Quezon City’s famed Araneta City takes pride in its legacy of giving first and memorable lifestyle and entertainment experiences for the past decades. The pioneer commercial district in Metro Manila has evolved and modernized through the years – it even replaced its old ‘Araneta Center’ name in 2019 to keep up with the times – yet it remains true to its branding as the “City of Firsts”.
It is a legacy that was started by the Araneta clan’s patriarch Don J. Amado, who built the Araneta Group empire from scratch. As the company prospered, he passed on the company’s management to his son Jorge, who now acts as its Chief Executive Officer (CEO).
Then, there’s also the contributions from the influential women who left an impressive mark in their respective fields and gave more prominence to the Araneta name: Judy Araneta-Roxas who is known for her political and philanthropic activities; Stella Marquez-Araneta who is passionate in promoting Filipina beauties around the world; and Margarita Araneta Fores whose love for food and local products has touched many lives.
Following the footprints of these iconic ladies is a new set of female leaders who are changing the landscape of business with their thorough industry experience and dedication for work. These talented professionals are ready to carry on the rich heritage of the Araneta’s prominent legacy.
In celebration of International Women’s Month, we pay tribute to the great female executives who relentlessly keep the Araneta Group homage alive.
ENTERTAINMENT: Irene Jose
An accountant by profession, Jose first joined the Araneta Group as its VP for Finance in 2013. Just a year later, she was tapped to become the first Chief Operations Officer (COO) of Uniprom Inc., the unit that oversees Smart Araneta Coliseum, New Frontier Theater, the Gateway and Ali Mall Cineplex and their accompanying Snaxx, TicketNet, and Binibining Pilipinas.
Her appointment as head of Araneta Group’s entertainment unit bears fruit for the company. Under her management, the Big Dome was able to reacquire the hosting rights for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the PULP Live World production after being away for 4 years. It is also during her time when Wish 107.5 made Smart Araneta Coliseum home for the annual Wish Music Awards since 2016, and famous K-Pop act frequent the country with shows at the Big Dome and New Frontier Theater.
“It is fulfilling to see how our business unit plays a key role in bringing foot traffic to the Araneta Group, with the slate of shows that we are able to bring in despite stiff competition,” she said.
She recalls an event in 2016 as one of her proudest moments at the Araneta Group: “I was instrumental in bringing [Manny] Pacquiao’s traditional victory motorcade over at the Araneta City. He just won against Timothy Bradley in Las Vegas, so we hosted a lunch for his entourage at Novotel [Manila Araneta City]. Coincidentally, Pia Wurtzbach was also at the hotel for her homecoming after winning Miss Universe. The following day, major publications carried the headline “Champion meets the Champion at Novotel, Araneta Center,” she proudly recalls.
With all her contributions to the company, she never fails to give credit to her officemates. “I would say that I have been very fortunate to have worked with supportive colleagues and superiors who have really empowered and fully entrusted me with my craft,” she claims.
In the end, she relies on the power of prayer for constant guidance. “So, I always encourage people to pray and ask for wisdom in everything that we do,” she said.
Thoughts on women leadership:
“Women make great leaders because we take the time to listen instead of reacting right away. We appreciate people and their viewpoints. We also wear many hats, often balancing career and domestic life, taking care of our aging parents, among other things.”
FOOD RETAIL: Chacha Juinio
Famous brands Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and Dairy Queen made their way in the Philippines through Araneta Group’s PPI Holdings, the exclusive franchisee of these world-famous companies in the country. And on top of all these is Juinio, who has been the COO of PPI Holdings since 2018.
“I am proud of having introduced cross-functional ideation to PPI Holdings. This has brought together various disciplines to work together towards one common goal and expand creativity and knowledge among each other,” Juinio said.
Among the most difficult issues that she faced in her stint as COO is the COVID-19 pandemic, which has greatly affected the food industry. But Juinio, who has already worked with brands such as KFC and Tokyo Tokyo before, managed to survive. “Together with my PPI Team, we managed the 3 brands through the difficulties of the pandemic and achieved positive net income for Pizza Hut in 2020 despite sales being significantly lower than what it used to be,” she proudly claims.
The road to success wasn’t easy for Juinio. “The most significant barrier I faced is bias. Early on in my career, the general consensus on women managers is we would give up our job as soon as we had children, or worst, we become unreliable when we have kids,” she said.
With gender equality and the rights of women now at the forefront of societal discussions, she believes that women need to have fate in their own capabilities. “Women need to believe in their innate intelligence, their skills and more importantly their voice. I also advocate mentorship, so I would like to encourage all female leaders to look for a female role model in your company, in the industry you belong to even in organizations. Do not be afraid to ask for advice or to ask to be mentored,” she said.
Thoughts on women leadership:
“A woman leader brings both strength and compassion into the equation. Women can be tough when called for, and can be soft when needed.”
HOSPITALITY: Maria Manlulu-Garcia
Her hospitality journey started in the United States, through her 28 years of experience she opened four international hotels, rebranded three hotels and graciously received the prestigious “Mabuhay Awards” from the Association of Human Resources Manager in the Hospitality Industry for Managerial Position in 2008.
Garcia is part of the pre-opening team of Novotel Manila Araneta City in 2015 as Executive Assistant Manager. She was promoted to Resident Manager in January 2016, Hotel Manager in 2019 and as General Manager last December 2020. She has become a prominent figure in the local hospitality and will forever hold the title of being the first ever Filipina General Manager of an international Accor hotel brand in the Philippines.
She is proud to be part of a company that has a strong stand, belief and support for diversity and women empowerment. At Novotel Manila, she chairs the ‘RiiseAsOne’ program that promotes sensitivity to gender, cultural differences, and disabilities.
“More companies and management need to have the awareness to fully understand what diversity and inclusion are all about. It is no longer about women but about embracing all genders. No one wants to have a special treatment, we all just want to have the same and equal opportunity to all,” she said.
“The next-generation female leaders need to have is to truly be at the forefront of creating women-empowered workplaces. We need to shatter the glass in our own minds and believe that we have the same capabilities as anyone else,” she added.
Just like other industries, the hotel business was also greatly affected by the pandemic. This led her and her team to think of more creative ways to make the business alive. “We have developed a new business market and implemented new revenue initiatives such as our hotel delivery service called ‘Take Me Out by Novotel Manila and Meetings on the Go by Novotel’. Together with some cost saving initiatives last year, we ensured that we are one of the firsts to adapt to the new norm of operating a hotel,” she claims.
Thoughts on women leadership:
“It’s easy to be a leader but it’s harder to be a great leader. Great leaders find the balance between business foresight, performance, and character. As a woman leader, we have a future vision, perseverance, empathy, passion, and have an advantage of graceful powers to lead with the heart and an iron fist that work magically in any industry.”
OFFICE AND RETAIL LEASING: Lorna Fabian
Having been with the Araneta Group for more than 2 decades, Fabian is now in charge of overseeing the leasing of Araneta City retail, office, and advertising spaces. For her, she feels lucky to be part of a company with no gender bias. “I was given the right opportunities to prove myself in leasing, where rewards are based on results and merits than gender.”
She joined the Araneta Group under the PDC Coatings Inc – a brainchild of Mr. Araneta – in December 1998, and was transferred to ACI Inc in 2001 as Leasing Manager. She was then promoted to Vice President and Head of the Leasing Department in 2011.
Competition in retail and office spaces is tough in the Metro, but Araneta City managed to survive under her leasing leadership. Araneta City now has over 600,000 square meters leaseable spaces. “Our team has managed to lease more than 95% of these and has placed Cyberpark and the Araneta City in the realm of the retail and office industry, offering premier retail and office spaces and amenities to international retailers and BPOs and corporate partners. We are now at par, if not better, against other big developers in the NCR, and still growing, with new retail and office developments within the City under construction, inspite of this pandemic,” she proudly claims.
It was her outlook in life, she claims, that led her to succeed in the industry. “I have always maintained a positive attitude, no matter what obstacles come my way. Resilience, patience and strong faith in God are the virtues that I have maintained to keep me alive,” she said.
She also believes in practicing ‘leadership with a heart’. She added: “I believe in creating workplaces that are women-empowered with the same goal. I always desire to develop my team to be better than me.”
Thoughts on women leadership:
“Women leaders are more transformational. We want to lead as role models through constant mentoring, communicating, and caring like a mother to their children. This gives us the right balance in life.”
BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT AND CSR: Diane Romero
Romero first joined the business development of Araneta Group right after college graduation in 2004.
“I came at just the right time. Araneta City was in the onset of executing its redevelopment plans. Gateway Mall just opened, and the next phases were mapped out. Being part of Business Development allowed me to be immersed in every major development Araneta has here now, from ground up. These highlights include the 18-tower residential Manhattans Gardens, the renovation of Ali Mall & New Frontier Theater, the rise of Gateway Tower & Araneta Cyberpark, and the opening of the first Novotel branch in the Philippines. The experience honed my skills in project management, and allowed me to interact with various stakeholders,” she recalls.
Sticking with her first employer has proven to be rewarding for her. Her capability in handling special projects, on top of her assignment as a business analyst then, and her experience in doing outreach volunteer work (she was also teaching children in slum areas in Manila and Taguig back then) earned the trust of top management to assign the corporate foundation to her care. The company’s social responsibility arm, the J. Amado Araneta Foundation (JAAF), was made to thrive under her leadership as Executive Director since 2008. Consequently, she was appointed AVP of Business Development in 2019.
“Being a part of a privately-owned organization which is exponentially growing, Araneta provided me with a lot of room and flexibility for career growth and advancement. At the same time, working with the Foundation provided me a bigger platform to reach more in need and contribute to the development of various communities. Today, JAAF has a hundred scholars under its care excluding a hundred more through partnerships, it manages a public museum for Filipino culture & arts development, provides housing, healthcare assistance and livelihood for community development, readily lends a hand to the needy in times of disaster, provides grants and works with other organizations for productive projects, and takes part in endeavors that impact the lives of Filipinos nationwide including spiritual enrichment, among many others.” she quipped.
As a woman leader, she draws inspiration from her good mentors in and out of the organization, but more so from her mom who has a good hand in business and good heart for charity work. “I admire her courage and perseverance in whatever she puts her mind into, but at the same time, she remains kind and generous – ready to help others.”
“I am blessed to have my passion, vocation, profession and mission converging and leading me to where I am now. But everything was not handed on a silver platter. Trust was built and maintained over time, starting from the smallest, the simplest tasks,” she added.
Thoughts on women leadership:
“We all have our distinct role by design. It must be recognized, seized and nurtured, first by us – women.”
MARKETING AND PROMOTIONS: Marjorie Go
The youngest in the Araneta Group management, Go was named AVP in 2019 following her successful stint in ACI Inc’s marketing team since 2010.
On her first year as AVP, she was put in charge to lead the company’s rebranding from ‘Araneta Center’ to ‘Araneta City’ brand. “It’s a major milestone for the whole company as we have never done this before, and it was just apt to launch Araneta City given the major changes and developments that happened over the past years,” she said.
She also spearheaded creative promotions and staged events for the company. Among her most memorable projects include Araneta City’s annual giant Christmas tree lighting, and the homecoming parades for Miss Universe queens Pia Wurtzbach and Catriona Gray.
As a young executive, she looks up to her former and current marketing bosses for guidance. “They continue to inspire me to become a better leader. Both are generous to share their knowledge, gave their full trust to me, believe in me, and give pieces of advice about work and life in general. Sometimes when I decide on something, I would ask myself what would these two do?,” she quipped.
It is this guidance that helps her as she handles a team with members much younger than her. “Just like any other leaders, the constant balance to continuously reinvent yourself and inspire and train the people under our wing is challenging. I constantly remind myself to have that growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset, to embrace challenges and accept criticisms, and to focus on learning,” she added.
Thoughts on women leadership:
“It’s good to see that there are a lot of women in different sectors of the society leading and inspiring change for their community. I believe that the strength of a woman, her intelligence, flexibility, and empathy are some of the qualities women possess and make them a good leader.”
These exceptional executives of the Araneta Group show how a company that embraces diversity and recognizes great leadership regardless of gender survive the test of time. They are proof of how passion and courage is every woman’s secret weapon, and how to set the bar for others to emulate.
The power women at the City of Firsts are paving the way for the next generation of female leaders. It is a clear statement of how women on top can steer a difference and help make a hard-earned legacy last.