Monday, September 27, 2010

From hotelier to rainmaker

From hotelier to rainmaker
Business World Online
September 27, 2010

Annabella Santos-Wisniewski
President and CEO
Raintree Management Partners, Inc.

Seasoned travelers rave about two major observations on the Philippines. First is the ethereal, almost unearthly beauty of the land; second is the endearing warmth and hospitality of Filipinos in general. These two standout qualities were the fundamental strengths on which Annabella Santos-Wisniewski capitalized to build her business, Raintree Management Partners, Inc.

Mrs. Wisniewski has built a tourism development group that leverages on the best aspects of the Philippines. Raintree-managed properties attract a sizeable chunk of local and international tourists. These include Discovery Shores Boracay and Discovery Country Suites Tagaytay. Combining her extensive experience in the hospitality industry with an innate entrepreneurial spirit, she has helped to greatly enhance the standards of quality and service in the travel industry.

Mrs. Wisniewski says that she was born with entrepreneurship running in her veins. She began her entrepreneurial journey in the United States where she worked in various segments of the hospitality industry for over 20 years, renovating and reselling foreclosed hotels with much success. She reprised her success in Singapore where she helped jumpstart the Ascott chain of serviced residences. She was recognized to have been instrumental in the company’s success, which led to its going public in 1987.

In 1995, the chairman of the Ascott group asked her to return to the Philippines to head their local country operations. However, instead of accepting the offer, Mrs. Wisniewski experienced an epiphany and decided to establish her own company instead: "I thought to myself -- ‘The Philippines is a goldmine! Why am I doing things for other countries when there is so much to do for my own?"

In 1996, Mrs. Wisniewski set up Raintree Management Partners, Inc. as an independent consulting services firm serving established hotel chains such as the Four Seasons and the Shangri-La. Mrs. Wisniewski recalls that she started small, "Really small! It was just my driver, my secretary and I." She now has 1,000 employees.

In addition to the consulting business, Mrs. Wisniewski ventured into operations to build market presence. HSAI Raintree Hospitality Management was formed to operate luxury hotels. In 1998, Raintree entered into a technical service and a long-term management agreement with Discovery Suites to pioneer the full serviced-apartment concept. The tie-up received international recognition and the company was named the Best Employer for Asia in 2003 by Hewitt Associates.

Raintree Management Partners, Inc. believes in injecting innovation into their projects such as providing free Wi-Fi in all Raintree-managed luxury hotels and resorts; revolutionizing corporate food service; and giving quality dining experience in their tastefully designed restaurants that occasionally feature art exhibits and other events.

Mrs. Wisniewski ensures that each innovative approach is market driven and location specific. "After all, we are in the ‘people business’ and it is the people who lounge by our infinity pools and enjoy the amenities our luxury hotels and resorts provide," she states.

Quick to recognize opportunities, Mrs. Wisniewski likewise went into the food service business when she was approached with a proposal to develop a food court at the Enterprise Center on Ayala Avenue. She pioneered a new concept -- themed food parks in a corporate setting, combining easy and affordable dining with events and entertainment. With the initial success of The Enterprise Center Food Court, Raintree started to receive numerous inquiries and offers from other Makati building owners.

To manage the growing demand, she created FoodParks by Raintree in 1998. At present, FoodParks operates the Food Park at the Enterprise Center, Food Odyssey at the LKG Tower, Food & Art Galerie at GT Tower, Food Patio at the PBCom Tower and Food Arcade at the PhilAm Tower.

Being revenue minded, Mrs. Wisniewski knew that it was not financially sufficient to just sublease spaces in the food parks. She organized a subgroup, the Retail Food Group, to operate various food and beverage stalls like Lola’s Kitchen, Pinoy Sizzlers, City Bites, the New York Cafe and FP Express. Seeing that the business was rapidly growing, Mrs. Wisniewski asked her son Andrej to oversee the FoodParks business. The Wisniewski family is very involved in the business and in fact, she says: "My husband and my sons are major players in all my endeavors, and their support and encouragement constantly inspire me."

From FoodParks emerged yet another division -- Raintree Restaurants. The division runs the M Cafe in the Ayala Museum Complex. This was followed by Chelsea Market & Cafe at Serendra, Mr. Jones in Greenbelt 5 and Momo in the Eastwood Mall.

Mrs. Wisniewski’s deep knowledge of the hospitality industry provides Raintree with its competitive edge and is primarily responsible for the group’s market leadership and successful ventures. Moving forward, plans are underway to launch a new generation of hotels and resorts. It is currently developing two beachfront properties in Baler -- one is moderately priced for the budget-conscious traveler and the other, an exclusive high-quality resort and an eco-adventure destination. Discovery Bay Albay will also be opening soon.

While being aggressive in growing the business, Mrs. Wisniewski is also passionate about people development. Key people are sent for training to institutions like Cornell University and the Asian Institute of Management and industry experts are invited to conduct in-house seminars.

With a robust organizational structure backed by a solid business framework, Raintree’s growth has been impressive, but Mrs. Wisniewski recalls when it wasn’t so. "At the beginning, we had to overcome the perception that only international hotel groups could deliver world-class quality." This did not deter her as she steadfastly believed that commitment, effort, optimism and passion can overcome any difficulties: "There’s just no substitute for tenacity and hard work. These are valuable traits that anyone must live by."

Annabella Santos-Wisniewski tirelessly works to enhance and develop the country’s best qualities, particularly its people. Her advice to young entrepreneurs is this: The Filipino can! Success takes a lot of believing. Believe in yourself and in your dreams, and do not fear failure. In the end, it is not the falling but the rising that counts.


The Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines 2010 is sponsored by SAP Philippines. The official airline is KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. Media sponsors are BusinessWorld and the ABS-CBN News Channel. The winners of the Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines 2010 will be announced on October 12, 2010 at an awards banquet at the Makati Shangri-La Hotel.