FACING the challenges of hotel management is tough but Ma. Theresa "Tet" Sioco Fernandez, knew it well. This general manager of Waterfront Insular Hotel -- a landmark Hotel in Davao City -- had set out early to make a career in hotel management.

After obtaining a degree in Bachelor of Science in Commerce major in Hotel and Restaurant Management from St. Scholastica's College Manila in 1984, she was motivated by her father to pursue further studies at the Hotel Management School - Les Roches in Montana, Switzerland.

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After a three-year intensive training in 1988, she decided to go to Boston for a brief "recharge". The passion to work in the Philippines prompted her to go back and join the Traders Hotel (now Holiday Inn Manila) as sales account manager.

"As an account manager handling shipping, telecoms, recruitment, among others, it was a blessing because now I do understand what the sales people are doing," she said.

The year 1990 saw another career step when Fernandez became banquet manager of Manila Pavillion Hotel. This time, she said, it was going back to operations because she was dealing with food and beverage, front desk, housekeeping and engineering.

The job made her realize that "hotel was not just all glamour." It's not just being in business suit but also going through the sweat of physical work.

In three months time, Fernandez said banquet sales got the knock of balancing other sales so her mentor gave her the break to handle banquet sales and service to ensure that the hotel's revenue targets are consistently met through efficient banquet service to private and corporate functions.

In 1993, she was offered to be a part of a pre-opening team for Manila Galleria Suites -- the first suite hotel concept in the country. It was nine months of sleepless nights planning for the opening while the hotel was still being constructed.

"I was handling banquet planning and there were unforeseen glitches," she said, "There was a construction delay, only three floors were initially opened, and you have to establish the hotel's name being an independent business."

It was one very challenging job, but still, she stayed longest with the Manila Galleria Suites, for 12 years. "When you see the hotel up and running, you can say 'that's my baby.' It's like giving birth to a baby after more than nine months."

Embracing changes is innate to Ms. Fernandez hence she joined a pre-opening team for the first Crown Plaza Hotel in Pasig City which she said was like a progress chart.

"I already knew what to do," she said.

In 2005, she decided to move from Manila to Aklan where she worked as resident manager for Boracay Regency Hotel. "It was a 'clean-up' before 'start-up' by putting things into place. I had to go from one department to another."

But being in the island for seven months was no longer healthy for her, so she moved back to Manila.

Little did she know that she would later be working in a place farther than Boracay. She was offered to manage the 158-room Waterfront Insular Davao in 2006 -- a challenge to revitalize a charming old hotel.

"I admit I was captured by its rustic charm," she said.

In the last four years, she has become known to be the leading spirit behind a revitalized Waterfront Insular Hotel, now restored to a glory befitting its history.

"We pursued construction staggeredly without disturbing the guests. There is so much to do at one time. We went back to basics without compromising the standards of five Waterfront hotel properties," she said.

Significantly after two years, Fernandez said they have already stabilized the hotel's cash flow, have paid the loans inherited from previous managements and is now on a clean slate.

Fernandez' unwillingness to fail had phenomenal results such as the average occupancy rate of 80-85 percent in 2009. When she came in four years ago, she said her waistline was even higher than the occupancy rate, and she's not even the slightest overweight.

This year, she said, they aim to improve 80 percent of all 158 rooms, upgrade banquet equipment, and master the art of warm service and make guests feel the care.

For now, she is looking forward to the completion of rooms' renovation and construction of two more buildings with 100 rooms in the next five years. She is also planning to install new air-conditioning units in all rooms. To attract more guests, she envisions a bigger pool for children, another air-conditioned tent area with a bigger capacity (1,500) than the existing one, a spa and gym, cottages on the shoreline, and bigger dining area.

Fernandez has developed a reputation as a hands-on manager who leads a team of creative and hardworking staff, brilliantly juggling all the elements to make the whole a success.

"I may be strict and disciplined but not losing the human side. I am dealing here with people who have been here for 20-40 years. Being strict is nothing personal," she said.

She believes in her accountability to guests, stakeholders if she doesn't work hard. "If I fail, everybody fails because of the possibility of closing down. Workers will lose jobs. I look after the welfare of the majority. That is how I learned over the years."

She attributes her continued drive to her mentors, whom she said have set high expectations of her.

"They saw the potential and almost pushed me to the brink of giving up. They believed in me and they wanted me to believe in myself too," she said.

She now shares the positive outlook with her staff whom she credits most for any success. "I want my people to shine more than me because they make these happen. I always leave my mark so that they can still go further and be a manager someday."

"Davao has been good to me. A learning experience of culture and so many other things. People here made this my second home and I will always be encouraged to be of service to the Davao community," she added.

For a woman whose life revolves around the hotel industry and hospitality, it doesn't come as a surprise when she revealed that the hotel forms a big part of her future. "Four to five years from now, I would like to establish my own tourism consultancy firm."