Do You See Risk Or Opportunity?

By David Kong

Tuesday January 3, 2017

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” T. S. Eliot

Taking risks isn’t something that many people are comfortable doing, especially when it comes to one’s career. Yet that guiding principle has been a driving force throughout my career and lies at the heart of my success.

As I have watched my daughter grow and flourish in her own career, I have encouraged her to view risks not as a negative, but rather an opportunity.

In 1989, I was the general manager of the Hyatt Regency Oak Brook, located just outside of Chicago, Illinois. I was passionate about my role as GM and had the opportunity to introduce innovative, cutting-edge ideas. For example, we implemented a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee – a powerful sales and marketing tool, which, at the time, was unheard of. Our revenue increased, employee engagement scores soared, as did others’ confidence in my ability to lead.

Just as I had settled into this role and was experiencing success, I was offered a position in the company’s corporate office, spearheading the business process reengineering efforts. The position was vaguely defined but the expectations were significant. I accepted the risk because I anticipated that the position would force me to think outside of the box.

The next chance I took was to build up Hyatt’s “back of the house” marketing capabilities with a focus on database marketing during a period when the term “database marketing” was foreign to most people. I was also responsible for launching the first at a time when the internet was in its nascency. I accepted the risk of taking this position because I wanted to build up my competencies in these areas as well as sales and marketing technologies.

The third significant risk I took in my career was to leave the hotel industry entirely to work for KPMG Consulting – a move that made no sense on the surface since I knew nothing about consulting. At that time, many companies were seeking advice on how they could reduce costs and build up competencies in technology, the internet, database marketing, loyalty programs, customer relationship management, strategic planning, and change management – the skills I had acquired in my previous ten years.

Finally, I accepted an offer to join Best Western. At the time, many of my friends were surprised as my experience had been with companies such as Omni, Hilton, Hyatt – which competed in different segments than Best Western. I knew there was a certain level of risk associated with accepting the role, but, as I had in the past, moved forward anyway.

Ultimately, I was able to achieve five promotions in less than four years. Were they the result of luck? Were they the result of being in the right place at the right time? I believe the promotions resulted from seeing the opportunity within the risk, which had a larger effect. It enabled me to expand my skillset, build competencies in new and emerging areas, and gain the broad-based experience necessary to add value and move my career forward.

In closing, I am reminded of a John F. Kennedy quote which says, “When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.” This quote is significant because it reminds us that risk and opportunity are inextricably linked.

As we move into the New Year, may we remember that wherever we see risk, opportunity is on the horizon.