho dismisses any suggestion that he might be part of the second generation of the family getting ready to step in should Stanley decide to concentrate on his ballroom dancing. 'I really do not see myself as part of the second generation at all. As far as I am concerned this is a job. I consider myself to be a professional doing a job and that has nothing whatsoever to do with the family. I just like to keep a low profile.'