When you were 17, what did you want to be?
I had a few hobbies when I was growing up, but I didn't really know what they translated to. My parents were entrepreneurs in the hotel industry. I basically just followed them around; I would go to work with them every day in the summer and a lot of days after school. I'd go to the architect's office, and I would go to construction sites, and I always really loved architecture. Their architect would give me rolls of paper and I would go home and draw plans to scale for home renovations. I really loved doing that.
I think I was probably 14 when I gave up that idea because their architect had a tiny, musty office that drove me crazy, and he just always looked so tired. He didn't look happy. I don't regret it, but it was definitely that one interaction with someone that made me change my mind, which is probably not the right way to do it.
I also just really liked building things. I had K'NEX sets, and I would have my mom take me to the special K'NEX stores to buy little motors and connectors and all these special pieces. I had a parakeet, so I would build Ferris wheels and cars and the parakeet loved it. I really loved building but I didn't know what that translated to. Now it's so obvious. I would have been interested in maybe civil engineering. But no one ever told me that so I didn't realize it until I was 22. I think I would have really loved going into engineering, but it was never a thought that crossed my mind.
I considered being a banker for a really long time, but I didn't know what a banker was really. My parents would always task me with little activities like making the deposit and counting the money, and I thought that's what banking was. I wanted to be like a Monopoly dealer.
My parents are immigrants. A lot of having immigrant parents is you're growing up together. Everything I'm doing, they're doing for the first time as well. They didn't always know how to advise me; they were just there for the ride with me. For them, I think happiness and independence were derived from financial success. They just wanted me to find something that was stable and high-earning. So their dream was for me to become a doctor or a lawyer. Those were my only two options. And I rejected both of them. So I didn't know what I wanted to do.
What is it, Maslow's hierarchy of needs? My parents were so focused on the essentials, they spent half of their lives just trying to get the essentials, making sure that our family never had to experience the tribulations they had. Then I grew up with all those things as a given, and I wanted to focus on relationships and my artistic side, and they couldn't understand that at the time. They were parenting with fear, but now they feel like all those things are important as well. But it's ironic because my parents loved their work. I don't think they would have been able to succeed to the same degree had they not loved their work.
How did you decide to attend University of Texas at Austin?
I lived in Oklahoma growing up, but my ultimate goal was to get out. My sister had moved to Dallas when I was a junior in high school, and on a whim I asked my parents if I could move in with her so I could get in-state tuition in Texas. They said yes. I wasn't expecting them to. So I moved in with my sister, and UT was the best public school at the time, and I really loved Austin. It was really forward-thinking. So I decided to go to UT. They had the top 10% rule at the time, so I knew I was going to get in. But to get into the business school, you essentially had to be in the top 1%. So I didn't get into the business school.
How did you choose your major?
Someone suggested that I do economics, which was in the liberal arts college. So I did economics even though I didn't really know what economics was at the time. I really liked it. Then I took a few core business classes, accounting and marketing.
I feel like everything was just very rushed. My parents were really persistent about me graduating early because my sister, she double-majored and graduated in three years, and then went straight to law school. So they're like, "You only have one major, why can't you graduate earlier?"
I was really immature going into school, I think. I was more focused on my social life and just getting good grades to pass, and not actually focusing on what I wanted to do in my career. I made good grades, but I was just doing the least amount of work possible.
How did you get from college to where you are now?
To be honest, when I chose my major I didn't really know what economics was, and what it translated to unless you're becoming an economist, which I didn't want to. I really liked my accounting classes, so I decided to pursue my master's in accounting. There were a few programs that didn't require you to have your undergrad in accounting, so I went to Ohio State. It was very quick. I was there for about nine months.
Right before I started the program, I had visited a friend in New York, and I immediately fell in love with the city and thought, “Okay, I want to move to New York.
When you're in this program, recruiting starts within the first two weeks because it's only a two-semester program, so you're recruiting for your full-time job when you start. The next month, I was in New York interviewing and basically decided that I was moving. So it was really quick.
Again, I was just starting, so I didn't really know what I wanted. You have to choose tax or audit before you've even taken a course. I chose tax, but in retrospect I probably would have gone with audit. Tax is more compliance work, filing taxes for corporations. And audit is where you're looking for inconsistencies, money laundering, stuff of that sort. I love solving puzzles, so I feel like I would have enjoyed that.
But when I was recruiting, the recruiters loved that I had an economics background because it translated well to transfer pricing, which is what I ended up doing. Not a lot of people know what transfer pricing is - I didn't know what it was for the first six months that I was working in it.
Basically, we worked with multinational companies that had operations in various countries. They would have operations in the US and China and Mexico, and they might have to pay taxes in the US and China, so we needed to determine how much in each. I worked in financial services, but it's easier to explain in tangible goods. For instance, Ford may have their research and development in the US but they might actually assemble the cars in Mexico. We have to determine what's the value of the R&D and what's the value of actually assembling the car; how much revenue should be recognized in either country.
I did that for a year and a half, which was really interesting, but then it got redundant and I was being overworked. We were working from 10:00 AM to 12:00 AM most days. And I felt really guilty ever leaving the office at 7:00 PM to go have dinner with a friend. It wasn't the right environment for me.
I went home in December, and I started thinking about changing industries and working for a bank. My brother-in-law heard me talking about it and we have a family hotel management company, which my brother-in-law and my sister started in 2004. He suggested that I consider joining the company and bringing the accounting department in-house.
I was on a tight timeline because they had been thinking about it for a while and they were going to hire someone else. I think within a week and a half, I had quit my job and joined Kriya Hotels. I basically started from the ground up creating procedures to bring the accounting department in-house. I've been doing that for about five years now.
I really like it. I do a lot of the on-property training when I'm back in Dallas. I do anything that has to do with accounts payable and accounts receivable. I create and put out the real-time financial reports, and I monitor those on a daily basis.
Now we're managing about 14 hotels. My sister's an attorney, so she does a lot of the legal counsel and operations side of it. There's revenue management from a ton of different booking platforms. Then there's the sales department where we're going out and finding corporate clients. Then we have an online presence and marketing team, which handles the websites and social media and all of that. Then operations and accounting.
I grew up in the industry, this is what my parents did for a living. It's shifted a lot - the way they used to operate is different from how we operate today - but I still feel like I already know the industry and I really like it. I see myself staying in it, but I could also see myself making this part-time in the future and doing more of a passion project.
I would love to get into some sort of philanthropy for underprivileged kids. I want to give back and help people recognize that they have opportunities that might not seem possible right now. When I go back home, I volunteered to teach a debate class to middle school kids, helping expose them to different career options. I'm pretty excited about that.
Looking back, what seems clear to you now?
I did things really quickly, and I would just slow down. I would seek out counseling, because in high school, I don't even remember going to the counselor. We would have 15-minute time slots once a year and that just wasn't enough time to provide any sort of clarity for anything. So I would seek out counseling. I'm sort of shocked that no one recognized that I was always building and drawing things, but no one around me was an engineer.
I think I went into school not focused on actual schoolwork, because I was trying to find myself. It was the first time that I was on my own. I was trying to fit in. I was making friends. I was doing social activities. I would take a gap year and try to find myself without the influence of so many other kids. I really don't think I found out who I was until I left undergrad and had some self-reflection time. So I would want to do that prior to college if I could go back.
I didn't know I was an introvert until I left school. Looking back on it, it was obvious. I probably would have thrived in much smaller groups. That's what energizes me. I didn't know it at the time, so I was sitting in halls of a hundred students, listening to a lecture and just not engaged at all. I maybe would have chosen another school where class sizes were smaller.
And I was trying to graduate so quickly that I didn't take classes that just piqued my curiosity. I took what I needed to graduate but there's a lot of things that I was interested in that weren’t relevant to whatever career path I was choosing, but I think that's okay because it would have contributed to my personal life. And my professional life in indirect ways. I would go back and take psychology classes, sociology, a lot of classes that I needed to learn from.