Q&A with Sonia Garza-Monarchi

Q&As

Hometown: Born and raised in Houston

Education: B.A., political science and Spanish, Rice University, class of ’86

Career: Latin-American consultant for the Houston International Protocol Alliance before becoming protocol officer and deputy director. In 1993, became executive director and chief of protocol, and later named VP and GM of the GHCVB. In 2004, she launched Garza Protocol Associates, specializing in protocol and diplomacy. She assumed her current role at the GHCVB on Jan. 1.

What are your long-term goals for the GHCVB?

I believe any organization has to constantly strive to challenge itself to do better and to set higher goals. I plan to increase collaboration and communication and, of course, grow the amount of citywide meetings and leisure travelers.

As an entrepreneur, do you plan on involving more small businesses in the GHCVB?

One of our goals this year is to increase our membership by 15 percent, and we definitely plan on reaching out to small businesses to do so. However, I would challenge other small-business owners, some of which may be in my position of running one-person operations, to get more involved. Come to as many membership events as you can so the staff and leadership get to know you and what services or products you provide. You have to build relationships and be visible.

What is the main leadership quality that you’ve developed over the course of your career?

I would have to put good communication skills at the top of the list. When I was fortunate enough to be promoted to vice president and general manager, I decided to meet with every single person on our team and ask them to tell me what they did, what they liked, what was working, what challenges they faced and what was keeping them from being more effective. I listened, took notes and the team gave me a graduate seminar on the meeting and hospitality industry, as well as on our organization. I think the more you can reach out and collaborate, the better your odds for success.

What challenges have you faced as a female executive and how did you overcome them?

A male employee once told me I would never be successful because I wasn’t a b****. I don’t believe you have to be ugly or aggressive to succeed, but you do have to be assertive.

I was once invited to the home of the Indonesian consul general for a reception. The women were in a separate room, but as chief of protocol I was invited to sit with the men. While it would have been easier and more comfortable to be with the women, I remained with the men for most of the evening. I realized that when you work with people from other cultures, sometimes women’s roles are different and you have to deal with it.

What advice would you offer others who have just arrived on the managerial scene?

Share the credit and take the blame. You can’t accomplish anything alone, so be generous and give credit to your team and partners. When you make a mistake, apologize ASAP, fix it, learn from it—share the lesson and move on. Lastly, be kind to everyone—treat everyone with respect and take care of your team.

Do you have any insights for planners who juggle responsibilities for more than one company?

I would give two tips to all planners: Get help and get organized. You don’t have to do everything yourself. There are many resources for hands-on support, expertise and guidance. Make checklists, have procedures and standardize as many of the daily activities as possible so you’re not reinventing the wheel. Doing these [things] will free you up to dedicate time to those things that require creative thinking and problem-solving. 

What tips would you give planners and organizations when dealing with foreign clientele?

  • Beware of cultural biases. Your perceptions may lead you to an incorrect assumption.
  • When in doubt, be more formal in how you communicate, dress and handle yourself. Actions speak louder than words.
  • Make small talk smart talk. Know what topics are safe and keep it short and simple.
  • Be prepared. Do your homework and learn something about the country and culture.

As a successful Latina, what advice do you have for those looking to follow in your footsteps?

Don’t turn your back on your culture—use it as a strength. Speaking Spanish and being bicultural has been instrumental to my success. It helped me see the world differently and gave me the skills to adapt to different environments and to understand people who came from different backgrounds.

Get the best education you can, have a vision and a plan, surround yourself with the most qualified people, know what matters to you so you can sleep at night and then reach for the stars! You can accomplish anything you want if you work hard enough, but be open to different possibilities.