Exceptional women are leading the way at the 113-year-old Araneta Group, doing everything from filling up The Big Dome to taking care of a hundred scholars.
Over the years, the Araneta name has gained even more prominence through the work and influence of women. There is Judy Araneta-Roxas, who is known for her political and philanthropic activities, and Stella Marquez-Araneta, who promotes Filipina beautiy around the world. Of course, there is Margarita Araneta Fores, who is a culinary tour de force, and was once awarded by Asia’s 50 Best as its most notable female chef.
As a continuation of its heritage of empowered women, the Araneta Group has a new set of female leaders that are taking charge in the many aspects of its business. Here is a look at these talented professionals and the 113-year-old group’s diversified businesses.
An accountant by profession, Irene 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 Oofficer 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.
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 a four-year absence. 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.
Jose believes that women make great leaders because they take time to listen instead of reacting right away. “We appreciate people and their viewpoints,” she says. “We also wear many hats, often balancing career and domestic life, taking care of our aging parents, among other things.”
Fight for food
Fastfood brands such as Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and Dairy Queen made their way to the country through Araneta Group’s PPI Holdings, the exclusive franchisee of these world-famous companies in the country. And on top of all these is Chacha Juinio, who has been the COO of PPI Holdings since 2018.
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 three 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 says.
Juinio says the most significant barrier she faced was bias. Early on in her career, she says the general consensus on female managers was that they would give up their job as soon as they had children. “Or worse, we become unreliable when we have kids,” she says.
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 says.
Home and hospitality
In her 28 year-experience, Maria Manlulu-Garcia opened four international hotels and rebranded three hotels in the US. She is part of the pre-opening team of Novotel Manila Araneta City in 2015 as executive assistant manager, and was promoted to resident manager in January 2016, hotel manager in 2019 and as general manager last December.
Manlulu-Garcia is also 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 the hotel, she also chairs its “RiiseAsOne” program, which 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,” she says. “We need to shatter the glass in our own minds and believe that we have the same capabilities as anyone else.”
Just like other industries, the hotel business was also greatly affected by the pandemic. This led Manlulu-Garcia and her team to think creatively. They developed a new business market and implemented new revenue initiatives such as Take Me Out by Novotel Manila and Meetings on the Go, Novotel’s delivery services.
The general manager says 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,” she says. “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.”
Having been with the Araneta Group for more than two decades, Lorna 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 J. Amado 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, but Araneta City managed to survive under her leasing leadership. Araneta City now has over 600,000 square meters of leaseable spaces.
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,” Fabian says. She counts resilience, patience, and strong faith in God as the virtues that have kept her alive.
“Women leaders are more transformational,” Fabian says. “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.”
Diane Romero joined the Araneta Group right after graduating college 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,” she shares. “Being part of Business Development allowed me to be immersed in every major development Araneta has here now, from ground up.”
Among the many things that Romero worked on 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.
Sticking with her first employer has proven to be rewarding for her. Her capability in handling special projects and her experience in doing outreach volunteer work—she used to teach children in Manila and Taguig slum areas—led to her being given the job of handling the corporate foundation. The company’s social responsibility arm, the J. Amado Araneta Foundation (JAAF), was made to thrive under Romero’s leadership as executive director since 2008. Two years ago, she was appointed AVP of Business Development.
“Working with the foundation provided me a bigger platform to reach more in need and contribute to the development of various communities,” Romero says. Today, JAAF has a hundred scholars under its care excluding a hundred more through partnerships. It also manages a public museum for culture and arts development, and provides housing, healthcare assistance and livelihood for community development. It 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.
Romero believes that we all have our distinct roles by design. But it must “be recognized, seized and nurtured, first by us – women,” she says.
The youngest in the Araneta Group management, Marjorie Go was named AVP in 2019 following her successful stint in ACI Inc’s marketing team since 2010.
In her first year as AVP, she was put in charge to lead the company’s rebranding from “Araneta Center” to “Araneta City.” 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.
“Just like any other leader, the constant balance to continuously reinvent yourself and inspire and train the people under our wing is challenging,” Go shares. “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.”
The young executive is happy to see that there are a lot of women in different sectors of 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,” she says.