PRESENTACION L. Psinakis loves her work. The only daughter of Lopez Group founder Eugenio H. Lopez Sr. (Don Eñing) is president of Griffin Sierra Travel Inc. She started up the travel agency in 1967 with 10- 12 employees, and has grown its business many times over with headcount now at 49. “I enjoy running an office even if it’s a lot of headache. I enjoy working and this was inculcated in me by my late dad, who conducted business at the luncheon table. I could hear him talking business all the time. Sierra gave me a channel to practice what I really believe in: the ethics, the values the example taught to me by my dad,” says Psinakis.
In the beginning, she was very active in the business, meeting with airline executives to whom she could relate well. She found Americans and Europeans particularly easy to talk business with. She would go on sales calls as Sierra focused on corporate travel. Marriage to then Meralco executive Steve Psinakis, a Greek national, interrupted her career in the travel industry. She moved to Athens and opened an Asian boutique that carried her name. She imported handicrafts, art objects and antiques from the Philippines, Thailand, Japan and other East Asian countries. “That business was very, very successful because of the beauty of the imports. Our clients appreciated the piña cloth, the capiz shells. We even had our own lamps made,” Psinakis recalls.
Partnership with Griffin
The family had to move to the US in 1974, however, when Don Eñing fell ill while her elder brother Eugenio Lopez Jr. (Geny) was imprisoned during martial law. They bought a fast food restaurant in the heart of San Francisco’s financial district, which they managed for three years until husband Steve helped in the escape of Geny from the Marcos military prison. In 1987, a year after the People Power Revolution that catapulted the late Corazon Aquino, a close family friend, to the presidency, Psinakis resumed her post at Sierra. She oversaw its eventual partnership with Griffin Marine Travel, whose principal, George Boyes, was also a very close personal friend of the Psinakis family. “Our partnership is based on friendship. And our partnership flourished. Griffin-Sierra is the only office that George Boyes does not own outright, and he has 14-17 offices around the world. We are able to quote the lowest seacrew fares because of our affiliate offices in the Middle East, Hong Kong, Singapore, the US, Cyprus, Turkey,” says Psinakis.
Complementing Sierra strength
Griffin’s marine travel business complemented Sierra’s strength in corporate and together, the company grew stronger and more relevant, considering that 25% of the world’s shipping crew come from the Philippines. Psinakis says she will try to stay involved with Sierra for as long as she can. “Our partnership is going well, but I really need to devote more time to my family.” This is why she has developed trusted lieutenants, led by vice president and general manager Marilu Q. Ngo, to take care of the nitty-gritty of daily operations. With Ngo and her team on board, she knows Sierra is in good hands.
Doing with passion
“I feel that whatever you do in life, you have to do it with passion. When I started Sierra, I was so passionately involved in it. I would live it, eat it, sleep it. With that attitude, it’s hard not to succeed. Today, even if I am not 100% involved in day-to-day operations, I love being with the people, passing on the values and business ethics that I got from my dad,” Psinakis says. During company get-togethers, she says Sierra employees already expect one of her “homilies.” “They need it in this day and age. They must learn that it’s not the money or profits that come first. I have endeavored to make the people who work (in Sierra) happy, provide them with a good office, a positive working environment—but you can only do so much, and the rest is up to them.”
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