By Maureen N. Maratita
Sophia Chu Wigsten was fortunate to find her career early on — and to recognize opportunity when it came knocking.
After attending Academy of Our Lady in Guam, she headed for Portland, where she graduated from the University of Portland with a 1992 bachelor’s in business administration.
“Upon graduating from college, I had plans to go straight into a master’s program and had only planned on coming home for a summer vacation. As I was going to be here for three months, I thought that I would spend the summer taking on a summer job to get some real work experience before starting my master’s program.”
The future general manager of the Hyatt Regency Guam actually applied to be part of the hotel’s opening team, but they did not have a temporary slot for her.
But the Palace Hotel offered Wigsten the working experience she sought.
She says, “After two months, I decided that I found my calling and I withdrew from the program, while my mother and brother flew out to pack up my things and ship them home, and the rest is history.”
Wigsten became sales manager at the Palace, a position she held for three years until 1995.
She joined Hyatt in September of that year as director of business development, moving up the management chain to director of marketing and executive assistant manager. In March 2014, Wigsten was appointed as the first female and local manager.
She pays tribute to many mentors in the hospitality industry, particularly the general managers she previously worked with. “I learned something different from each of them.”
However, her parents had the most influence on her, she says.
“My father always taught my brother and I that we must work hard and not rely on others to hand us anything. My father … taught us to look at a problem from many different angles to come up with the best solution. My mother taught us to always be kind, humble and considerate of others, and it is something she reminds me of to this day.”
The Hyatt nurtured Wigsten’s management potential, and she is conscious of the need to foster continued growth and development and to maintain a variety of relationships.
“Developing local talent, of which I am a classic example, and being a good corporate citizen is important to us. We promote the island to overseas visitors and businesses and contribute to the economic, educational and sustainable growth of our island.”
She is proud that successful local restaurateurs attribute part of their success to what they learned and experienced during their time at the hotel.
“We want to be a company that not only does business here but plays a key role in the growth and development of the island. We work closely with local businesses such as Grow Guam, Farm to Table, etc., to promote local, sustainable products, and we work with local schools such as UOG, GCC and various high schools to offer internships and other partnerships that will help to develop our future generation of leaders.”
“We know that our success is linked to the support the island community has given to us over the past 22 years and we want to ensure that we continue to give back for many more years to come.”
She says she continues to derive enormous pleasure from her career.
“I am inspired by everyone around me. I love seeing that my colleagues share the same vision and passion to make people happy.”
The Hyatt Regency Guam is one of the island’s popular venues for events but also draws tourists and local residents to its doors.
“I love that people choose us to be a part of their lives through their family vacations, the meals they choose to have in our restaurants or allowing us be a part of the special moments in their lives from weddings, to christenings, to birthdays and graduations. We have been so fortunate to have shared so many special memories with our guests over the years,” Wigsten says.
She serves as a board member and first vice chairperson of the Guam Hotel & Restaurant Association, not her first time on the GHRA board.
The hotel is actively involved in several Guam Visitors Bureau committees, the Guam Chamber of Commerce and other civic organizations. Hyatt Regency Guam also supports numerous nonprofit organizations, including the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Guam, Guam Cancer Care, the Guam Chapter of the American Red Cross and the United Servicemen’s Organization.
“With all of my time spent either at work or with my children, participation in community-related activities mostly revolve around hotel-sponsored events or events relating to school. From environmental initiatives, such as beach and roadside cleanups and participating in recycling programs with local schools, to sponsoring events that benefit children such as our annual fundraisers for Make-A-Wish Foundation of Guam or participating in carnivals for disadvantaged children, we remain actively involved in order to make our island community a better place for all,” Wigsten says.
As many businesswomen have found, balancing a full family life with a busy management position can be demanding.
Her husband, John Wigsten, was managing a hotel in Guam until recently, and the couple’s two daughters — Hallie, 14, and Ella, 10 — are busy with extracurricular activities.
Wigsten says, “One of my biggest challenges was feeling that I would have to sacrifice being a good mother to have a rewarding career. I was worried that I would miss out on milestones in my children’s lives and not be able to balance family and work life.”
However, she says, she is fortunate that the Hyatt and her family have ensured that she is not pulled in two directions at once.
“I can honestly say that having a company that supports families, having a supportive partner and family has removed all of the challenges that I thought were there.”
Candy Okuhama, director of sales and marketing for ASC Trust Corp., and a friend of Wigsten, says Wigsten is an amazing wife, mother and businesswoman.
“She somehow finds a way to balance all three roles … and manages to excel in every area of her life. … I think her best trait is her patience; she is always calm and composed and does not get flustered.”
Wigsten is a very visible general manager — greeting guests and appearing at community events on-property — and is frequently seen in the hotel’s various venues, also talking with Hyatt team members.
Luis Villagomez, marketing communications manager at Hyatt, says, “Sophia shows excellence in hospitality, leads in humility and lives the Hyatt values by heart. We are all so blessed and fortunate to be under her care, knowing that it’s not just the ‘business’ in being a businesswoman. It’s also about being a woman of utmost hospitality, humility and heart.”
If there is a saying that epitomizes her philosophy, it is, “Do what you love and love what you do.”
She says, “I spend more waking hours in a day at work than at home, and if I did not have a deep passion for this job, it would be difficult for me to have continuously done this for the past 21 years.”