May marks Asian American and Pacific Islander month – a celebration that commemorates Asian immigrants. From the continent of Asia to the Pacific Islands of Melanesia and Polynesia, Asian immigrants throughout the last two hundred years have been rooted in service and laid the framework and foundation for our country today. The month celebrates a rich heritage and the stories of those who immigrated to the United States throughout time.
Joe Yi, the Chief Investment Officer of Real Hospitality Group and ILHA East Coast Board Member recently shared his story of how being a first-generation immigrant, like many Asian predecessors, has shaped his life and set the framework for a successful career in hospitality. Joe’s advice transcends varied segments and departments, it goes beyond diverse career tracks, it makes you stop and think. It’s relevant regardless of wherever you are in your career at this given moment and will help provide a solid compass for personal and professional development for years to come.
Whether you’re based on the east coast or are located halfway across the world, we hope it resonates with you as it did with us. We hope it inspires you to find a way to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander month in a way that makes a positive impact in your own community both this month and beyond. If you would like to share how your own journey has impacted your career, join Joe and other ILHA Board Members at the Roof at Park South Hotel on Monday, May 23rd for the first East Coast Chapter’s meet and greet of the season. View the invitation and RSVP here
How do you personally identify within the Asian American and Pacific Islander community?
I identify myself as an American, but there is no denying that my Korean heritage also defines me, and I am defined by it.
When I came to the country, I was eight years old. I didn’t think about the cultural differences between the two countries; I was a child, an immigrant trying to fit in with poor English. But over the years, my identity as a Korean and American, while not in conflict with each other, was certainly more relevant. Watching the summer Olympics, I would gleefully cheer both US and Korean teams competing against each other knowing that I will win one way or the other, while my friends insisted, that I pick a side.
As a professional adult, I recognize that as a member of a minority community; I try to do my small part in supporting that community. Whether being a board member of an Asian American real estate association or participating in an Asian charitable organization, I try to do my small part. I recognize that I am more relatable to younger Asian kids as a role model. And as an Asian, the Asian community is more relatable to me as I see myself in those immigrants working hard to create a better future for themselves and their families. Connectivity is a two-way street. The more we are connected to each other, however that may manifest itself for each person, we are all better off as a greater society.
How has your heritage shaped the person you are today?
I am a Korean American immigrant who comes from a humble background. My background, like many immigrants to this country, taught me that hard work is the minimum requirement for success. But also, the deck that we are dealt early in life does not and should not limit your dreams.
Also, as a Korean American, my heritage has shaped how I treat others. I believe Koreans are very kind and generous in spirit. That is ingrained in me as a person and that translates into my professionalism. I like to think that has created many lifelong professional relationships.
Who are the role models or mentors that have influenced you or helped guide you?
I’ve had many people in my career that I have looked up to. Collectively, the common theme I find in all my role models, including my mother who raised three children as a single mother in a foreign country and started a small business all on her own, is hard work and entrepreneurial spirit. The combination of these two characteristics is what I value greatly, has propelled my career, and continues to excite me for the challenges ahead.
Is there anything that you learned as a result of your upbringing that impacts how you do business today?
Hard work. I always tell my younger colleagues; you have the dress the part for the job you want and not the job you have. That’s in how one carries oneself professionally, and moreover in one’s work ethic – going beyond what is in your “job description.” My philosophy is to assume you are not the smartest person in the room, which means you have to put in the hard work.
Can you tell us about the path that got you to where you are in your career today?
My career path as a real estate-hotel investment professional is not typical. I started out my career as an attorney. Shortly after coming out of law school, I worked as an in-house attorney for a real estate company. I quickly gained interest in the business of doing deals. So essentially, I started working on the business side, by raising capital and presenting new opportunities for the company without any direction or approval from my superiors. I just did what I thought was right, having the confidence that the company would value the work. Shortly thereafter, (having the good fortune of not being fired for going outside of my job description) I became entrusted with leading deals. I believed in myself and did the honest work.
Do you have any advice for younger generations just starting their careers or someone looking to transition to a career in hospitality?
Two things. #1, hard work and be curious. I couple these two as one trait, as you can’t be curious without hard work (without hard work then you are just daydreaming), and hard work without curiosity will not lead to new opportunities. #2, have a role model or mentor who values you as a person, looks out for your career, and is a good person. All three qualities matter.
Is there anything that you want people in hospitality to know?
I love this industry, but the industry needs to be willing to break things. While people always say they have passion for their work, I don’t see that too often. Operators and brands are not leading the way and often waiting for someone else to lead. Look at the last couple of decades, OTAs and home-sharing brands have emerged. We can debate the benefit of these products to the hotel industry, the emergence of these products came outside of our industry by large. Our industry (however, fragmented it may be) needs to work together to take a proactive approach to improve our product and service before someone else does.
To join the ILHA East Coast Chapter or to learn more about upcoming events, visit: https://theilha.com/us-east-coast-chapter/