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“Hafa Adai from Saipan, Martin!”
That salutation has found its ways into my email in-box numerous times during my years in the travel retail industry and it has always brightened my day.
Chances are I am not alone. Hafa Adai is the standard greeting in Chamorro, the native language of Guam and the islands of the Northern Marianas. And for over 44 years, an outstanding contributor to the duty free and travel retail industry has been saying it warmly to everyone she meets in her professional life.
I’m speaking about Marian Aldan-Pierce, President of DFS Saipan, who is retiring next Monday, 31 August, after more than four decades of outstanding commitment and service to the company, to the community, and to the travel retail world.
“I grew up with DFS, having started in my 21st year and leaving in my 65th year,” Marian tells me. “I grew up with the company and have become the person I am due in great part to lessons learned from the original four owners [Co-founders Robert ‘Bob’ Miller and Chuck Feeney and later shareholders Alan Parker, and Tony Pilaro -Ed] and great mentors over the years.”
“I will indeed miss Marian,” Bob Miller, who at 87 remains a highly active minority shareholder in DFS, told me this week. “She joined at the age of 21 in 1976! She has been a part of the DFS family ever since and DFS Saipan would not be what it has grown to be without her. I wish her only the very best in her well-deserved retirement.”
Nicely put. All her colleagues and friends in the industry would echo those sentiments as they and she reflect on a wonderful life’s journey, one marked by Marian’s immense affection for her employer.
“Working at DFS has been the best decision I’ve ever made,” she told the Saipan Tribune on the occasion of her 43rd anniversary with the retailer in 2019.
In that interview Marian related how she had become the very first employee of DFS Saipan, even before its store in Garapan opened. “I was employed by the government when I heard about a new company interviewing for several positions to open a store. It was Duty Free Shoppers Limited [now DFS -Ed], a company I was not familiar with. So I decided to try my luck.
“I’ve been here since before we had stores. I was hired to be the executive secretary for the Saipan branch manager and by day 2 I was actually interviewing for sales associates. I had no idea what I was getting myself into but my two bosses at the time seemed to have a lot of confidence in me and I appreciated that.” she added.
“The great thing about DFS then and now is that your gender does not play a part in what you are or what you could be,” Marian continued. “Once you have shown that you can do a job and have the passion for it, you could be whatever you want to be.”
Marian did exactly that, rising through the ranks to become President of the company’s Saipan operations in 1995 – DFS’s first woman Division President – and playing a critical role in the long-thriving dual downtown and airport business on the island. The mother of four children (three of them ‘DFS babies’) and grandmother to six, Marian is the only DFS employee who has won the CEO’s LightHouse Award from two different CEOs (Ed Brennan and Philippe Schaus).
“I have been asked many times over the years how I could work for one company for as long as I have with DFS,” says Marian. “My reply always is that it’s not the same company, just in the way that it has evolved in Saipan alone. We were forever improving on something – processes, stores, brands, etc.”
In 2018, The Moodie Davitt Report named Marian one of our People of the Year in recognition of outstanding and compassionate leadership in helping her team and her community who were hit hard by the catastrophic Super Typhoon Yutu which struck Saipan and Tinian on 24 October.
In the typhoon’s aftermath Marian helped mobilise assistance for staff and local residents, from basic daily needs to deeper humanitarian relief. Inspired by its Saipan President and team, DFS set up an online fundraising website, pledging to match donations dollar for dollar, and raising a remarkable US$600,000.
As we noted at the time, such results don’t just happen. They take courage, passion, determination and the organisational skill of people on the ground. They also take leaders and Marian proved just that during the crisis and time and again down the years.
She leaves at a tough time for DFS in Saipan where the T Galleria has been closed since late March due to the COVID-19 crisis. The island is seeing zero tourism due to the restriction of flights from China entering US skies, allied to no demand from South Korea and Japan during the pandemic. But Marian is convinced better days will return soon to this paradise island in the western Pacific. “When we reopen, it will be great for the company and community once more,” she tells me.
“I have a huge tinge of sadness, but now I must concentrate on my family,” she says, noting that she will join Richard, her husband of almost 36 years, in Washington state and enjoy the fruits of their respective labours.
So, Si Yu’us Må’åse (thank you) Marian and Buen biåhe (bon voyage). One of the remarkable human tales of our travel retail industry draws to a close.
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