“Red is my favorite color,” our Boardroom Watch subject for the week, tells us. To accent a dark blue dress, a sheer scarf of that hue hangs from her neck—perfectly echoing the dozens of gilt and red Chinese lanterns festooned across the well-lighted atrium, heralding the Year of the Dog.
Danila Regina Fojas—“Lala” immediately after the introductions are done—is executive vice president and general manager of Shangri-La Corporation, a company involved in property investment and development, real-estate management, leasing as well as mall and car-park operations. It is an affiliate of Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts worldwide and Kerry Properties Ltd., one of Hong Kong’s largest investment and development companies, with premier residential and commercial projects in its home country, China, Macau and Australia.
“The 2018 retail landscape will continue to be dynamic and competitive with new retail centers coming on stream,” Fojas expounds on a field that has engrossed her for the past 17 years. “Trends will move toward more entertainment and F&B concepts, as well as services. More and more consumers will be convenience- as well as value-conscious, favoring brands that provide quality products and services as well as experiential store environment.
“Due to ease of travel to other countries, consumers will be more updated with the latest trends and brands in other markets.”
Steady career rise
Fojas grew up in what is now Iriga City, Camarines Sur, where on weekends she would accompany her parents – her mother was a doctor, while her father was a lawyer-engineer – to the town center where the public market stood beside the Manila Railroad Company station and shopping was basic and functional. The real treat was to travel 33 km south to Naga City, the regional center, to eat lunch, catch a movie and proceed to have dinner. Then, a double-program movie ticket cost 25 centavos to enter a blower-conditioned provincial theater, showing the latest Nora Aunor-Tirso Cruz and Vilma Santos-Edgar Mortiz starrer, the hot love pairings during Fojas’ high school days. Note that Nora Aunor (née Cabaltera-Villamayor) was Fojas’ kababayan (townmate), who started out life selling water along Iriga’s train tracks before stardom found her.
When Fojas came to Manila for college, she frequented different department stores in the city’s commercial areas: Aguinaldo’s, COD, Soriente-Santos, Oceanic and Marikina Shoe Fair.
Malls began to develop over 30 years ago when Fojas graduated with a Speech and Drama degree from the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City. She bought her fresh meat from Cubao’s Ali Mall, also in Quezon City and among the country’s oldest malls, named after the legendary boxer. When she started living on Zamora Street, Pasay City, she went to Harrison Plaza next door to the Manila Zoo.
After marrying and bearing three children, she earned a Ford Foundation scholarship at the Asian Institute of Management (AIM). A good combination of the University of the Philippines, Ateneo and De La Salle educations, with Harvard in the background, AIM gave a better Asian perspective that students might not have gotten in an American university. Its Filipino faculty boasted MBAs from the US.
The classroom distilled experiences Fojas would not have encountered while working in a narrow, functional business area. AIM taught her to reach the top without stepping on others along the way. It provided her a tool kit and conceptual framework to view management and leadership situations. She graduated in 1978 with a Master’s degree in Business Management, making her the first female to graduate from AIM with honors in a class of 114, including 20-plus women.
After AIM, she joined the Beer Division of San Miguel Corporation (SMC), traveling the world to promote the famous beverage. In Hong Kong, she managed the international marketing operations of its beer subsidiaries. She ensured that joint-venture companies adhered to the strategies of the brand, from packaging to advertising. She was among the top 12 woman executives in the whole company.
After 20 years with SMC, Fojas gave in to the urge to explore new horizons. She says: “The corporation was very good to me. Its beer division was expanding and going international. I wanted to give back to AIM. I went on a sabbatical to teach (from 1998 to 2001), did marketing and took care of customer relations for the institute.
Shangri-La came calling in November 2000. “I told them: ‘I had to finish my obligation. If you can’t wait, you can find others.’” The headhunter was back a year later, and Fojas joined the group, which needed her management skills honed in local and international markets, the corporate world and the academe.
“I had no idea I was coming to a mall,” she admits. “My only qualification was I love to shop. I know brands as a customer. I know how they work.”
Fojas hit the ground running as was her wont, and the journey has since stretched to 17 years of raising “a generational mall that continues to be fresh and very enticing.” Within her purview are 650 tenants in the upscale Shangri-La Plaza in Mandaluyong City who look to her for guidance and the assurance of a steady flow of customers.
She says: “Shangri-La has always been my home. As a customer, I knew all the dining places. Now, I am here.
“Aimed at keeping our position as a premier lifestyle destination, we spearheaded bigger and bolder initiatives to give our mall guests a truly exciting and enjoyable Shang experience. Through the vast array of novel and innovative programs, the totality of our offerings is best characterized as the feast for the senses, food for the soul.
“Millennials grew up in the malls where they came as children. They want to continue this as adults, have families and share the experience with their children, parents, grandparents, and the Generations X, Y and Z. The retailers are our customers, too. We put the experiences together to make their stay more pleasant and memorable.”
To prove that commerce can share space with culture, Shangri-La Plaza has hosted for two decades The Saturday Group—arguably the country’s most prestigious and longest-running artists’ circle—whose members have established presence in The Gallery on the mall’s top floor. Cineastes have come to expect seasonal film festivals at the mall such as the previous Cine Europa, the European Union’s centennial gift of 24 classic and contemporary selections and the 12th Spring Film Festival from February 12 to 18, which coincides with the Chinese Lunar Year.
Where Fojas the teenager used to travel 33 km to the next town to eat and go to a second-run theater, today’s customers can buy tickets via Shang’s satellite cinema ticket booth and dine at The Ledge on the sixth floor where the cinemas are located. Visitors can enter any of the eight spacious revolving doors safely and without bumping into people, ride the longest escalators (20 meters connecting two floors), and the shortest (0.5 meters) to access the retail, hotel, parking and the Metro Rail Transit 3. From the main wing, mallgoers stroll to the East Wing that exudes timeless elegance with its trendier lifestyle labels and global dining destinations. Street shop fronts on the EDSA and Shaw Boulevard sides serve the commuter market.
When asked to sum up her greatest achievement, Fojas says: “Mahirap ang tanong mo na yan [Your question is a difficult one].”
“I don’t see myself as someone who has done a great achievement. My work is a contribution to making Shangri-La what it is today, with the help of a very strong team. Since I joined, there were so many changes to do things better than before. We’re like a family committed to making Shangri-La a better place.
“What I’m thankful for… I have a great family, my work family. We’re all social animals, we can’t live alone. I developed families along the way, work, family, high school.
“I’m thankful my [own]family has turned out to be what they are now. We are always together. My children are all grown-up. I have eight apos [grandchildren], who have inherited my work ethic. I was called a ‘workaholic’ at San Miguel.”
Yvonne, Fojas’s eldest, described her mother in a media interview: “Exactly 28 years of being a solo parent, provider, career coach, lodestone, values driver, cheerleader, mentor, adviser, solutions expert, fashion consultant, feminist model, accomplishment benchmark, taste purveyor, relationship counselor, best friend and grandmother.
“I see my mom as having broken glass ceilings when we didn’t even know what glass ceilings were.”
Fojas continues: “I’m thankful for all the career opportunities I’ve had all these years. I’ve never stopped learning, never stopped growing.
“I’m thankful I am healthy, energetic. I will continue to help others achieve a better life, a better family, help people finish school from now and many more years.
“I am thankful I continue to be alive and kicking. When you are younger, you aspire for career, position. When you are older, it changes.”
Lala, how the life goes on.
PHOTOS BY HARVEY TAPAN