As co-founder of Lloyd’s Inn and Ove, Joan Chang is creating new spaces and experiences for the millennial generation. The Prestige 40 Under 40 2020 inductee tells Annabel Tan how she is helping to shape the real estate and hospitality industry from the ground up.
When Joan Chang took on the task of revamping her family-owned boutique hotel, Lloyd’s Inn, almost seven years ago, it was entirely of her own volition. Contrary to popular belief, the daughter of Herman Chang, founder of property developer Macly Group, was never groomed to join the family business. Today, she is the lauded co-founder of the relaunched Lloyd’s Inn, as well as Ove, her own modern luxury lifestyle brand that encompasses homes, hospitality and wellness.
It was in 2014 when she first requested to get involved. Only 23 at the time and fresh out of university, she had no industry experience but, with her marketing background, saw the opportunity to elevate the Lloyd’s Inn brand from an old budget hotel to a novel concept that would ride on the staycation trend and satiate millennials’ growing appetite for unique experiences and authenticity.
A Singapore Management University business management graduate who majored in finance and marketing, Joan saw that hospitality had not fully transitioned into digital media yet, and wanted to take a creative and unconventional approach – not just in terms of the design of the hotel, but also in crafting a new way to market it and defining a new audience. She recognised that her own skill set could fill the gap and add value to what her family had already built.It was at the dinner table one evening that Joan raised the idea to her father. “I told him that I think this is something I can do and asked him, “Can you let me on board?’ And he took a chance on me,” recalls the 30-year-old, who is the only one of three siblings working for the business. “Many people tend to associate joining a family business with the fact that everything is handed down to you on a silver platter. However, within a business, there can be many other ways to enhance value, diversify or add a portfolio. Ultimately, these opportunities are there for us to carve on our own.”
As she embarked on transforming Lloyd’s Inn, Joan was often the youngest and least experienced in the room. But she gamely rolled up her sleeves and took a very hands-on approach to learning the ropes by working across the various divisions of the hotel like housekeeping and front-of-house to interact with her staff and understand the hospitality business better. “I’ve never assumed a prideful mentality or that of ‘I’m from the second generation, therefore I’m the boss’. I genuinely believe that no matter who you are, you earn the respect of others through your work ethic. I’m prepared to learn and earn my keep with a results-driven mentality,” she asserts. “At the same time, I try to come in with insight based on my own marketing background, but I don’t intrude into the areas that are not my expertise.”
She adds: “Mutual respect is important and I think over time, when we are able to show people that we respect their jurisdiction and give them the credit due for their own spheres of work, they will be able to respect you too in the long run.”
Even as she was working on the revamp, Joan was hungry for more industry knowledge and assumed two concurrent roles at Huttons Real Estate group from 2013 to 2015 as a full-time business analyst as well as a real estate agent. “I think I grew a lot in those first three years because as a real estate agent, you are on the ground and exposed to all sorts of client personalities,” she says. “I also made mistakes, and I learnt from them. The experience helped me learn the basics of the industry and exposed me to sales.”
Likewise, in her personal life, she is constantly eager to grow and broaden her horizons. In fact, she makes it a point to learn one new thing every day. She recently picked up cooking, and has been candidly sharing both her kitchen successes and failures on Instagram via #joanscookingadventures. “I enjoy things that allow one to gain a new perspective like travelling, conversing with people, and interesting theories about human psychology and how the world works,” says Joan, who also documents her globetrotting adventures on her Instagram account @joanstravel. “And I’m quite YOLO – I enjoy extreme sports and would love to go to space when they make space travel accessible.”
New lease of life
As someone who has always appreciated good design and architecture, Joan successfully gave Lloyd’s Inn a fresh, modern and minimalist makeover that very quickly became visual fodder for the Instagram generation. Nestled among lush greenery, the award-winning 34-room hidden oasis in the Orchard/Somerset district is one of Singapore’s top boutique hotels today. It is photogenic and highly distinguishable on social media for its raw yet clean and sophisticated aesthetic.
Since then, she has continued to bring that same creativity and ambition to more real estate and hospitality concepts. In the last three years alone, she founded The Canopy Spa in Bali, opened Lloyd’s Inn in Bali and launched The Iveria, the first residential project under Ove. Appealing to the millennial generation, the 19-storey freehold condominium in prime District 9 sold close to 30 per cent of its 51 units on launch day.
An important part of what makes The Iveria special is the strong lifestyle-driven element, the ethos of her brand Ove – offering the luxury of good design that complements a contemporary way of life. “Similar to how we transformed Lloyd’s Inn, we are selling an experience and not just a stay. My vision for Ove and our real estate projects is to add value to traditional real estate by bringing a bit of myself into the space and to keep it authentic.”
Staying engaged at every step of the way, Joan is particular about all aspects from design to branding. “While working on The Iveria, I was working very closely with the architects on it and would often go down to look at the tiles, review the colour schemes or selection of certain design details. I’m just as hands-on in our spa and hotels and everything that is currently in our collection.”
Eventually, her hope for the brand is to diversify into other segments of the lifestyle space, the details of which she prefers to keep under wraps for now. “I don’t want to just be the second generation that is taking over something for the sake of it,” she asserts. “I want to inject my own voice, my expertise and my passion into the space. I’m taking time to ensure each venture is viable, meaning we might not expand as fast as other bigger companies. But for me, it’s really about the journey, the experience and ensuring everything that we craft and do is in line with our ethos and our direction.”
FASHION DIRECTION JOHNNY KHOO
ART DIRECTION AUDREY CHAN
PHOTOGRAPHY JOEL LOW
FASHION STYLING JACQUIE ANG
HAIR EDWARD CHONG/EVOLVE, USING KEVIN.MURPHY
MAKE-UP WEE MING, USING NARS
PHOTOGRAPHY ASSISTANCE ALFIE PAN
FASHION ASSISTANCE BERNADETHA WOENARDI