How Michelle Hugo Brought Back the Dignity of Work for Her Employees in Her Restaurant

April 24, 2019
Michelle Hugo is a New York entrepreneur. A co-founder of Maison Hugo and Event by Hugo, an innovative event production, catering, and experience management business serving a storied list of corporate, non-profit, government and private clientele in New York City and around the world.

Previously, Michelle had many years of experience in the corporate world. She worked for a Saudi-owned boutique investment firm where she managed a port- folio of multi-million dollar property investments in the U.S. Michelle also worked for the Italian Trade Commission, a government agency based in New York, where she led the Trade department teams in the promotion and growth of Italian businesses in America.

An avid global traveler and a "foodie," Michelle grew up with a passion for the culinary arts from a young age and would later translate her passion for the humanities into her global work. Michelle was born and raised in Manila, Philippines, the daughter of a politician-journalist father and a business-driven mother who came from a family of educators.

A women's rights activist at the age of 18, Michelle has since continued her dedication with various non-profit organizations around the world on issues such as women and girls' education, social justice, sustainable development programs for refugees, the protection of women and girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo and other African countries.

Michelle is currently a member of the Women's International Forum associated with the United Nations. An adviser to a number of non profit organizations with climate change, food and agriculture sustainability, to name a few. In addition, Michelle is regarded as a key member of the diplomatic community at both The Philippine Consulate General in NY and the Philippine Mission to the United Nations.

Michelle's dedication to great service be it hospitality or humanitarian work is born of love and commitment.
The warmth and the human connection is still ultimately what will provide that memorable experience along with great food.
Q: What is the biggest challenge you have met in your career?

Michelle : In the industry that is concept and trend driven, I went against the tide, in hopes of bringing the joy and the experience of sharing a meal. The warmth and the human connection is still ultimately what will provide that memorable experience along with great food. That is what I believe I have accomplished that is far more rewarding than anything else.

Q: How you would describe your company culture, and what are the superpowers of your team?

Michelle: As I interviewed each staff member, I made it clear that each position is no greater than the other, we must take pride in what we do and do it with love and kindness. Great service will naturally follow.
We need to bring back the dignity of work, value and compensate the hard workers. Invest in proper training to say the least.
Q: What are some challenges or trends you see in hiring today?

Michelle: The challenges I have experienced and learned from many of my friends in the industry is how we keep the employees to stay focused and committed to their jobs. We need to bring back the dignity of work, value and compensate the hard workers. Invest in proper training to say the least.

Q: Who inspires you and why?

Michelle: Personally, my mother Rose. She exemplifies strength and what it means to be persistent. I learned how to cook through her survival, cooking for nine children at a time. To be that resourceful and having to practice creative thinking for survival is the perfect recipe in life.

Professionally: Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. He never runs out of brilliant ideas and the energy to execute with excellence. And he champions women! Which to me will always be a "winning" factor to make an enterprise a big success.
Leadership is about being part of the team and empowering each one to be a good team player and sharing the tools to be a leader.
Q: How would you describe your leadership style?

Michelle:
I was raised with "Do as I do and not as Do as I say". Leadership is about being part of the team and empowering each one to be a good team player and sharing the tools to be a leader. It always does take a village.

Q: Have you ever had an hourly job? If yes, please share with us your experience.

Michelle: Yes I have! My first job in NY was for a high end Japanese restaurant on Fifth Avenue. I was fortunate to be making $13 per hour as a host when the min wage at that time was no more than $4.75.
Having lived in Japan and how I managed to converse in Japanese surely helped. The exposure and the experience only proved to be that New York Is one city that embraces diversity.
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