Think “Hotel General Manager” and the image of Joe Ho probably won’t come to mind. In Beijing, most general managers of international brand five star hotels are plump European men invariably wearing a boring black suit and sometimes even square toed loafers. The more stylish ones might don an Hermès tie, gifted by the wife. Most surprisingly, Joe is the GM of the Grand Millennium Fortune Plaza Apartments rather than the chicest boutique hotel in town.
Joe Ho is not only Beijing’s most fashionable hotel GM: he might even be the most stylish man over forty in town – not that there is much competition in that age bracket. Half-Japanese, half-Chinese, Joe was born in Japan and grew up in the States. He has been in the hotel industry for over thirty years and in China for nearly ten. Quite the creative himself, he has designed new uniforms, stationary, and menus for his property. This is just the beginning. I chatted with Joe a bit recently.
NF: Why do you dress so differently from other general managers? What does your style represent? How does this make your hotel different from theirs?
JH: For one thing, I am really into fashion. Beyond that, when I work I am fully in work mode, but when I get off I like to take off the mask and be myself without any pretenses or airs. I suppose the fact that I come from a mixed background also makes me more welcoming to a variety of influences. In general I tend to reject routine and focus on the human side of work. My management style is also very individualized.
NF: Is the hotel industry stylish enough? What about the design of hotels?
JH: Oh, not really. It is a very traditional industry from the international brands on down to local companies, everything is a bit unimaginative. Perhaps just recently some boutique hotels have started to be more innovative.
NF: From what age did you start being a clothes horse?
JH: I was into clothes from the very earliest years when I was growing up in Japan. At three, I had my first full cowboy outfit. My mother actually had a big impact on my aesthetic sense.
NF: How have your wives and girlfriends reacted to your intense interest in fashion?
JH: They say that they have never met a man with so much clothing. I think they envy me (laughter).
NF: What sort of design do you enjoy? Where does your inspiration come from?
JH: I enjoy designing all sorts of things though the starting point is graphic design. I have created everything from umbrellas, to print ads, employee uniforms, souvenirs. I just get inspiration from walking around the city.
NF: U.S. and Chinese men – who is worse dressed? I know Japanese men must be the best.
JH: Americans are pretty good at casual but they can rarely manage to look elegant; generally Chinese men need to work on all areas; and comparatively – you’re right – Japanese men do look better most of the time.
NF: Any style advice for Beijing man?
JH: Expose yourself to more styles, learn more about how to dress and focus on color matching.
NF: Alright, just to conclude, we would like to know where in the city a stylish guy like goes to shop, eat, drink, etc.?
JH: Well, for clothing I must confess that I sometimes use Taobao, but for accessories (watches, shoes, bag), you have to go to the big brand names stores. As for restaurants, I’m very keen on spicy food like at Feiteng Yuxiang. For Japanese, I like Tori Tei. I also like Maison Boulud for Western food and 1949 for a drink.
NF: Alright, well, I hope to come by the Grand Millennium some time in the near future to try one of those extra-smooth Sakes you have.