John Chen stands in stark contrast to your standard hotelier. While many hone their skills through hospitality schools, Chen cut his teeth as a theoretical mathematician, a high school teacher in the U.S., and an investment banker in London and New York before returning to his hometown of Taipei and switching lanes to hospitality with his family-run Gloria Hotel Group.
Perhaps “switching lanes” is wrong, however. Chen’s venture into the hotel world is also an extension of his teaching career, a test of his investment astuteness, and a practical application of mathematics in hospitality.
Although his family owns and runs a “traditional, no-frills business hotel” that is one of the oldest in Taipei, Chen wanted to experiment with the idea of bringing soul to a property. This is where his mathematical erudition comes in handy. “A good hotel must have soul,” he explains. “Soul is the Location Function of Character to the power of Service.” If this sounds like esoteric jargon, that’s because it is—he is a theoretical mathematician, after all.
Chen goes on to explain his formula. “Mathematically speaking, a Function is a relation involving one or more variables. In this case, the Location Function represents the relation involving Character and Service. When Character to the power of Service, yielding a positive number, is placed in the right Location, the result is a radiating Soul. In other words, Soul results from the combination of Character and Service being placed in the right Location.” Expressed mathematically, Chen writes this as Soul = Location (Character^Service).
“Character is more than a personality or identity,” he explains. “When one enters a hotel, one should be able to find character in the tangibles and intangibles. The design, the materials, and the scent of it. Even in the service, there should be a distinct embodiment of this character. Service is a vehicle that the hotel uses to convey its character—it’s more than just the interaction between staff and guests. Through logical service actions, emotions are inspired in both the staff and guests.”
This can be seen in every fiber of both Hotel Proverbs and Gloria Manor. For example, the character of Hotel Proverbs is composed of references to the surreal art of Francisco de Goya and architecture that is both post-modern and eco-friendly, while the service sees on-hand butlers and the hotel’s location puts guests at the heart of Taipei’s freshly developed Eastern District.
As well as being an exponent of mathematical theory in hospitality, Chen employs his tried-and-tested teaching methods in his role as CEO of Gloria Hotel Group. “When I was a teacher, I tried to lead students to the solution. Now, with my colleagues, I find myself going back to that teaching method. And because of my training in theoretical math, I try to encourage straightforward, logical discussion during meetings, which often results in one strategy that satisfies everyone. I find it important in a company to formulate a strategy as a team, so that everyone can take ownership of an idea. That’s what encourages people to carry on learning, which, in turn, has a positive effect on the staff’s happiness and the guest’s overall experience.”