Timing is of utmost importance in the launch of a new business. But when Pilar Morais and her family launched CHI International – a company which operates serviced apartments in Hong Kong – in the summer of 2008, it couldn’t have been at a worse time. The launch coincided with the outbreak of the global financial crisis followed by mass layoffs and budget cutbacks by financial institutions, the main client base for serviced apartments.
Morais remembers the experience as the first of two of the toughest challenges she has faced in her career – “starting a new brand with empty buildings”, she says with a laugh.
The CHI CEO explains that, for a long time, serviced apartment operators had basically one source of clientele – the financial industry. “So we had to be a bit creative [when CHI was launched during the crisis], and our locations helped us because we purposely steered away from Hong Kong side initially. We had three properties in Kowloon, specifically West Kowloon, and one in Sai Ying Pun when we started, and as a result we started getting a diversified clientele like transport and garment professionals,” Morais says.
This mixed bag of clients helped CHI develop into a major player in the serviced apartments industry in Hong Kong. Such a difficult – but ultimately successful – start helped Morais establish her credentials in an industry in which her father, Philip Morais, is considered a pioneer; he was the founding partner of Shama, which he eventually sold.
Later, to keep himself busy after retirement, Morais senior launched CHI with Pilar. “My father has been in the property industry for over 40 years, so making [the CHI brand] your own, earning your stripes in this town, was the second hurdle,” she says.
Pilar Morais is a stickler for time. “Time management is very important to me. If someone tells me to meet at 10 o’clock I will make sure I am there five minutes ahead; five minutes after 10 o’clock is five minutes wasted. Time is very important and of value. People have a lot going on in their lives; whether they are working full time or not working, everyone has different priorities going on, and your scheduled time with them is important.”
Likewise, she says all time is quality time, and one needs to balance work and home quality time to work happily. “If [people] don’t have the balance they are not happy, and if they are not happy they can’t do their job,” Morais says.