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An Interview with James Xi – Finalist for General Manager of the Year 2017

We were honoured to interview James Xi, the General Manager of the Shangri-La Hotel, Ningbo, who recently became a finalist for General Manager of the Year 2017 – Greater China. Read about his journey and why storytelling is so important to him.


  1. Can you give us a brief insight into your background, education and career path? 

I was born and raised in Shanghai. When I was young, I had always dreamed of becoming a mathematician or an engineer. After having successfully passed university and graduate school, I started to teach at one of the colleges in Shanghai. The thought of pursuing hospitality as a career had never crossed my mind.

It was not until I joined Hilton Shanghai in December 1987 that I realised my life’s calling. In fact, I had been planning to go to the U.S to pursue my Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, but was curious to be part of the most iconic and luxurious hotel known in China at the time. I interviewed with Hilton Shanghai, and to my surprise I was accepted. Giving up my teaching job at the college, I joined Hilton as an Airport Representative.  The learning and working experience acquired at Hilton Shanghai during the first year was unforgettable. It changed my career trajectory completely. The sophistication of the daily operations, the seamless coordination among the departments, and most importantly, the excitement of delighting guests each and every day, fascinated and motivated me. Within the first year I was promoted twice.

Mr. Heinz J. Schwander, the General Manager of Hilton Shanghai, was an extraordinary and exemplary hotelier who orchestrated and drove the hotel performance to near-perfection every single day. He encouraged us to develop to our full potential within the hotel, narrating his own inspiring stories about his original involvement with the hotel business and his subsequent journey of success. Listening to his stories, and experiencing the field for myself, I was convinced that I was meant to become a hotelier.

I made the decision to pursue an advanced degree in Hospitality Management instead, before moving to the States in early 1991. My career in the hotel industry continued in U.S where I worked hard through the ranks and moved up all the way to Department/Division heads, and eventually Resident Manager.

In 2002, I returned to China and joined the Shangri-La Group as a Resident Manager, and was promoted to General Manager in 2004. Between 2004 and 2013, I successfully opened three Shangri-La Hotels, in Kunshan, Wenzhou, and Changzhou consecutively. In July 2013 and in December 2015, I was assigned to turn around Shangri-La Hotel Yangzhou and Shangri-La Hotel Ningbo respectively. I can proudly say that the mission was successfully completed with stellar performance in both properties.  Together with my teams, we have also won the prestigious “Hotel of the Year” awards of Shangri-La Worldwide, for Shangri-La Hotel Wenzhou in 2010, and for Shangri-La Hotel Ningbo in 2016, respectively.


  1. Can you share with us what you feel has been the most valuable part in your career development to date, that has enabled you to get to where you are today? 

While my experience at Hilton Shanghai helped set my career direction, the extensive training and work experience that I acquired in the United States was definitely the most valuable and influential part of my career development in shaping where I am today. It literally taught me how to train, lead and drive the hotel team to achieve the targeted revenue and the desired productivity while ensuring guest satisfaction would not be compromised. One of the most influential figures in the development of my career was Mrs. Michelle M. Miller, Vice President of Operations of Osar Ltd. She not only hired me as a Management Trainee at one of their hotels, but also placed her complete trust in my ability to take on critical responsibilities in the hotel. Mrs. Miller also oversaw and tailor-made a fast track development plan for me. I learned that shared accountability and staff empowerment are the most fundamental keys to success in running an efficient operation at a full-service hotel. My journey with Shangri-La in the last fifteen years has not only enriched my experience but also brought me to new heights of versatility.


  1. Congratulations on reaching the finalist stage of The Hotelier Awards 2017. How are you planning on leveraging this opportunity to inspire the younger generation to work harder at developing their career in the hospitality scene?

Storytelling is one of the most powerful and effective ways to share knowledge. Using this opportunity, I hope to guide and develop young hoteliers with my experiences, particularly for the millennial generations today. I love sharing my stories and knowledge to inspire others to build interest in pursuing hospitality as a career. Simon Sinek once said, “Working hard for something we do not care for is called stress, and working hard for something we love is called passion”. Passion and self-motivation are what will guide the future hoteliers to success and distinction. As a former college teacher and an experienced General Manager, I am confident in my ability to effectively coach, train and mentor the future leaders of the industry. If I could progress from an Airport Representative to a nominated General Manager of the Year in Greater China, anyone can, as long as he or she has the passion and perseverance in their heart.

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