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Woman on top

The county’s first Filipino five star hotel general manager on what it takes to succeed

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By Sara Grace C. Fojas

Vanessa L. Suatengco is the first Filipina general manager of a five-star hotel, Diamond Hotel. She started overseeing the operations of the hotel in 2009. Since then, many females have conquered executive positions in various companies.

“I didn’t start in the hotel industry. After graduating from Bachelor of Arts, Major in Psychology from Assumption College, I worked in human resource in a retail company. I gave psychological tests to the applicants, interviewed them, interpreted the test, then matched the applicant to the vacant job he/she was suited for,” shares Vanessa.3

WOMEN CAN LEAD

Vanessa also took graduate courses in Psychology at Boston University and Industrial Psychology at Ateneo de Manila University. She completed certificate courses under the Professional Development Program of the School for Hotel Administration of Cornell University.

Never did she think that her jobs, first as human resource manager and then store operations manager at the Rustan’s Group of Companies, personal manager at the Silahis International Hotel, human resource manager at The Manila Hotel, and resident manager of the Edsa Shangri-La would bring her to one of the top positions as general manager at a five-star hotel.

“Being a general manager is not an easy task. Although this job is really interesting because in a sense you have interaction with different types of people, from your guests to the staff to the stakeholders. It is a variety of relationships,” says Vanessa.

As general manager, she has put the Diamond Hotel in the limelight again by upgrading facilities and services to international standards, making it one of the top three hotels in the bay area, making it the preferred residence of heads of state, diplomats, celebrities, and performers, as well as the venue of high profile events. The hotel is now on its way to achieving its new vision—to be the preferred business and leisure deluxe hotel in the Manila Bay area.

There were not a lot of female executives in the hotel industry when Vanessa started her job.

“Before, it was either sales and marketing or public relations or front office, but never as general manager or in-charge of the operations of the hotel. They normally would say it’s a man’s job. Traditionally, it was a man’s job because at the time, general managers would come from food and beverage, a male-dominated area,” she says.

But after learning about the roles and responsibilities of a general manager, Vanessa realized that you didn’t necessarily have to be male to do the job.

“One of the responsibilities of a general manager is being able to face a guest or a client and deal with issues that concern them. You don’t necessarily have to be male to do that. It’s whether you’re qualified to do the job, which is to manage the whole spectrum of operations and administration,” she says.

NOT AN EASY ROAD

In order to be a general manager, Vanessa needed to work hard, not because of her gender but because she didn’t come from operations, which is essential if one were to be general manager.

“I really worked hard for this position. It didn’t come to me on a silver platter. I had to prove that I could do the job because I didn’t come from operations. I came from administration, which is Human Resources. I was never exposed to any of the operation departments in a hotel,” she says.

But coming from the human resource department was her edge. “In human resources, you handle people, and hotel administration is handling people. You manage your guests and you manage your staff. You can learn the operational side, so all of those things I had to learn the hard way. Nothing came easy. I had to work harder because I had to prove that as a female coming from human resource, I could do the job. I would have to work 10 times harder than the others because they had the experience and I did not. I went through the long way to get the position,” says Vanessa.

WOMEN IN NATION BUILDING

It took some time, according to Vanessa, before the industry started to accept women to lead in hotel industry. But she believes that the Philippines is a matriarchal society and that women contribute a lot in nation building.

“Women have a very important role in nation building because they are a very important part of the family and the family is the main core of the value formation, which is the root of the citizens in the country. We are a matriarchal society. The Philippines is matriarchal, meaning the mother is the center of the family. I’m sure the men will object but it’s true. We are perceived as taking care of children, staying at home, providing a good home. And all that form part of nationbuilding,” says Vanessa.

Even a housewife has a very important role in the society, according to Vanessa.

“The mother is the central figure of the family and her support and her love for the members of the family is the one holding the family together. She is not just a housewife. If she is not good and not strong, then there is no family to talk about, and there is no nationbuilding. Value formation is the start of everything,” she says.

Vanessa also shares that in order to become empowered one only has to educate his or herself to become stronger and independent, economically, and socially.

“The moment you gain this confidence, you become empowered to do anything you want because you have the proper education.You can work so you are now socially and economically independent. You can have family and children. You can now take care of your children because you are now economically independent whether your husband supports you or not. You can raise your children, confident enough that you can give them the right values to be part of the society and be part of nation building,” ends Vanessa.

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