Maryles Casto on business travel, Silicon Valley tech titans, the big quit
When Maryles Casto was a child in the Philippines, her father would take her flying in his Piper and tell her to look for a hole in the clouds, where they would find balmy air for fun maneuvers.
Years later, after immigrating to California, she found another hole in the clouds and soared to pioneer Silicon Valley business travel as the founder of Casto Travel. in San Jose.
Now she has published a memoir, “A Hole in the Clouds: From Flight Attendant to Silicon Valley CEO” (Silicon Valley Press), in which she recounts her entrepreneurial success at both the 30,000-foot level and on the ground. It’s a book peppered with advice, humor, and the names of towering Silicon Valley personalities like Robert Noyce, Andy Grove, Gordon Moore, Larry Ellison, and Steve Jobs. (That last guy? She once hung up the phone — and still kept her stuff.)
At its peak, the agency she ran for 45 years, with her son Marc joining her for many of them, was booking $200 million in travel a year. In 2019 she sold most of the business but kept Casto Travel Philippines. And she recently founded and also chairs MVC Solutions, a travel industry services company.
With so many people eager to take the skies back, we tap into her expertise and chat with her about what she sees as the future of business travel in this virtual world. But his journey has been so interesting that we had to start at the beginning to get some management insight:
Q. What type of work experience have you brought to the travel agent industry?
A. I became a flight attendant with Philippines Airlines in 1959. At that time, it was the only career option available to young women in the Philippines. One of my first flights was on a DC-3 to the Zamboanga Peninsula on the island of Mindanao. Two tribal warriors in full dress came aboard with their swords and sternly refused to part with them. I went to the pilot to explain the situation to him and was told that the swords were a sign of authority and that the warriors would not hand them over despite the regulations. I worked the whole flight with my eyes glued to it, fascinated. Since then, studying customers, understanding their journeys and satisfying them have been my greatest joy.
Q. How did you make your first big connection with a Silicon Valley client?
A. The most important knowledge I learned during my apprenticeships in travel agencies is that your real customer is not the boss who makes the trip, but the executive secretary with the accounts of the company. When you perform well, they look good and you earn their trust for future travel bookings.
My big break was when Andy Grove from Intel had a travel problem. He couldn’t believe “Maryles made a stupid mistake like that!” However, I did not book his reservation; I was no longer at the agency that did it. When Andy found out I wasn’t working at the agency anymore, he told his administrator to find me. Trust was established. From then on, Sue, Andy’s administrator, and I worked for years for the man who would be known as the most intimidating person in Silicon Valley.
Q. What technological advances in travel planning and booking have you introduced at Casto Travel?
A. We have never been afraid of the Internet or worried that it will replace travel agencies. Instead, we recognized the internet was here to stay and embraced it. Our first start was creating a website for a Silicon Graphics event. It was an “aha” moment that catapulted us into the World Wide Web industry.
Q. You have booked trips for many demanding Silicon Valley executives. Can you share any other tips?
A. One miserable day, as I walked past nearly identical concrete tilting office buildings, one of my heels suddenly broke. I glanced at the office building next to me. A man sitting in the corner office was watching me, his expression a mixture of amusement and curiosity. I didn’t recognize him, but I thought he was the first real leader I had met in days. I decided to enter.
It was Ken Oshman, the O in ROLM, the name that would soon be affixed to office phone systems around the world. Ken was very nice to me. I didn’t have the account – at least not then – but ROLM hired me to manage travel for one of their corporate retreats a few years later. Lesson: The solution to broken heels is to simply take them off and walk barefoot down the hall with an attitude of possibility.
Q. The COVID-19 pandemic has shut down most business travel for two years. What kind of return do you see for this travel sector?
A. The comeback is here. Client companies have started to travel again. Recent data suggests we are on track to match pre-pandemic numbers. Vacation travel was the first to return, quickly followed by business, and soon on the horizon, events and meetings. Virtual meetings are here to stay, although the impact and success of face-to-face meetings outweighs the cost savings of video conferencing.
Q. What are the advantages of face-to-face meetings over virtual conferences?
A. Travel and virtual meetings don’t have to be in competition. This has been demonstrated since video calls were first launched on the scene after the dot.com collapse, after 9/11, after the 2008 recession and now the global pandemic. The desire to explore the world, meet people in person and deepen business relationships has not waned. The buzz felt in a room full of people is irreplaceable.
Q. We are at the time of the Great Resignation. Based on your decades of experience, what can managers do to retain valuable employees?
A. When you do what you love, it doesn’t feel like work. it smells of passion. From the beginning, the secret to our company’s success has always been the people of Casto Travel and their commitment to customers, their drive to go the extra mile. I invested in the development of our team, their professional skills and their personal growth. I respected them as professionals, allowing them the freedom to use their natural talents and creativity to serve clients. Then I got out of their way.
Title: Chairman and CEO of MVC Solutions and Casto Travel Philippines
Residence: California and Massachusetts
Education: Women’s University, Philippines
Family: son Marc, wife Julie and granddaughters Elenora and Abigail, who live in Boxford, Mass.; sister Antonia and nieces Miel and Ella, all in the south bay.
FIVE THINGS ABOUT MARYLES CASTO
- My favorite airport in the world is Dubai International. It is well laid out with walkways lined with palm trees.
- In our Catholic family, all the girls needed Maria as a first name. The older sister was called Maria Antonia (nicknamed Marichu), the second sister Maria Elena (nicknamed Marilen) and my name was Maria Angeles (Mariles for short). When I came to America, I found people had trouble pronouncing Mariles, so I changed it to Maryles.
- I love to cook and I have 50 cookbooks that I can’t part with.
- Dominoes, which I learned from my father, are my favorite game.
- I’m taking guitar lessons so I can play with my granddaughter, Ele. My repertoire of three – “Tom Dooley”, “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and “This Land Is Your Land” – is growing.