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Finding passion: Three unexpected lessons from eminent hoteliers

Each year we invite IB alumni to share their experiences, interests and advice with our global community in the graduate voices series. We welcome Diploma Programme (DP) graduate of Anglo-Chinese School (Independent), Klaus Tan to reflect on his passions.

feat image klaus
Photo courtesy of: Hanson Lu, @haaansoooon

By Klaus Tan

Whenever I meet strangers, I love to ask, “What are you skillful or passionate in?” It’s a great conversation starter—stemming from the understanding that everyone has a special skill that’s above average, in at least one field of their life.

I’m a professional photographer with my label CHUTTERSNAP. I have a passion for photography; particularly, photographing luxury hotels and have collaborated with prestigious hospitality brands such as the St. Regis, Shangri-La and Hyatt.

Unsurprisingly, the lives of puissant hoteliers exemplify great passion. I’ll share three thoughts which have shaped my passion, which I’ll link to the inspiring stories of these magnates.

1 | “Where your treasure is, your heart will be also.”

Just look to where you’re spending most of these resources.”

The typical interpretation is: Our heart follows the treasure. However, the reverse is also true—our treasure follows our heart. Most commonly, treasure exists in the forms of limited resources such as wealth, energy and time. Want to find what you’re passionate about? Just look to where you’re spending most of these resources.

One who lived this truth was John Jacob Astor IV, the founder of the Waldorf Astoria and the St. Regis brands. Though born an aristocrat, it was clear that he didn’t let his resources go to waste as he seized every opportunity to invest his time and wealth to expand new business ideas. He poured in some USD255 million in today’s equivalent to build the Astoria—the finest hotel in all America. One century on, his hotels are still among the world’s most successful and luxurious—no coincidence for someone who was willing to risk treasure for his passion in the real estate business.

There is no greater disappointment than one who possesses all these scarce resources but does not command them to work. It costs much to gain much and it can feel painful to reconcile with the initial sense of loss. Rest assured, there is a prize for every trouble. Steward well all that’s granted to you and it’ll be repaid unto you!

2 | Your calling is today.

Why not realise that now is the time to live your calling?”

Most people speak about callings in life as if they are abstract concepts of a distant future. We have a tendency to disconnect our present life from our purpose, thinking that “purpose” is something we step into only when we’re mature and experienced enough. Why not realise that now is the time to live your calling? As culture would phrase it, “own the moment”. Living your “calling” is simply doing whatever you can within your current capacity.

I love the life story of Cesar Ritz, the forebearer of the ultra-luxury Ritz-Carlton brand. Born in the 1850s to a poor peasant family, Ritz started apprenticeship as a waiter at 15. The patron quickly dismissed him saying, “you’ll never make anything of yourself in the hotel business … you haven’t got it.” That didn’t daunt Ritz, who realised that this was his calling. He kept a spirit of excellence by learning whatever he could about the hotel business, from whoever he could—even from customers! Some 20 years later after countless setbacks and trials, he eventually purchased his first hotel. One common element of luminaries? They know their calling is to make the most out of every moment.

Treat everyday as a vocation you’re blessed with. Look forward to accomplishing something everyday, instead of being held hostage to the mindset of always looking for the “next big thing”. We’re placed wherever we need to be, to whatever we need to do. I’m not saying that we should be short-sighted, or neglect planning for the future, but instead we should realise that there is life to be lived right now. And if we don’t seize the opportunities granted to us, we’ll miss out.

3 | It’s impossible, until you make it possible.

The reward is promised, but the necessary condition is that we start first.”

We’re all acquainted with this principle, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” Notice how the initiative must begin within us? The reward is promised, but the necessary condition is that we start first.

Consider Conrad Hilton, the founder of the Hilton Hotels Group. In the 1929 Great Depression, Hilton was made almost bankrupt. Remember the John Jacob Astor IV’s Waldorf Astoria? Hilton dared to dream of acquiring it and more so dared to act towards his passion. Broke but faith filled, Hilton kept a photograph of the Waldorf Astoria on his desk, which acted as a visual reminder of his dream. Although this seemed an impossible task, he took small steps of faith towards the big goal daily, by acquiring smaller hotels and professing into existence his dream of possessing of the Waldorf Astoria. In 1972, that dream became a reality. Faith indeed yields success.

We admire luminaries for the excellent work they’ve managed to accomplish and wish it would be so in our lives. Much as their success didn’t start without their willingness to try, ours cannot be otherwise. Empires don’t rise up overnight. Keep at what you’re doing with an excellent spirit and carry on and the reward for your passion is at hand.

The proverb “a skilled man will stand before kings” is particularly apt to conclude this article. Even royalty takes notice of people with passion and this could be your reality. Perhaps today you will allow the three prompts to reconsider how you view life. There’s so much more out there, don’t let your life waste to mediocrity.


Klaus Tan is a graduate of the Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) institution in Singapore. He’s not your typical perfect scorer who’s only about academics—he’s also an established photographer, having worked with hospitality brands including Marriott and Hyatt while studying and holds a billion views on the photographs he takes. Passionate about leadership, he’ll choose to interact with people of all backgrounds anytime.

To hear more from Diploma Programme (DP) graduates check out these IB programme stories. If you are an IB grad and want to share your story, write to us at [email protected]We appreciate your support in sharing IB stories and invite you to connect with us on LinkedIn, Twitter and now Instagram!

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