January 29, 2007

Monday bitching


THE nerve of this woman! She should practice what she preaches first, noh? Ang kapal, grabeh!
* * *

Anyway, what I really wanted to bitch about today is the really slackening customer relations management of most of our supposedly old reliable department stores and malls.

My first beef is with SM. Look, I love SM because of the many products they sell at reasonable prices. Often, I find the stuff I need, even in last-minute situations, in the department store or its various outlets like Watson's or the Home section.

I've already gotten over the fact that most of its sales staff and cashiers don't really have very high IQs, are inefficient and would rather chat among themselves instead of actually attending to their customers. But there are some very few jewels in the rough among them who make up for their inadequate grey matter by being courteous and polite.

What I absolutely hate, however, is buying stuff from SM using gift cards. Normally, I love getting gift cards because these are practical presents. The gift giver would rather want me to buy stuff I want instead of he or she making the mistake of giving me the wrong gift.

These ubiquitous gift cards are slowly replacing the gift cheques and come in several denominations like P500 or P1,000, and I supppose SM makes a lot of money from selling those to its customers. What sucks, however, is the fact that most of SM's cashiers are utterly clueless on what to do with them. I present the plastic and everything goes downhill from there. The cashier will stop and stare at the card, look around helplessly, swipe it at the POS terminal a few times pretending she knows what to do with it until help arrives. When she finally realizes she doesn't know what to do with it, she gets up from her chair or tells the bagger to get up and go, says "Sandali lang mam", then waits for a supervisor to come over and help her with it. In the meantime, a long line of customers has formed behind me, getting impatient as I am.

Now this happened to me unfailingly in the past two weeks alone. The cashiers are especially dumbfounded when the gift card amounts to P1,000. I don't understand why. It's the same card with only different loads. Parang pre-paid card yan 'ne.

This obviously isn't the fault of the cashiers. That's why they're operating those machines because they're not smarter to do something else, like be Tessie Sy's right hand. So these impossible situations can only be the fault of SM's training department or the supervisors themselves. Why issue these frigging gift cards without training the cashiers on what to do with them and give them all sorts of scenarios to operate in (e.g. what to do when there is a balance? And can customers use 2 cards at once?)

So let me warn all of you who are thinking of giving out gift cards as presents...don't buy them from SM. You might end up being sworn at by the recipient of your otherwise good heart.
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Rustan's is a good place to get your gift certificates, and I always love shopping there. I've been going there as far back as I can remember, usually either to their San Marcelino branch or the main branch in Makati (back when it used to be known as Makati commercial center), tagging along with my mother. I feel safe, clean, and calm when I shop there.

So I've had my own discount card, then a frequent shopper's card/discount card in one since way back. When I lost my wallet to a petty thief at the Glorietta activity center last November, however, I've had to basically rebuild my identity by getting replacement cards from government offices, banks and credit card companies and yes, even from SM, Rustan's, Healthy Options and the like.

What bugs me is that when I applied for a replacement for my FSP card, I was told that Rustan's is now issuing separate cards – one FSP and one discount card. But why? I asked. It's just how it is, I was told. Still, why? What folly this is as I would know have to carry around 2 different Rustan's cards in my wallet instead of just one. Not very customer-friendly. The old system worked very well. I don't know who among the new managers thought up of this new system. Is Rustan's going to make more money by issuing two different cards? Duh.
* * *

My favorite customer relations horror story of all time, of course, is the Glorietta mall. Its security system obviously only protects customers against terrorists and not petty thieves.

People have been asking me whatever happened to my case at the Glorietta. (Just to refresh everyone's memory, please click here.) I usually tell them that after the initial flurry of email messages sent between me and Ayala Land's PR and some officer at Glorietta's management, NOTHING. NADA. ZILCH. Never got my stuff back, not that I actually expected that happen. They said there was a group of thieves arrested the evening of the incident, but none of my items were among the thieves' stuff.

I am just appalled by the mall's ssssllllllloooooooow response to the issue. Glorietta officers never thought of looking through their closed circuit camera tapes in the area (and Ayala execs claim they do have those CCDs in their mall) on the evening my bag was pilfered, until I asked them. Of course, they eventually got back to me one month after the fact, and asked me to view the tapes with them. By that time it was December already. And believe me, you wouldn't want to get caught in the middle of Makati during December.

I told Ayala Land's PR that I really don't know what going there to view the tapes would accomplish since they really never said what they were going to do in case I do identify the thieves. There was nothing concrete discussed about implementing better security measures. Expectedly, he never got back to me. He probably had more important Christmassy stuff to attend to than my complaint.

These days I try to avoid the Glorietta mall as much as possible and tell my friends and relatives, especially those coming in from abroad, not to shop there anymore. Surely this won't make a dent in Ayala's revenues enough for its management to beef up security and think of better ways to protect mall customers, but at least, my friends and relatives won't get victimized like me. If I need to meet people, I would rather do it somewhere else like Shangri-La Edsa Plaza, Rockwell Power Plant, Gateway in Cubao even. Better to be safe than sorry.

January 26, 2007

Living in dysfunctional families

ARTWORK Dysfunctional Family With Hope by Noelle Enright

Something Like Life
Jan. 26, 2007

TWO years ago, I had the opportunity to interview a rather famous Chinese-Filipino businesswoman who was trying to move on after the pain of going through a lengthy legal battle with her siblings. Reports regarding the traded lawsuits and padlocked factories and offices of this businesswoman and her siblings eventually spilled over to the pages of major newspapers and gossip columns. Apparently, when the family patriarch passed away, control over the family business was gradually handed over to this woman by her mother and her paternal aunts, much to the chagrin of her brother, the eldest male heir in the family. As you know, in most Chinese families, the eldest son usually inherits the right to take over the family business.

Thus, this woman and her brother fought, splitting the family down the middle, pitting three siblings against the other three. To put an end to the family squabble, which probably had hurt their mother the most, the business was taken apart. Each group of siblings took a piece of the family conglomerate, running these companies separately from the other group. It was a practical solution, which the businesswoman told me would probably have met the understanding and even approval of their late father. She told me it was the only way to keep the peace in the family. Despite the shame and humiliation of a public feud, she is still hopeful that her family would be mended, and she and her siblings will get along again.

It would be a bit simplistic to say that the fight was just for the control of billions of pesos in assets. That it was just about money. But as most people who’ve grown up in rich large families will tell you, such fights over finances usually can be traced back to one’s youth. All that bitterness and anger almost always originate from slights (imagined or otherwise), jealousies, insecurities and a desire to be acknowledged for one’s self-worth while growing up. In fact, this was exactly what was revealed when the feud of this businesswoman’s family became public. Issues that were better left in their childhood were brought up again, and each sibling behaved exactly the way they did in their youth.

But, really, who among us have grown up in perfect families? Many of us probably belong to dysfunctional families like that businesswoman’s, and have parents who probably have major hang-ups, or siblings with lots of insecurities.

And while growing up in such an emotionally charged family environment, we tend to compare ourselves with our classmates or friends, and always think their families are better than ours. But rich or poor—and I’ve had friends from both side of the fence—there is always something or someone that prevents them from having normal family relationships.

What is “normal” anyway? A father who earns enough to support his family, who comes home straight from the office to have dinner with the family? The same for the mother who rushes home to cook a meal for her hubby and kids, and is still able to do the household chores? And drug-free kids who are respectful, brilliant, hardworking at school and helpful at home? I have yet to meet a family who is all these.

Being in dysfunctional families, however, doesn’t mean all gloom and doom. Sometimes such families prepare us for the real world when we grow up, and help us deal with the challenges of dealing with different kinds of relationships. While some may be crippled by their own trials with, say, abusive parents or sanity-challenged siblings, and become adults bearing the same psychoses, most others go on to learn not to integrate their emotional handicaps, becoming better people because of their experiences within the family.

Of course, it is difficult to accomplish this separation of our family life from the world outside. What we are today is a product of how we conducted ourselves, survived even, within our families. We sometimes carry these feelings and behavior over even in different environments. Someone who has no respect for his father, a drunk perhaps, may see authority figures as fools as well. Such that in an office situation, he would be inclined to regard his boss with the kind of ridicule and disrespect he feels toward his father. Then there are those who are emotionally mature not to let such family inconveniences hinder their own relationships with other people.

Sometimes when we read about family feuds and lawsuits over inheritance among the influential and powerful, I kid my mother that our family is lucky because we’re not rich. My sister and I would have nothing to fight over when our folks eventually pass. (Knock on wood!) Seriously, being related by blood doesn’t mean a thing when your siblings have different values from yours. While the same DNA runs through your veins, you and your siblings—or even your parents—will have differing characters. Sometimes you wonder how you can be related at all to them when you are as different from them as night is to day. And you think there probably was some mix-up at the hospital and your real kuya is probably growing up in someone else’s family!

Of course, we can’t choose our own families. We are born into them and have to accept each family member, warts and all. (Or we don’t have to accept them, it’s our choice.) It can be a struggle to survive the clashes of different personalities with different beliefs or opinions, and grow up to become responsible mature adults. What helps us maybe are the friends and people we surround ourselves with, and the relationships we form with them. Besides, we tend to compensate for the lack of any normalcy in our families by moving toward friends who fill our need for balance and harmony. If we choose them appropriately, our friends — our real family - can help us become better people. And all the hurt and pain we grew up with cease to be a burden.

(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror.)

January 24, 2007

The bamboozle

"One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we've been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We're no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It is simply too painful to acknowledge — even to ourselves — that we've been so credulous."

- Carl Sagan
American astronomer, humanist

Picked up this quote from, of all things, a financial advice newsletter I subscribe to. But I think it's apropos to the political situation in our country, and our seeming lack of outrage over several events that have transpired in the course of the Presidentita GMA's term of office.

So the Presidentita hijacked the last elections. Then lied about calling Garci...who btw, is now running for political office?!?! Of course there was that infamous PI initiative, aka Charter Change, which the idiotic congressmen tried to force down our throats. Now several municipal mayors who had voiced their opposition to the initiative is being harrassed, shaken down, and threatened to be removed from office. And of course there was that fast-break midnight transfer of a convicted rapist, a US marine, from our municipal jail to the US embassy.

We boil and we broil over these events. And yet we continue to allow the Presidentita to remain in power. Why? What's happened to us?

January 19, 2007

Gay and loving it


Something Like Life
Jan. 19, 2007

WHAT do you do when you feel like you've been living a lie all these years? Or that you've been leading two different lives...a public persona for everyone to enjoy or for the sake of good relations with your family and friends whom you think will not understand you; and a private one which you personally delight in, making you breathe easier, but at the same time leaves you looking over your shoulder, scared of being found out by people you care about?

For many of my gay friends, "coming out" was not the proverbial walk in the park. In fact, a few of them still struggle to this day to actually reveal themselves, afraid of the social repercussions of their homosexuality. They are anxious that other people will think they are less intelligent, less sincere, even, dare I say it? "abnormal" because they are gay. They fear that people, even those who don't really matter to their existence, will not comprehend why they "chose" that way of life. As if being gay was really a matter of choice. It just isn't a lifestyle one can select, like slipping on a glittering pair of stiletto boots, or be discarded like a filthy old jersey sweatshirt.

My gay friends have always told me that they knew, one as early as three years old, that they were "different". As young boys they loved playing dress up in their mom's clothes, one liked cutting the hair of his sister's dollies. Another was so enamored with his mother's dancing, she being a divine ballerina in her heyday.

I've had friends who were army brats, and one was frequently beaten up by his dad, an army captain, whenever he was found out doing "female" things, like wearing a dress. This friend told me that he would just quietly cry in his room ("ala Nora Aunor in Sidhi") after the beatings. His mom did not even try to get between him and his dad to stop her husband�s violence. Neither did she try to comfort him in his tears.

And if it was bad at home, sometimes it was worse at school. Some of them studied in exclusive Catholic schools for men, where being gay in their day was almost equivalent to a public hanging. If not beaten up by bullies, there were frequent teasing and taunts. As I size up my gay buddies who grew up in such an oppressive environment, either of two things happened. Either they withdrew, some hitting the books like mad, and are now a delight to converse with on most subjects; or they adopted outrageous personalities, became outgoing and hysterically funny perhaps, to entertain their classmates as a way to escape their fists.

I have a friend who has gay brothers, and I know one famous gay personality whose father was also gay. (I don't know if he ever knew that his dad was gay, though his dad's sexual proclivities were quite known among his colleagues in their day.) This, of course, strongly suggests, and as some scientific studies may have already shown, that one can be genetically predisposed to homosexuality, as opposed to some psychologists' continuing belief that one is a product of one's environment. (For example: you grow up with a ballerina mom and her gay dancer friends, you will probably end up being gay yourself.)

While genetic scientists are still trying to find the "homosexual gene", they have already narrowed it down to a certain region or genetic sequence in the X chromosome. (The studies are focused on male homosexuality so far.) Some of the studies also support the theory that the gene markers are almost always passed on by mothers. Good grief! I can just hear mothers everywhere groan, "And yet another thing we're going to be blamed for!" Hang that, witch!

When you have gay friends who are a delight to be with – the perfect shopping companion, relationship bridge, chismis buddies – and you revel in their amusing anecdotes, it is easy to forget that a number of them have led very difficult lives. Some of them may have been scorned by their fathers and brothers, a handful perhaps doted on by their mothers and understanding siblings. In fact, I only have one gay friend whose father accepted him unconditionally, leaving him free to be his own person. It is a love my friend is only too willing to reciprocate, taking good care of his folks in their retirement now that he is financially well-off.

At an opposite end, one whose father and brothers have shunned him became engaged in destructive behavior, sinking into a drug-filled lifestyle, with a string of lovers maintained by a crack addiction. It is a pity that at his age, he is hard-pressed to keep a good job, and has a severe lack of confidence despite his intelligence, wit and a college degree.

OK, this isn't a time to blame mothers or fathers; however, family acceptance really does play a key role in the formation of an upright gay citizen. It is bad enough to feel different or unusual, but to have people you care about and look up to treating you like a freak, it can be devastating. While gays are now well accepted by most of society, some still want to keep their sexuality a secret from their families. Or if they have told their families the truth, the latter just can't deal with it.

A number of my gay friends have managed to shake off such feelings of abandonment, rising above their tragedies, and becoming successes in their fields. In their minds, they feel lucky as they know they are surrounded by friends who love them and understand them. Yet in their hearts, they still fervently pray to be accepted completely by their folks. No matter how successful one becomes, family approval is still a prize all of us, gay or straight, try to secure. But as one gay friend told me, he can't wait forever for his father to finally come around. And sometimes the best thing for one's psyche is to learn to just let go, and move on.

(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror.)

January 13, 2007

Holiday jewels of Northern Cebu

WITH all eyes focusing on the Asean Summit this week, no doubt its participants will be curious what the province has to offer aside from the danggit, the lechon, and spicy chicharon they've all probably heard about.

About 3,000 delegates are expected for the four-day high-level meet and greet, and most hotels and resorts have already gussied up since last year, eagerly anticipating the arrival of their very important international guests.

Cebu has always been one of my must-go places, especially for vacations. Despite its immense popularity among tourists, both local and foreign, it has yet to get crowded, as say, Boracay island.

Resorts are scattered all over the island province offering all levels of facilities, amenities, food, and recreation designed to fit every vacationer's budget.

While most tourists stay in the city hotels and the resorts on Mactan, there are still other jewels to be found to the north of this province which offer more than just the usual breathtaking sites.

(More at GMA News TV.)

January 12, 2007

The case for aging

As the average life span has lengthened with better health care, senior citizens continue to lead bustling lives, enjoying activities and even hobbies they perhaps never got the chance to pursue when they were younger.

Something Like Life
Jan. 12, 2007

WHO would’ve thought that the most controversial topic I would ever write about were my crow’s feet! (Something Like Life, January 5, 2007) Gee, and I thought the readers were more interested in my ruminations on illicit relationships, passionate kisses, and lustful longings across the office cubicle!

To this day, I’m still getting text messages and comments from friends swearing on their lover’s/husband’s mother’s second cousin’s dog’s grave that the anti-aging product they’ve been using has helped them keep looking youthful. One publicist has also been in touch trying to convince me to try the anti-wrinkle cream her client has been hawking.

My sister, for one, told me about this relatively inexpensive wrinkle correction cream from this ubiquitous personal products manufacturer. Her friends are raving about it and claiming it to be “better than Botox!” Now, they are the types that lap up all sorts of expensive new branded gunk on the market and have enough funds to actually get a face lift! So maybe this product is worth looking into.

One friend also talked about how a sixtyish corporate communications executive of a large beauty products maker still manages to look young just by using her company’s products. (That’s what the executive claims anyway.) I’ve met this lady and I actually thought she was only in her late 40s! Well, I’ve just bought that company’s wrinkle correction cream and I will definitely update you on whether it works or not.

Laugh lines aside, getting old really isn’t the end of the world, as more and more people are realizing.

Decades ago, when one reached the retirement age of 60, he was expected to enjoy only a few short years with his grandchildren, then probably die of a lingering illness, or—worse—be a bane to his children by becoming incontinent and demented.

These days, as the average life span has lengthened with better health care, senior citizens are still leading bustling lives, enjoying activities and even hobbies they perhaps never got the chance to pursue when they were younger.

I can look only to my mom and her amigas as examples of “silvergenarians” still leading very active lifestyles, wrinkles and all. I call them the “Ladies Who Lunch”—thank you, Barbra Streisand—because almost every month they get together and celebrate someone’s birthday by eating out. Of course a few weeks before their lunch date, they have little arguments among themselves which restaurant they should go to. My mom constantly complains about how her gangmates never seem to see eye-to-eye on where to go. A most cantankerous bunch of senior citizens if you can imagine, though in a funny old people sort of way. (Think Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in Grumpy Old Men.)

My retort to my mom, of course, is the usual “Just go to a frigging fastfood center and let everyone choose what they want to eat.” Of course, she never pays any attention to any of my suggestions. (Hopefully, this is not a preview of how my own gang will behave as we thumb our way toward Golden Acres. Instead of arguing about which restaurant to go to celebrate someone’s birthday, perhaps we will be content with our regular “immoveable feasts” of sinigang na baka and binagoongan na baboy.)

Some of my mom’s friends are widows, have husbands who have left them, sickly, or just plain loony (again, in a loveable senior citizen sort of way). And yet they all seem to be enjoying themselves even as they approach their 80s. One goes ballroom dancing a lot and has had a young lover; another is going off to the North with her travel club of fellow seniors; one is still busy running her own company; while the others are quite content babysitting their grandchildren or waiting on their grown-up, married children to visit on weekends. If my mom isn’t out playing mahjong or shopping, she is at home fighting with me for the control of the TV remote. Damn those afternoon soap operas!

According to the National Statistics Office, the number of senior citizens in the country is expected to reach seven million by the year 2010, from the current 5.6 million. The same data also shows that 60 percent of our senior citizens are married, although females dominated the single (71 percent), widowed (76.5 percent) and divorced/separated (57.26 percent) groups. Which says a lot, I suppose, about how elderly women view their lot in life. They are definitely okay being solo. Most of them don’t want to remarry, and have things to do other than obsess about romance.

I particularly admire this one tita of mine who is the most dynamic and perhaps most liberated among my mom’s friends. She’s had a few lovers since her husband passed away decades ago. Asked why she wouldn’t marry her present boyfriend, a widower of her same age, she said she didn’t want to get stuck taking care of someone. What if he got sick? And of course, she wouldn’t be able to just take off to enjoy her own activities with someone watching over her shoulder. Heavens! I told my mom that my tita is more “progressive” than even most single women I know.

Thus, the elderly Filipina will have intimate relationships with men (younger or as old as her) but not necessarily with an eye to get hitched again.

Elsewhere, aging men and women are getting “with it.”

Just check out some local bazaars and you’ll pick up a few items made by this and that “lola” now making money from their cooking hobbies, suddenly free from the rigidities of a 9-to-5 career or from taking care of husbands.

A good friend’s husband also retired at 60 a few years ago, but is still consulting for his company and runs a few businesses on the side. He and his wife also travel more these days.

In Japan, where the elderly is about 19 percent of the total population, Yuichiro Mira climbed Mt. Everest in 2003 at the ripe old age of 70! He plans to do it again next year, at age 75.

Another Japanese, Motoko Nakano, 84, is now officially a guide on the “Silk Road” tours for her fellow elderly travelers, after having toured China about 10 times. A widow and former restaurant owner, she is a frequent traveler, often researching on the Internet to plan her itinerary.

So it is wrong to think that when one ages, one becomes inept and useless. More than the crow’s feet, laugh lines and occasional sore joints, aging is probably a chance at a new and challenging fun-filled lifestyle.

(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror.)


In an exclusive interview, Accor Asia-Pacific managing director Michael Issenberg talks about his love for his job, Bruce Springsteen and when it is okay to walk away from a deal.

WHEN Michael Issenberg took over as managing director of Accor Asia-Pacific in 2003, the worldwide tourism market was in a flux. SARS had broken out in China and Hong Kong, the war against Iraq had commenced, then there were bombings in Bali and Jakarta, Indonesia. In 2004, just as the tourism industry began to recover, a tsunami struck major tourist destinations such as Thailand, where Accor lost 160 guests and about 50 hotel staff, the Maldives, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. Last year, SARS had threatened to rear its ugly head again while most Asia-Pacific countries, including the Philippines, continued to be on heightened alert against threats of terrorism.

“You have to expect the unexpected,” says Issenberg, when asked what he learned from all these incidents. “We have spent a fair amount of time improving our crisis planning and making sure that procedures do not sit in a draw.”

Nevertheless, he says in an e-mail interview with BusinessMirror, “Asia- Pacific remains the most exciting part of the world for the hotel industry.”

Compared to these incidents, journalist killings, terrorist threats, and regular coup rumors seem to be miniscule although still factors to be considered for a tourist to decide whether to travel to the Philippines or elsewhere. Issenberg appears undeterred and believes “there is definitely a big future for Accor in the Philippines.”

In February last year, Issenberg himself flew in to deliver the good news to eager Filipino fans. The Accor hotel group, he says, will be unveiling its flagship hotel in the country this year—a refurbished and improved Philippine Plaza, to be renamed the Sofitel Philippine Plaza. Last March, the hotel opened its premier dining outlet, Spiral, which features an interactive dining concept featuring different cuisines from all corners of the globe.

Finding the right chemistry

Sofitel is the Accor group’s luxury five-star hotel brand and promises to lend the fine French flair of living to the Philippine Plaza, much loved for its breathtaking view of Manila Bay’s sunsets.

“Having the right partners is crucial to success. We believe that we have the right owner [Philippine Plaza Holdings Inc.] that is committed to the future of the hotel,” Issenberg says.

And Issenberg has been doing just that. He has been traveling all over Asia—most recently in China, Vietnam and India—trying to find the right chemistry with local partners to establish Accor’s brands. But it won’t be a numbers game to him, even as he tries to fill the shoes of his predecessor Jochen Dobel, who managed to add 80 hotels to the Accor group during his tenure.

“When I took over Asia, there was a fair amount of ‘me’ first attitude. My priority was to instill a team spirit across Asia similar to the Pacific,” he stresses.

Issenberg has played a pivotal role in the success of Accor’s hotel and tourism network across the Pacific region. He joined Accor in 1994 as regional general manager and within a year was promoted to chief executive officer of Accor’s hotel and tourism operations in Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific. He assumed the managing director position in the region in 1998.

In that time, the Accor hotel network in Australia and New Zealand increased from 40 to over 110 hotels. Issenberg has also been credited for his role in developing the hotel group’s interests in associated businesses in Australia including the Cairns Reef Casino, Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre, Summit Restaurant, Blue Line Cruises and Accor Premier Vacation Club. It was also during his tenure when the Base Backpacker Hostel brand in which Accor is a minority shareholder was established in New Zealand in 2003 and Australia in 2004.

Issenberg has certainly come a long way from Boston, Massachusetts, where he was born, the youngest of three children of Danny and Ann Issenberg. His father owned his business manufacturing juice products, while his mother was a stay-at-home mom which was typical in those days. Growing up, Issenberg worked “casually” in various hotels during the summer vacation as busboy, dishwasher, waiter, bartender, or cook, and as part-time work while he was attending school.

“However, for me, it was more than just earning some money. I fell in love with excitement of the industry.” He says he has been a hotelier since he was 16 “so it’s pretty hard to imagine another career.”

He eventually graduated with a degree in hotel administration in 1981 from Cornell University. Thereafter, he built a successful career that include executive officer positions in Westin Hotels and Resorts, Laventhol & Horwath and Horwath & Horwath Services Pty Ltd in San Francisco and Sydney. Prior to joining Accor Asia-Pacific, he spent five years as chief executive officer of hotels for Mirvac Ltd., one of Australia’s largest hotel companies.

Balancing home and career

The Issenberg family vacationing in Shanghai, from left, Jacob, Rachel, Michael, and Elizabeth. (Photo courtesy of Michael Issenberg)

It was there in Sydney, where the tall transplanted American met his wife Elizabeth, with whom he now has a 13-year-old boy Jacob, and 10-year-old girl Rachel.

“I came for work on a two-year assignment. I could not believe how much opportunity there was in Australia’s hotel industry…. I married a beautiful Australian woman, no doubt one of the biggest reasons why I remained in Australia,” Issenberg explains. Elizabeth, he says, stays home and “manages the family as I travel so often.”

But like many regional chief executives with a lot of countries to oversee, he says it has been quite difficult to balance his family and career. On occasion his work has had to take a backseat to his family.

“It is always a difficult balance…. I have missed many a company meeting for my family, but I cannot recall ever missing anything crucial. On the reverse, I have missed a few family events as well,” he confesses.

To relax, although he hastens to add that there is not nearly enough time for that as well, he loves to watch or participate in sports such as golf or go scuba diving.

“I love almost all sports. I enjoy the competitive nature.” He also listens to music, mostly rock and roll, and admits to being a “Bruce Springsteen fan at heart.” (Hmm…is that “Born in the USA” playing in the background?)

His favorite author is John Irving “because his stories are always unusual,” and says the last book he read was the latter’s latest novel, Until I Find You. How Issenberg was able to plod through the somewhat meandering tale of Jack Burns in search of his father over 820 pages and actually finish it, is a feat worthy of any sportsman!

Asked what his most defining trait is, Issenberg says, “I’m a very frank person. Ask me a question and you will get my honest answer.”

It was very evident in his e-mailed responses to BusinessMirror’s questionnaire, that he is very brief as well. Direct to the point.

Hands-on manager

As a manager, Issenberg says he is a hands-on type of guy. “I like to know what is going on in a fair amount of detail. However, once someone has earned my trust, that earns a lot of freedom.”

He describes Accor’s own management style as “people-focused,” which may be not different from other hospitality organizations, but insists “it is very different from companies in other industries.”

The best management tip he learned from his predecessor and other bosses? “Never be afraid to say no, even it means you have to walk away from a deal, a piece of business, or partnership that has not worked out.”

And so walk away Accor did in 1998, after experiencing some difficulties with its first Filipino partner, another hotel by the bay. Only to turn around and return in 2002, through Century Suites, a budget hotel in Quezon City. The latter was part of the Accor group’s acquisition of the Century Group that year.

With its management of Philippine Plaza, the Accor group is certainly back with a bang (very apropos for turbulent Manila), eager to establish its dominance in the Philippine hotel industry.

“Whilst we definitely believe there is an opportunity in the economy sector, we felt that it was important to reenter the market with a flagship property that made a statement,” says Issenberg.

Now that it has “the right property” to reestablish the Accor name in the market, it may not be too long to see more of its hotel brands in the country. Issenberg says, “We will now actively look for other opportunities to launch our Novotel, Mercure and Ibis hotel brands in the Philippines.”

(My interview with Michael Issenberg was published in the Perspective section of the BusinessMirror, Jan. 12, 2006.)

January 05, 2007

Aging, or ageless?

Unfortunately, there are realities we women have to face, one of which is that the world celebrates youth and its glowing tans, reed-thin dimensions and clear fresh faces. And most often, relationships are formed on first impressions.

Something Like Life
Jan. 5-6, 2007

TWO days before New Year’s Day I made a devastating discovery.

I was seated at my dresser putting on makeup for a trip to the mall when, to my horror, I saw tiny fine lines beginning to form around the outer corner of my eyes.

Eek! I screeched. Crow’s feet!

I couldn’t help but go overboard with the concealer and patted just a tad more than usual to try to erase the superfine indentations. They may not be visible to most people but as I scrutinized every inch of my face, the lines seemed to multiply and I started noticing a few crinkles forming on my forehead and—dear me!—laugh lines!

What a way to greet the New Year! Here I was feeling all chipper after having just survived Christmas, now looking like an old hag. Why couldn’t I look like one of the Witches of Eastwick instead?! Sexy, looking youthful, all spruced up and ready for Jack Nicholson’s taking!

I blended the concealer ever so gingerly to make sure all spots and lines were covered, or at least visibly minimized. As I swept the foundation all over my face, then applied the rest of my makeup, I calmed down a bit, secure in the vision of beauty that lay in the mirror before me. I was young again!

It was one of those times when I wished I were a man instead. Notice how crow’s feet, eyebags and a lined forehead make George Clooney even more handsome? Remember gorgeous George romping around the first two seasons of ER when he was thinner and in his early 30s? And now at 45, despite the rounder heavily lined face, he is the Sexiest Man Alive of 2006, according to People magazine.

I couldn’t help but think that this is one of Nature’s cruel jokes on women. I mean, women’s lives are already so much more difficult with pregnancy; do we have to look like crones as soon as the lines start crisscrossing our foreheads and our cheeks start sagging into jowls? On the other hand, as males grow older, graying hair makes them look distinguished fine gentlemen. Even wrinkles on their faces make them appear respectable.

I know it sounds silly for me to fret over a few hardly visible lines around my eyes. Haven’t I always said that 40 is the new 30? So I may feel young but my complexion appears to be having difficulty keeping up with me.

Unfortunately, there are realities we women have to face, one of which is that the world celebrates youth and its glowing tans, reed-thin dimensions and clear fresh faces. And that most often, relationships are formed on first impressions. Judgments are made on one’s appearances instead of one’s character. Have a male CEO choose between a clueless pretty young thing and a woman with a matronly appearance and demeanor, and you can bet whom he would choose to hire as his secretary—yes, despite the latter probably having better qualifications and experience for the job.

Once time starts marching across our faces, it’s time to book the Botox, ladies! Not that I would undergo those toxic injections myself. Besides, on a journalist’s salary I wouldn’t be able to afford them. Still, if I had enough funds, would I have Botox to freeze age in its tracks, albeit temporarily? Hmmm....

Of course, I have no one to blame but myself. In my youth, I worshipped the sun and used tanning oil on my face and entire body quite liberally. Being quite fair in complexion, I would have to sunbathe for two days under the noontime sun just to get a golden tan. Heck! No one talked about skin cancer and melanomas back then!

Once I reached 30, however, and all scientific studies talked about the horrific dangers of sun worship on the skin, I junked my annual summer sunbathing ritual. I went into overdrive trying to protect my face, especially after a therapist at a skin care center told me that my face was suffering from sun damage. The closeup photos of my complexion didn’t look too appealing—it was red and splotchy. I was now condemned to face a lifetime of moisturizers and inspecting the SPF on each sun block on every cosmetics counter.

So like many other women, I have joined the growing numbers in buying expensive facial products in a bid to keep wrinkles at bay. This is no easy task, mind you, as there are many brands which purport to be the best and the most effective antiaging, anti-wrinkle, line-correcting cream ever to arrive at a beauty counter. Just think of the millions of jars of this stuff that is sold by the minute everywhere in the world. The quest for the fountain of youth in a beauty jar is merciless. Women spend huge amounts of money every year in an almost desperate attempt to beef up their skin-care regimen.

Of course, you could say, “Why bother with all that gunk for our faces?” Can’t we just all relax and simply age gracefully like, say, Susan Sarandon or Katharine Hepburn who kept on working despite being afflicted with Parkinson’s disease. Kate was a real beauty, a diva even, right until she passed on.

Well, a popular facial soap brand last year began a campaign for real beauty...putting fat and old people on their print ads and billboards. The “ageless” ads showed a smiling woman with white hair and a creased face. Despite this, we know for a fact that cosmetologists and plastic surgeons will still be booked back-to-back this year in an endless round of treatments for women conscious of their crinkly crow’s feet, burgeoning puson, sagging bottoms and deepening laugh lines. And women’s magazines will not stop putting the same youthful anorexic-looking models on their covers.

The reality is, all women want to be young, thin and gorgeous despite their accomplishments, their fine character and the praise they have garnered for their success.

Despite studies that show none of these beauty creams come close to fulfilling all their youthful promises, we will still keep buying them in the hope that one would prove to be the real deal.

And if by any chance I win the lottery tomorrow, perhaps I too would make a beeline to the best dermatologist for a fixer-upper.

(My column, Something Like Life, appears every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror.)