If it hadn’t been for Barry Sternlicht, Alexander Mirza probably wouldn’t be helming one of the sexiest hotel startups in Asia. In all likelihood, he wouldn’t even be in the hotel business. The CEO of Cachet Hotel Group had seen the industry with the 20/20 vision of an outsider during his years as a management and creative consultant, and he didn’t like the view.

The hotel world is a conservative old boys’ network at the top,” Mirza says from his Hong Kong headquarters. “They all know each other. That leads to more conservative hiring decisions down the line — especially in Asia, where most general managers are European men, with just a handful of women or local residents.”