ON February 14, Valentine’s Day, the happiest girl in town was probably Cecile Ang, not because she had a special someone, but as owner of the Royce’ Chocolates brand locally, almost all the chillers in all of her stores were empty before that day was over. It just shows that Filipinos are die-hard romantics, and Royce’ is really one helluva popular chocolate brand over here.
Well, I must confess it is one of my favorite chocolate brands, as well. (The other one being Godiva’s dark chocolates. Mmmm.) I have probably gone through several boxes of Royce’ Nama Champagne, its bitter dark chocolates and the orange truffles. I even “steal” a couple of squares from my friend Ms. RP’s fridge whenever I pop over for a visit.
The first time I “met” Cecile was through a phone call years ago. She politely texted asking if I was free to take her call, and after I did tell her she could, she called me to ask my help in editing a lifestyle magazine/newsletter she wanted to put out for free.
I really didn't know who she was, but as I grilled her on the publication and why she wanted to put it out, and if she had enough funds to keep it afloat, it was only then that it dawned on me, as she humbly answered my barrage of questions, that she was the daughter of business tycoon Ramon Ang.
While I did turn down her offer to edit the magazine, I could tell she was a dreamer and had a lot of guts. I mean, who in her right mind would put out a free publication just because she wanted to write about food and lifestyle? But she sounded so positive about the whole idea, I wished her well. Gads, I wish I could be as positive as she was about the publishing industry.
When I finally met her in the flesh recently, she had already been running Diamond Hotel, a property her father acquired in 2005, just as Cecile had graduated from the Ateneo de Manila University with a degree in European Studies. I was so surprised how young she looked! The Filipino expression “pinabili lang ng suka” came to mind. With her hair tied in a neat ponytail, her slight frame and her face sans makeup, she could certainly pass for a teenager. But there she was, at the helm of a five-star hotel.
“I think it is definitely an incredible advantage [to have my father who he is]. Of course not everyone took me seriously, especially when I was new and looked like a high-school student. You’d hear comments like COO [‘child of owner’] from random strangers, but I don’t mind, because I really wouldn’t be where I am now if I weren’t that. I just have to work extra hard to make sure I don’t disappoint.”
Cecile says her father thought that the hotel would be “good training ground” as it would enable her to meet all sorts of people from all walks of life. “Plus at one point I was very much a foodie, so the hotel seemed like a good fit.”
She describes her first year in the hotel as “very colorful.” As it was her first job straight out of college, of course her father took care to make sure she was well prepared to take on the duties as a hotelier. Cecile spent a year training by going around the different departments and learning about the functions of each hotel employee, from the concierge to the food servers, from the chefs and their cook helpers to the general manager’s secretary. Now president of Diamond Hotel, she is in charge of setting the direction for hotel policy, and overseeing the renovations and expansions of the establishment.
“In a hotel you encounter all sorts of guests and colleagues that there was never a dull moment. Every day was a fun learning experience,” she says about her first year.
Cecile says her father, whose sheer business acumen has made it possible for San Miguel Corp. to expand beyond the food-and-beverage business, has never given her nor her siblings “formal pointers” on how to manage a business enterprise. “But I think he leads us by example. My dad works 24/7 and is incredibly generous and friendly to everyone. I see how much he values everyone around him and it has taught us, his kids, to try and give back as much as we can to everyone around us as well. And, of course, slacking off is not an option.” Typically Chinese, each one of her seven siblings, down to the youngest at eight years old, have had to work during their summer vacations.
Cecile says her favorite childhood memory was going to the “slalom car races every Sunday as my father was also a champion racecar driver. I loved being allowed to ride shotgun during races!”
To relax, she travels when she can, “I like getting lost in a city and following random strangers around. It helps me gain a new perspective on things. On a normal weekend, since I have a lot of young siblings, every Sunday is a movie+California Pizza Kitchen day.”
Like many incredibly busy career people, Cecile has shucked novels for magazines—“I think my attention span has gotten worse over the years...but I’m a big magazine subscriber: Time, Newsweek, Business Week, Economist, Fortune, Forbes, Elle Decor, Architectural Digest, Monocle, Mental Floss and Gourmet. And I try to read a short story from McSweeneys, Alfred Hitchcock or David Sedaris every night before I go to sleep.”
Asked if she still has plans beyond managing the hotel, Cecile says she still “[likes] the business.” But most definitely she has started to stretch her own wings by going into other industries. She started on this path in 2009 when she successfully bagged the right to bring in Royce’ to Manila.
I ask her if ever we would get to taste the incredibly delicious ice creams of Royce’, and she says: “We are planning to open a bigger shop that will have Royce’ ice cream and chocolate drinks and baked goods. We are just looking for an available space.” Whooopee!
She says she has other business prospects up her sleeve but declines to reveal what these are pending the conclusion of negotiations with partners. “I am also looking for new challenges and hopefully I can do that this year....I am planning to get into another business but I can’t disclose it as of the moment.”
A chip off the old block maybe, but Cecile’s moves are definitely all her own.
(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. This piece was published on May 6, 2011. Photo courtesy Asian Dragon)