• Corpus:Taal Vista Hotel’s First Filipino GM
  •   When he was 4 years old, Bernardo “Bernie” Corpus Jr. would wake up at 4 a.m. to accompany his father to the seaside market to buy the freshest catch.

    BERNARDO “Bernie” Corpus Jr.

      When he was 4 years old, Bernardo “Bernie” Corpus Jr. would wake up at 4 a.m. to accompany his father to the seaside market to buy the freshest catch.

      At home, the older Corpus would cook while he assisted. Those early morning marketing and cooking paid off later. It was not only a preparation for his hotel career but also an inspiration of sorts for the Junior Cup Challenge, a cooking contest for kids, his first major event which he organized as general manager of Taal Vista Hotel.

      Corpus is the first Filipino to hold the top position of this deluxe hotel in Tagaytay. The owner, SM Hotels Corp., aimed to make its property a major destination.

      When Corpus was GM of Hotel Vizcaya in Shanghai, he had his interview through Skype with SM Hotel’s corporate office.

      Corpus says the operations were running smoothly when he came on board. The hotel had been getting positive feedback from guests. It was just a matter of fine-tuning the software or the human element.

      “We wanted to raise the bar in the service standards and the attitude of the employees. They were OK, but they could do with more warmth. When they greet somebody, the sincerity has to come across. We don’t want to sound like those food chains where the greeting sounds robotic. Visitors said the hotel has become a home.”

      Junior chefs

      Corpus also points out the business in the food and beverage, particularly the coffee shop, Café on the Ridge, increased by 70 percent. He credits Aurora “Babes” Austria, the first Filipino, albeit female, executive chef in Taal Vista, for highlighting local ingredients. The peanuts in the kare-kare, as well as tapa, parrot fish and barako coffee, come from Batangas. The maliputo and tawilis are sourced from Taal Lake. Since Tagaytay is known for its señorita bananas, these are made into banana cake with cashews. The Tagaytay pineapple is made into a tarty vinaigrette dressing that accompanies the greens from the neighboring organic farms.

      “Foreigners would like a taste of real Filipino food. The chef has been innovating dishes,” says Corpus. Café on the Ridge is touted as one of the best restaurants in the Calabarzon.

      Corpus’ vision is to make Taal Vista hotel a hub for activities. “I love doing events. I’m hands-on from conceptualization to execution. We don’t need an events company when we can work with the department heads.”

      He formed the Junior Cup Challenge (JCC), a culinary contest for children ages 8 to 12. Taal Vista received 335 aspirants from the Calabarzon but trimmed it down to 31.

      For four consecutive Sundays, the children tested their mettle in local and international cuisine. The winner was a 12-year-old who impressed the judges with her haute cuisine version of lamb. The hotel raised P100,000 from ticket sales which was donated to Project Brave Kids. The JCC will now be held every September.

      As a spin-off, plans are afoot to hold a kiddie culinary camp in the hotel where the children can visit organic farms in Tagaytay and learn to cook healthy dishes.

      Next year Corpus plans to hold an international skateboarding competition to bring more visitors to this destination. He says Taal Vista hotel’s market profile has been changing. Although it’s still dominated by Filipinos and balikbayans, there has been in increase in foreigners.

      Rising up the ranks

      On his strengths, Corpus says he is very practical and he always sets goals. Aside from a degree in hotel and restaurant management at the University of the Philippines, he took up professional development studies, specializing in food and beverage, hotel and restaurant at the Cornell University.

      His first job was a night clerk at the Manila Hilton. “I said to myself this was not a hotel career. I wanted to move up.” He told his late father, also a hotelier, that he would get promoted every year. His résumé shows his steady climb to the top.

      When Hilton had openings in sales and in management training, he took them all up. “I’m makulit when learning new things. In Hilton, I was already a manager and I still wanted to go into a managing training program. The only way to move up is to start from under. You don’t want people below to give you the runaround just because you don’t know. It’s best that you start from the roots.”

      Every year, Corpus would rise up from the ranks until he became assistant banquet manager. While doing the rounds of the coffee shop, he met friends who told him of an opportunity in Crown Monarch, Crown Cruise in West Palm Beach in Florida.

      Corpus became the ship’s first Filipino food and beverage director. It was one of his most challenging jobs, dealing with people from various nationalities. It’s the Filipinos who shone for being the most reliable.

      “They use their coconut. Common sense. If you give an instruction, they would think before they act to make sure they’re following instructions. Not to belittle other nationalities, but sometimes they do without thinking of the consequences,” he says.

      “I once fired the chef, an American. He would be on the pool deck, drinking piña colada talking to guests, leaving the kitchen in chaos. When the ship reached the port, I told him, ‘This is your last day.’ He couldn’t believe a Filipino could do that. I told the captain and the hotel manager that the chef wasn’t doing anything except looking at the girls.”

      Weary of the lonely expat life, he returned to work to his former hotel that was rebranded as Holiday Inn Manila. He was worked as its food and beverage director and was then appointed director of human resources, a position which taught him how to listen with compassion.

      “I thought I didn’t have the patience to hear out professional or personal problems. The work made me a better person. I could listen with empathy and guide people.”

      His people skills and experience led him to his next post as executive assistant manager. Under an independent management, Holiday Inn Manila was renamed Manila Pavilion. By then Corpus moved up from resident manager to hotel manager.

      Culture shock

      His first GM post was Hotel Stotsenberg in Pampanga where he set up the operations. Meanwhile, his former boss asked him to help him run a resort in China. After opening Hotel Stotsenberg, Corpus flew to Shanghai where he started out as assistant general manager of Vizcaya Resort and Spa whose theme takes after the famous Spanish resort town. Subsequently, he became the first Filipino general manager. Corpus admits to having a culture shock, seeing the disjunction between the people’s laidback attitudes and the modernity of Shanghai. He was amazed that the local staffers sported long nails, a no-no in the service industry.

      He recalls that he and a local were comparing their water bills. Corpus spent 120 RMB a month while the local’s bill fetched only 8 RMB. “What does that tell you?” says the hotelier.

      Corpus had to lay the groundwork for the resort. “It was like starting all over again -—straightening out job descriptions, new polices and procedures. Everybody had to be reoriented.”

      The Filipino employees were one of the resort’s saving graces. While their counterparts would rest when they’re tired, the Filipinos would go the extra mile to make everyone happy. “The Filipinos were running all over the place. In the restaurants, the foreigners would ask for a Filipino to attend to them. With the locals, there’s the language barrier. If you ask them for something, they’ll answer that they know, but they don’t.”

      Three years in China was good enough for Corpus’ résumé. To him, there’s no place like the Philippines. Since assuming his post in Taal Vista Hotel last August, Corpus likens it to a doctor’s job. “You’re always on call,” he says.

      Still, it has a payoff. “It’s as if you’re working and you’re still on a holiday. If you’re stressed out, just look at the volcano. It gives you inner peace then you come back to work.”