Big is the story of Ruben Perez.
by Coco Salazar
Almost nine years ago, Perez toured Big D to decide whether he would take on a hotel sales and rebranding job. Accepting would mean relocating his career and family from the place he had called home his entire life — the Big Apple. Now, Perez is self-diagnosed with “ASD — always selling Dallas.” As vice president of sales for the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau, the 38-year-old works around the clock to highlight the benefits of bringing meetings and conventions to Dallas.
He ensures his sales team has the tools necessary to promote and sell Dallas around the world as the premier convention and visitor destination. In addition to year-round engagements at tradeshows and events, his agenda is packed with business and social meetings to foster relationships with hospitality and meeting-industry clients and prospects.
“I’m very blessed,” the boyish Perez tells Infórmate DFW. “I’m just a New York City boy who came to Dallas not knowing what to expect, and now I get overwhelmed by all the opportunities I have had and am exposed to.”
Perez, a New York native of Dominican-Ecuadorian descent, is the second American Latino to form part of DCVB’s executive management team. Last year, he made Collaborate Corporate Meetings Intelligence Magazine’s 40 under 40 and his accolades from former employer Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc. include Top Sales Achiever, Sales Leader and Hotel of the Year and the Power of People Star Award. The road to the coveted DCVB role leads back to childhood days when he would visit his father’s workplace, the Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers. “I was always going to the holiday parties,” Perez says. “When [dad] would go pick up his checks, I would go with him, and I thought it was so cool that I got to go through the employee entrance, the cafeteria — and we would walk around when there was events and I thought, ‘Wow, this is so cool! Look at all these people.’”
At age 20, Perez began his hospitality-industry career as a part-time security officer for the Sheraton while attending John Jay College. This, after deciding law enforcement wasn’t for him and opting out of the New York City Police Academy against his father’s will. Six months as a security officer turned into a 15-year career in different departments with Sheraton parent Starwood. For some time, Perez was his father’s manager. “I remember it was so uncomfortable, but he was so proud!” Perez says. “He was so excited I had gotten to that point and at a young age too.”
When Perez set sights on a sales leadership role, he was seeking life outside New York. He thought of Miami, San Diego and other culturally diverse markets, but destiny had it Starwood would give him that opportunity in Dallas. The convincing hook for Perez’s relocation to Big D came in the form of a friendly stranger.
The first day Perez and his wife set out to explore Dallas, they visited the West End and were struggling to match streets to those on a tourist map. “Then a gentleman came over, and asked, ‘Hi there, how you guys doin’? Can I help you with something?’” Perez says in a Southern accent. “I grab for my wallet to make sure it’s there, and I look behind me to make sure nobody’s trying to knock me off — that’s what I was used to in New York City.”
Perez says he still loves to visit New York but appreciates the quality of life and tranquility Dallas offers. He is happy he traded 1-hour, train-walking-and-bus commutes from his New York inner-city home to his inner-city job for a 40-minute, quiet drive from a Dallas suburb to downtown. He is also grateful for being among the “lucky few” of his childhood friends who were able to develop successful careers, along with the “beautiful home, family, the dog, great friends, great lifestyle.”
Infórmate DFW: How is the Hispanic community reflected in DCVB’s goals?
Ruben Perez: As the nation’s first destination management organization to have a diversity and inclusion department and supplier diversity program, part of our mission is to market Dallas as the ideal convention and visitor destination for women, multicultural, multigenerational and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender groups. As part of this, we reach out to Hispanic professional organizations that have annual business meetings. Their members and attendees are influential and connected in their communities, helping us further reach Hispanics.
IDFW: Tell us about the giant, blue B and G letters we’ve been seeing all over Dallas.
RP: This March, DCVB launched Dallas’ new branding, Big Things Happen Here, with an event at Victory Park and a national ad campaign, featuring two dozen sets of life-size B and G displays throughout Dallas. We held a six-week Dallas BIG social media contest, encouraging people to take their photos as the I between the B and G for a chance to win one-of-a-kind experiences. We had nearly 3,000 submissions. The positive response prompted many organizations to request B and G displays, including Medieval Times, Granada Theater, Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, Ronald McDonald House and Mary Kay Inc. Our current social media contest, Dallas BIG People’s Choice, enables fans to win prizes by using #DallasBig when submitting and voting for their favorite BIG photo.
IDFW:What do you love most about your job?
RP: I love being able to represent our great city and sell our destination to national and international markets. I enjoy seeing customers’ reactions before and after they experience the new Dallas, changing perceptions they may have had. Everything from hearing customers commit to bringing their meetings and conventions to Dallas during the sales process to executing the programs makes me proud. I am blessed to work with a very talented team that makes my job easier and drives positive results for our community.
IDFW:Where do you get the energy to keep up with your commitment-packed agenda?
RP: That’s easy. It’s not energy, its passion. I love what I do and take pride in providing the best quality service to our customers and hospitality community. When our team wins, the city wins and everyone benefits. That boosts my adrenaline. Selling and promoting our destination is not just a job, it’s a lifestyle. My family, friends, colleagues, customers and people I meet all hear from me about big things happening here.
IDFW: What career advice do you have for Hispanic youth?
RP: Don’t let time pass you by without striving to reach your goals. Set realistic career goals and a time to achieve them. Though you may not always achieve them as you envision, don’t let anyone discourage you from reaching your objectives. Always remember where you came from and never settle for average or just good enough. When you are feeling comfortable in any job, push yourself to the next level — you’ll be amazed at how much more you can achieve.
IDFW:Any advice for those who aspire to leadership roles in tourism and hospitality?
RP: As much fun as we have and glamorous as it seems to work in this industry, a lot of hard work goes on behind the scenes. Leaders don’t start at the top; they work their way up over time. If you are willing to work hard to earn your stripes, learn and evolve in any area you’re exposed to, you could be very respected and successful. Remember: Success and respect isn’t measured by what you have or what job you hold but by how you get there.
IDFW:What’s your formula for balancing a successful career, fatherhood and dual-earner marriage?
RP: It helps to have an amazing, understanding wife, when it comes to balancing our schedules. In trying to balance a healthy work and personal quality of life, I don’t settle for 50/50 split; I commit 100 percent to both my job and family, regardless of the actual amount of time I spend with either. I make every moment count.
IDFW: What accomplishments are you most proud of?
RP: Professionally, I am proud of the recognitions as a top sales performer and seeing individuals who have worked under my leadership develop into amazing hospitality and sales professionals. Personally, my proudest moments have been the days [my two daughters] were born, when my wife and I purchased our first home and being there for my dad when he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. I’ll forever cherish being able to say goodbye before he left us. I love you, Dad, and thank you for the sacrifices you and mom made to help me be who I am today.