Boss lady at the Blakely

Sales and marketing manager Theresa Gonzales. Photo by Elton Lugay

By Elton Lugay

When superstorm Sandy battered the New York region in October, Charice Pempengco found herself stranded at The Blakely Hotel on West 55th.

Managing director of sales and marketing Theresa Gonzales made sure the “Glee” singer-actress felt at home and comfortable while waiting for her canceled flight to Los Angeles to resume. Theresa did this not only for a celebrity like Charice but also for a dozen other families that had no other place to go in the several days that the hurricane kept them grounded.

“I’ve always wanted to be a hotelier,” said the Manila-born Theresa, who said she has planned her career from the time she arrived in the U.S. at age 16.

Coming to America has always been in her family’s plan. “Our parents wanted to give us a better future and that’s not to say that education in the Philippines is no good,” she told The FilAm. Theresa’s grandfather is a former governor of Bacolod and her mother is a cousin of controversial senator Panfilo Lacson.

Theresa went to Pace University and took up hotel management. Immediately after college, she was employed at Marriott International. “I was one of the pioneers in sales clusters, in-charge of the 10 hotel chains (all over New York),” she recalled. This was in 1998.

“I had the calling,” she mused. “Luckily, I was able to become successful in that (hotel sales).” It was also a time when not a lot of Filipinos were working in hotel sales.

Ten years later, she moved out of large hotel chains and began to specialize in smaller boutiques. She first became the area sales and director for marketing at the Hotel Roger Williams near the Empire State Building for a couple of years.

At the Blakely, she began to focus on what she called ‘independent scale luxury 200 rooms.’ “They’re my forte.”

Theresa’s job runs the gamut — from hotel management food and beverage, account management with a lot of troubleshooting in between. It couldn’t be helped, when something goes awry, Theresa is the go-to person.

Theresa said that while her job demands so much of her time and attention, she’s happy to serve beyond the clients’ expectations.

“Total account management is what we have here at the hotel and high-profile clientele from all segments of the industry — from entertainment to financial, insurance, key fashion accounts which have been with me for about 23 years,” she said.

Entertainment is the most challenging account because of privacy issues. “Making sure that guests are comfortable, safe and secure. It’s a challenging market but it’s my favorite market,” she said.

Charice performing at TOFA-NY

Among her frequent high-profile guests are Mary J. Blige, Beyonce, Lindsay Lohan, Lea Salonga and Charice Pempengco who stayed with them for a long time in 2009. “Charice stayed with us when she was still wearing dresses,” Theresa smiled.

But there is one market segment which the Blakely dominates — and which Theresa would not disclose in the interview — which has kept the hotel recession-proof. She said, “It’s a market segment that only the Blakely has and that’s why we don’t get hurt a lot when the economy slows down because we have that in our pocket. And we’re very thankful of that.”

The Blakely Hotel

Theresa said her most loyal clients come and go and return. “They have been with me for about 15 years and wherever I go, from one hotel to another, they follow me.” The Blakely was the official home of Charice when she headlined The Outstanding Filipino Americans in New York on October. As she was about to depart for California, Sandy came barreling into the northeast.

Theresa said her husband, Avon Dojie Gonzales, who works on Wall Street, has been very supportive. “I would have not been able to do this without him. There are times when I’d give up already but he’s always there to encourage me to carry along.” They have one daughter, now 20, who appears to be leaning toward a career in the hotel business.

“Being in the hotel industry is not just about the money, it’s also the people that you meet,” she said.

The hotel’s owners are like family, said Theresa. They appreciate her dedication to her job and constantly tell her, “The hotel will not be like this without you.” The Blakely is consistently one of the Top 100 of New York City’s 646 hotels. It has 118 rooms including the penthouse. It specializes in large rooms with kitchenettes.

“I’m just very thankful to our loyal hotel guests,” said Theresa.

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