May 17, 2019
Chief Operating Officer
Legend Hotels International Corporation
She always wanted to be a guidance counsellor, and in some serendipitous way, the Chief Operating Officer of Legends Hotels International Corporation has. Overseeing 400 of the group’s employees, she unconsciously returns to her penchant for listening and dispensing advice to others.
No one specific. I want to become my own person.
A short prayer, no breakfast because I’m into intermittent fasting. Then, I just jump into work.
I just want to live a full life. I just want to spark joy.
First paying job
I was a management trainee at MyPlace, a dormitory across Ateneo de Manila University.
Hiking, boxing and aerial yoga.
Time spent on social media
None at all. I don’t have a Facebook or Twitter
By Anna T. Cayco
Photos by Hermes Singson
“When I was young, I told myself that I would be a guidance counselor,” Celine Marie “Cheeny” King tells Keep in View.
Now, at 36-years-old and the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Legend Hotels International Corporation (LHIC), Cheeny is far-removed from that fleeting childhood dream.
Or is she?
Between aiding the chairman, president, who happens to be her father, Wyden King, as well as overseeing more than 400 of LHIC’s employees, Cheeny unconsciously returns to her penchant for listening and dispensing advice to others.
Cheeny says: “I find myself in a COO position, not just directing or leading, but also more of counseling people. If you want people to follow your vision or leadership, you have to get to know them by heart.”
Her management style springs from her journey with her faith and family. Cheeny was the first of Wyden King’s children to be converted into his faith as a born-again Christian. Her father’s conversion in 1992 had shocked both the business and religious community as he began converting Anito Motels – then the country’s top motel chain he had inherited from his father, Angelo King, dubbed the “Motel King of the Philippines” – into uniquely Christian hotels.
Services are held in the morning, meetings are started with prayers, and each hotel has a resident pastor for counselling. Before the work day even starts, employees gather together to share their problems with each other.
Cheeny explains: “Corporations say: ‘Huwag mong dalhin ang personal problems sa office [Don’t bring personal problems to the office].’ Kami [Us], we encourage it. You can’t separate personal problems from work dahil dala-dala nila yun [because they bring them with them]. Instead of us shying away from it, we want to help.”
Essentially, people are the main asset in the hospitality industry – both employees and customers. For someone, who has not been captured by the social media craze – her last social media account being the now defunct Friendster – Cheeny prioritizes personally connecting with her team members.
Cheeny says: “We don’t just do business just because we want to make a profit. We don’t build businesses just because we want to, [because] we see an opportunity there. We do business because in our prayer time we feel that’s where the Lord is leading us. We build businesses because God has mandated us to.”
Today, LHIC has transformed their seedy motels into ones that promote Filipino family values. Kabayan Hotel, The Mabuhay Manor and Pinoy Pamilya Hotel are right outside Ninoy Aquino International Airport to greet Overseas Filipino Workers, balikbayans (returning Filipinos) and local and foreign tourists in transit with the trademark Filipino hospitality at affordable rates.
Meanwhile, The Legend Villas cater caters to staycations and corporate events in the heart of Metro Manila. In Puerto Princesa, The Legend Palawan gives visitors a chance to explore the country’s prized tropical island in comfort and convenience with their tour packages.
As with most children, who succeed their parents, working in the family business means overcoming a sense of entitlement.
Cheeny recalls: “As a millennial, you have decisions and actions where you feel like you can do better…And as the child of the owner, you think you’re entitled to some certain things, which don’t quite work out.”
Butting heads with her father led her to break away from the company to work for her sister and brother-in-law, Ginger and Rami Villavicencio, at their aviation products distribution companies, Lubwell and SafeAir Corporation, as finance manager in 2014.
Her exodus came with a price. The bills for her independent lifestyle began to pile up, which prompted a return to her father to stand by him as his executive assistant in 2017.
She resumed climbing the corporate ladder, becoming the general manager at Kabayan Hotels and eventually adding The Legend Palawan under her belt. Entitlement now long gone, she saw herself reaching out more to her colleagues and staff.
“More and more I’m beginning to understand that there are things that you cannot appreciate from where you’re standing. He [her father] can see the big picture,” Cheeny humbly says.
Today, the two complement each other with their drastically different business styles. Wyden King comes from a time where there was room for risks to be taken and money to be spent. But giving up his love motels also meant giving up a daily profit of two million pesos.
With that gone, Cheeny comes to the boardroom with graphs and charts to make economical and informed decisions. “Now that we’ve experienced being financially strapped, I don’t act that fast… I am more calculated and more cautious. I’m the one who’s pulling him back,” she observes.
As Daddy King hits 65, Cheeny is now more involved in the decision-making for the corporation. With her father’s enterprising spirit, she seeks to further expand their ventures such as building river-floating cottages and mountain villas overlooking the breathtaking view for The Legend Palawan and extending Kabayan Hotels to 307 more rooms by 2020.
But when it comes to spending downtime, Cheeny is very much like her father. She has an itch for trying new things, from holding yoga poses while hanging from the ceiling with aerial yoga, hiking alone up Luzon’s highest peak Mt. Pulag, to getting up close to wildlife on safaris in Cape Town, South Africa.
She admits she is not a visionary like her father – and she needs not to be. Humble, grounded, and committed, Cheeny King deems to have what it takes to disprove the notion of the squandering third generation.
“I want to make sure his legacy is continued. What he started, I will continue,” Cheeny promises.
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