We were honoured to interview Marie Grace A. Santos, the Senior Corporate Counsel for City of Dreams Manila who became a finalist for Corporate Hotelier of the Year 2017 – Asia. Read on to find out what fascinates her about the hospitality sector.
1. Can you give us a brief insight into your background, education and career path?
I have always been fascinated with the hotel industry ever since I was a young girl, however, I also had a deep interest in medicine and law. My father’s dream was to become a lawyer, which he never had the chance to do, so I decided to fulfil that dream for him instead. I used to imagine myself as a lawyer in a courtroom, looking very smart in my business suit and doing a very good job of intimidating the other party’s opposing counsel, just like what you see in the courtroom scenes in TV shows or movies. Of course, growing up, I realised that there is more to lawyering than just arguing cases in a courtroom.
My father is now retired but he used to work for an oil drilling company. He spent a significant amount of time working overseas at the oil rigs and on his return he would share his stories with my brother and I about his trips abroad and experiences staying in different hotels. After this, I became intrigued by the industry and often wondered what goes on behind the scenes in a hotel. For example, the preparation that goes into a beautifully served room service meal that has been ordered and delivered in the middle of the night, or the grant of peculiar and unusual requests from overly discerning guests. Being an avid reader, I was especially fond of fiction novels and clearly remember one of my first adolescent novels being set around life in a hotel, this further fuelled my curiosity about the dynamic sector.
It’s little wonder that I started working for City of Dreams Manila as Corporate Counsel upon the recommendation of a former law school classmate and now my colleague. When I was invited to join City of Dreams Manila, it was still under construction. I saw the opportunity as the perfect way to take a step into the world of hotels, a step that I have always wanted to take since I was young.
2. 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? (Name at least one mentor that has helped you in your career path, and what key learning/s have you gained from them?)
Coming from a different background, I believe that I have a more objective approach compared to someone who has taken the classic route in hospitality. It can be daunting to move into the sector, especially when you have never been exposed to it before. To help me build my understanding, I tried to think from a customer’s point of view and use that as guidance for development. Working in a law firm is what most lawyers aspire for, especially those who have just recently started practice. My role at City of Dreams Manila has opened up another avenue for me and enabled me to do what I love whilst working amongst one of the most exciting and positively challenging industries.
I would say one of my biggest career developments was initially taking the decision to move away from the norm and venture into what was virtually the unknown to me. For this, I have my superior Attorney, Aissa Academia to thank. Knowing that I had no foundational experience, she nevertheless trusted me and believed in my capabilities to step up to the task and efficiently perform the requirements of the job. With her guidance, I became more and more knowledgeable about hospitality, by taking every opportunity I could to learn from those around me.
3. 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?
I would still like to think of myself as part of the “younger generation” because I, myself, still have lots more to learn. What I have to say to my peers in the legal profession who, like my former self, have other interests and passions is to never be afraid. Stepping out of your comfort zone and pursuing whatever interests you is important, as no matter how unfamiliar they may seem, you will never know what amazing surprises your decision will bring unless you try. Also, no matter what happens, you can be comfortable in knowing that you are doing what you love and sometimes, that makes the world of difference.
I hope to become a role model for the younger generation and support them to reach their hospitality career goals. I always strive to set good examples and to put my best into everything that I do, no matter what and how long it takes. I believe that “anything worth doing is worth doing well” and through this, I hope that I can inspire others to do the same.