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Putting the ‘woah, man!’ in the auto salon

/ 01:39 AM November 28, 2012

VORACIOUS Sophie stands near a Lotus Evora at Monterey (Pebble Beach Concours) last year. Although a classic sports car lover by heart, Sophie says she loves the Lotus Evora for its styling.

Here’s one upcoming salon the men will surely line up for, and yes, it has something to do with styling, too.

The Manila Auto Salon 2012 will take place from November 29 to December 2 at the SMX Convention Center. This year, the display of over 150 vehicles, representing 120 companies, will revolve around the theme “Mad about Styling and Tuning.” With such numbers, imagine the sensory overload this four-day event promises to bring. The first, and the largest, automotive aftermarket show in the Philippines is the first to stage four major annual competitions (Custom Car, Sport Truck, SUV and Tuner Cars), and the first to get noticed internationally. Proof is international media groups that have been attending this event annually. “Dinadayo” would be how Pinoys would call it.

Behind the success of this supposedly male-dominated event is a woman. Sophia S. de los Santos is the name, and she has commanded the respect of members of the highest automotive circles for over two decades now.


To friends and family, she’s a happy 50-year-old single lady, the fifth in a brood of seven. She first got interested in cars when she was 7 years old when she had her first toy Jaguar XKE. That was in 1969 when she chose her first Matchbox in Uni-Mart. She grabbed the Jaguar XKE “without batting an eyelash.”

She said: “My brothers influenced me. They had hundreds of these little cars.

“I was enamored with the little wheels rolling and tiny hoods that you can open. We would always compete and guess what make and model each one was without looking underneath

THE FORTHCOMING Manila Auto Salon is just one of the many events TradeShow International Inc., which Delos Santos heads as president and CEO, organizes for local car buffs.

(where the manufacturer stamped the info). I would prefer constructing miniature houses out of our library books and building garages for our matchbox toys to roll in and out from. I remember dreaming to have a mini-toy city complete with streets and buildings just so I can roll these tiny cars around and around.”

The youngest daughter of two physicians (her father is deceased), Sophie holds a permanent resident status in the United States, but she currently lives in the Philippines with her 90-year-old mother.

Inquirer Motoring has seen Sophie in action through the years, consistently showing how to make auto shows at par with, if not even better than, other local auto shows. And since Sophie is Sophie, she is proud of the “woman’s touch” that has made Manila Auto Salon a one-of-a-kind show.

“I guess my being a woman levels the playing field among men in my car shows. They do not feel threatened. They know that I will treat everyone fairly like a mother would her children. In fact most of those way younger than I am treat me like a mom, or an older female sibling,” she enthused.

So what’s the “Sophie’s-tication” of the Manila Auto Salon, the “Sophie’s style” of running a car show? Sophie reveals her four “magic touches”:


CIRCA 1960s Sophie with her mom, sister Beany and brothers Butch, Charlie, Ramon and George

The artist is a multitasker. Sophie would like to think she’s creative and emotional—driven by passion. “When I design the entire floor plan of the show, I am quick to consider visible vantage points from all sides and corners of the venue, as well as be sensitive to the needs of the clients. I zone booths as well as vehicle slots according to what would work best to each type of client. I even ask: ‘Who do you want to be situated beside with? Or is there anyone you would rather not be beside with?’”

She is also particular about vehicle colors, especially for her special displays. She would make sure that the floor cover color would be contrasting.

“More often than not, I meddle (like a real mother) with pavilion designs, making sure that I give them a lot of options for the best design suited to their budget.”

The artist is a multitasker. “They say that the greatest multitasker is a homemaker/mother. Being able to juggle household chores with child-rearing. While I am not a homemaker/mother, I do treat my car show my home and my clients my children. Funny but true. From the moment the venue is turned over to me (a whole vacant space—up to 8,000 square meters), I consider that to be my home from ingress day to egress day.

“I ensure that it would be clean, attractive and safe for everyone for the entire duration, and so begins my entire workplan covering security, janitorial, technical, physical arrangement, and the whole gamut of logistical details. And yes, I can actually deal with all of these in a breeze. It’s quite like running a household, really—you just delegate.”

The multitasker is hands-on. “In every woman, there lies a bit of masculinity. In my case, I’ve got more than the average dose!” Sophie said.

Sophie said that she does not mind getting her hands dirty while on the job.

“I work best during crisis and would always say, ‘When the going gets rough,’” Sophie stays. “I am a solution-seeker and never a quitter. In car show organizing, effective crisis management is a must. There were instances when the contractor would make wrong measurements on the show floor and you will always see me either holding a meter stick or doing ‘eye-ball’ pacing to correct the measurements.”

The hands-on girl has her hands on the wheel. She considers this skill as the most important, which when combined with all of her other qualities, gives her the real edge in car show organizing. She also admits such knowledge is enjoyable.

“So from moving in of vehicles within the show floor to classifying them for competitions, it has never been a daunting task,” Sophie quipped.

Sophie’s pace. In high school through college, Sophie narrated she was exposed to drag racing and rallies and would often join her best friend and her brother to the races. Eventually, her best friend started rallying, while Sophie remained a spectator, albeit a proactive one, forming her network with car enthusiasts, car clubs and racers.

After college, her first official job was in events management (with Philcite exhibitions). “And lo and behold, my first ever car show to handle was the Transhow International which was

CAN you imagine this girl would grow up to drive people car-crazy?

already very popular then.”

In 1992, Philcite ceased operations, and so did Transhow. Clients clamored for its continuation, so together with Marie Villar, Sophie put up Trans Sport Show, “which in its true essence is the Transhow.”

Sophie has picked up diverse interests along the way, including culinary arts (she caters to small parties, sells gourmet gifts), graphic design (a hobby and business at the same time), photography (automotive, architectural, modern architecture (an avid fan of modernism, and Bauhaus designs). Her advocacy has been animal welfare.

Since 1992, Sophie has been TradeShow International Inc.’s president and CEO. She is also the organizer of Trans Sport Show (since 1992), Custom Car & Sport Truck Show (1996-2006), Manila Auto Salon (since 2007), and Defense & Sporting Arms Show (since 1993). Since 1995, Sophie has been the Manila Sports Car Club director and secretary. She is also the organizer of Concoure d’ Elegance (since 1996), Philippine Vintage & Sports Car Festival (since 1996). Also, from 1996 onwards, she has been the owner of Automobilia Inc. (automotive art, automotive memorabilia, and designs), and from 1997 onwards, she has been part owner of Global Culinary & Hospitality Academy. From 1996 up to present, she has owned the Sophie’s Gourmet Gifts.

Sophie wears so many more hats, you’d think she was a superhuman of sorts. But deep inside, this girl of rubber and steel is still a softie for creatures that never needed any manmade wheels to get by in this world.

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TAGS: auto show, Manila Auto Salon, Motoring, People, Sophia S. de los Santos
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