HospitalityProfile

Take a chance on local talent, says first Filipina GM of five-star int’l hotel

For Sheraton Manila’s newly appointed general manager Anna Vergara, an inclusive and nurturing workplace is vital to the hospitality industry’s growth

Photos by Jar Concengco

“Now, when somebody approaches me for decisions, it’s not like I can consult somebody else. It’s like the buck stops on you.” This is how Anna Liza Vergara describes her new role as the general manager of Sheraton Manila.

From her first job as front desk agent at Hyatt Regency Manila, Vergara quickly rose through the ranks, eventually becoming the director of room operations of Marriott-owned New World Renaissance Makati Hotel before being assigned to Marriott Hotel Manila as its resident manager in 2009. Soon, she became the hotel manager, overseeing the 570-room establishment’s various programs and expansion projects.

AN OBVIOUS PICK

With roughly 25 years of leadership experience in the industry, Vergara should have been an obvious pick for her current position as the general manager of Sheraton Manila. This decision, however, wasn’t without its set of hurdles.

“To be honest, the title of ‘first Filipino GM of an international branded hotel’ did not really mean anything different to me when I got the role,” Vergara says. It was through several conversations with associates and hotel executives that Vergara realized how much people were banking on having a Filipino occupying such a position. “I think it’s just that the industry probably wasn’t ready to gamble on a local talent in the past.” 

The hospitality industry has always been a male-, Western-dominated one. Vergara says that although there have already been developments in countries such as China and Thailand, it took a while for international brands to tap local talent in the Philippines. For Marriott International to appoint not only Vergara as general manager but also an all-Filipino design team for its then-upcoming Sheraton venture in 2017 is a bold yet welcome move.

“People would still expect a foreigner to be holding the number one spot—not that it’s wrong—but it was nice to see that people actually looked at merits rather than having a sort of just a template for the number one post in the hotel industry,” says Vergara.

As Marriott International continues to strive for diversity in the workplace, Vergara maintains her own platform to advocate for inclusivity and empowerment in the hospitality industry. She’s received several invitations to do talks, the most recent of which is by the Australian-New Zealand Chamber of Commerce that focuses on the topic of women in leadership. 

“[It’s] basically about inspiring women who are in the middle tier of managerial levels. [Letting them know] that holding the number one post for women in any industry is actually possible, and that it’s not just about stepping up, it’s about showcasing, it’s about saying your piece so that you will be noticed,” says Vergara.

A NEW BRAND OF LEADERSHIP

Though she firmly believes that anyone can run a hotel regardless of ethnicity or gender, Vergara does note one advantage that women have in the industry. “Women are known to be nurturing as compared to men,” Vergara says. “That’s one of the things that women leaders can naturally give in order to motivate.” 

A mother to two children, Vergara draws from her experience in parenthood when it comes to leading each department—a strategy that aligns with Sheraton’s core value of community. “Feeling mo anak mo sila lahat. And diba, in a family, you’d always want na in every activity, dapat sama-sama kayo. If one department is struggling, everybody has to help out.”

“To be honest, the title of ‘first Filipino GM of an international branded hotel’ did not really mean anything different to me when I got the role,” Vergara says. It was through several conversations with associates and hotel executives that Vergara realized how much people were banking on having a Filipino occupying such a position. “I think it’s just that the industry probably wasn’t ready to gamble on a local talent in the past.”

Vergara’s associates appreciates this style of leadership, with meetings being held partially to check up on their well-being. Vergara encourages employees to balance their work and personal lives, to unwind when needed, and to pursue their passions even if it entails leaving the company. Under her stead, employees see the workplace as not just a site for productivity but also one for personal and professional growth—the kind that extends beyond company loyalty. 

About previous associates seeking employment elsewhere, Vergara has this to say:

“Part of my advocacy is to plant a seed, to not stop them from making these decisions because at the end of the day, it’s their life, right? But my responsibility is to make sure they realize what they are really looking for.”

For Vergara, upholding a healthy work environment in an industry infamous for its grueling 10- to 12-hour work day is key to smooth operations. And beyond being crucial to successfully running a hotel, an encouraging workplace ought to bode well for the future of hospitality. 

As the hotel industry continues to expand in the country, Vergara looks forward to seeing more Filipinos at the helm. “I’m hoping that there will be more owners and investors who would see the potential in Filipino talent. I want to see more jobs, more opportunities for Filipinos to move up, to be able to advance their careers. My hope is for us to become a game changer, for us to be an eye-opener for owners and investors so that more Filipino talents—whether male or female—be given an opportunity to lead a hotel because it can be done.”

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