For many years, visitors to Arkema’s Sant Celoni plant in Spain were welcomed by the ever-smiling receptionist Marisa Closa. That was before she moved on to human resources and communication duties at the site. Marisa tells us about her job as well as her passion for singing and dancing.
We have all heard that you never get a second chance to make a good first impression. This sums up the basics of a receptionist’s job. “Every time I greet somebody, I see myself as Arkema’s ambassador. I want to convey the best possible image of the company I represent”, Marisa Closa says. A reflex that this native of Santa Maria de Palautordera, a pretty village in the Barcelona province where she still lives, has had time to nurture after spending many years at the reception desk of Arkema’s Sant Celoni plant, which specializes in the manufacture of powder polyester resins for the paint and coating market.
“I know everyone here…”
With its 17,000 inhabitants, Sant Celoni, just 5 km away from where Marisa lives, lies on the Catalonia to Europe strategic communication route. A plus for Marisa when she joined the Resisa chemical plant (acquired by Cray Valley, then by Arkema), following 4 years of professional training (FP2) in administration. “They were looking for a secretary for the plant’s reception desk. I ended up staying 24 years in my job, faithful to what I call my lookout post! It’s fair to say that I know everyone here. Sant Celoni, you know, is like a large family.” For Marisa, her days were punctuated by telephone calls for many years. “When I started, there were 285 of us on the site, and there were no direct numbers. All calls went through the switchboard. It never stopped. I remember transferring 900 calls in a single day! Sometimes it could be a stressful job, but the rule is that you never let it show. You have to be welcoming at all times. That wasn’t a problem for me as I get on well with people. I always try to help. For me, it’s a pleasure to make people happy.“
“I learn and get better every day.”
Over time, alongside her usual receptionist duties, Marisa was entrusted various missions in Human Resources at the Sant Celoni plant. Until she eventually left her job as the site’s receptionist to move on to HR. “One of my main duties today consists in logging in the system the various data needed for managing human resources. Data like hours worked, overtime, leaves and absences, schedules for the 200 employees (130 in Sant Celoni and 60 in Mollet). Not to mention something I enjoy very much: communication. Which means the in-house dissemination of information on the goings-on of the plant, the Group’s latest news, everything to do with best practice, safety... Here for example, I took care of the translation of the Essentials from French to Spanish.” Marisa received various training to learn about the various computer tools and improve her foreign language skills, English and French to begin with, which she now speaks fluently. “You’re lucky if you have the opportunity to keep on learning and getting better. It’s also a matter of pride when you can play a part in the success of a large company like Arkema.”
And then, she dances…
Sant Celoni is known for its “Ball de Gitanes” which every year celebrates a traditional dance from the Vallès Oriental region. A source of inspiration for Marisa: “As a young girl, when we had festivities in the town, I would sit in front of the stage and watch. I was fascinated. And I also enjoy watching entertainment and dance shows on TV.” Yet she was 24 years old when she enrolled in ballroom dance classes with Rafael, her dance partner and husband. “We learnt a dozen or so dances like the Viennese waltz, slow fox, quick step, cha-cha-cha and jive, the equivalent of fast rock, my favorite! It’s very quick, it’s as tiring as running an 800 m race. You have to be very fit. We were such fanatics that every week we would travel 150 km to the town of Reus to be coached by world dance champions. So we worked our way up even though it was still only a hobby and we weren’t really interested in competitions. Remember it means training every day, constantly travelling, and with our jobs, it wasn’t possible. We have no regrets. I think that’s what matters: dancing for the fun of it with someone you love. I remember when we went to a dance somewhere, women would come and ask me if they could dance with my husband. I would say yes, of course! It’s normal. It’s nothing to be jealous about. But you don’t often dance well with someone you don’t know, unless that person is very good. That’s because you are used to your partner. There’re things you do automatically, with a kind of complicity. So people would be watching us and ask: “You’re so good, where did you learn?" This gave us the idea to pass on what we knew. Teaching was an unforgettable experience. In particular when people would say: “Don’t waste your time with me, I’m no good …”, and then ended up dancing very well after all. That makes you feel really proud!”
“Draw a creative side from deep inside me.”
A problem with an ankle for Rafael, the arrival of a new baby… Marisa spends less time dancing. No matter, she will sing instead! “A colleague at work was very good at playing the electric guitar. I had told him I enjoyed singing. As a teenager, I would jot down in a notebook any song lyrics I liked. So he asked me whether I wanted to sing in his group. He had never heard me sing! I turned down his invitation. He insisted. He gave me a recording of the music. I liked it. I agreed to take the risk and found myself in a studio. I had never done that before. I couldn’t read sheet music. I sang everything by ear. He said: if you like, you can sing one phrase at a time and then we’ll mix. And I said: no, I’ll sing in one go! It just took two takes. The song was by Suzi Quatro: “If you can’t give me love”. That was 15 years ago. A powerful experience that helped draw a creative side from deep inside me.” Paradoxically, problems with my voice would bring forward this revelation. “I was suffering from vocal nodules. I was prescribed singing lessons for therapy. That’s when I learned to sing from my diaphragm, open up my body’s resonators… It’s like learning to breathe! For the year-end party at the music school where I was having the therapy, my teacher asked me whether I wanted to sing something. I sang “Big Spender” by Shirley Bassey and “Stop” by Sam Brown, and never looked back!”
Singing in a prison, a powerful experience
Marisa has since joined an amateur band, the Just Band, which lets her give free rein to her passion. “There’re 7 of us, young and older people. Our drummer is 67 years old, but he has great energy! We play songs by Amy Winehouse, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, also Cher, Guns and Roses, Prince, Queen, Tina Turner... We also have two songs in Catalan; it’s our region, don’t forget! We play in bars and at fetes. We decided to set up a non-profit association as we wanted to make ourselves useful. For example by regularly taking part in the Marató (Marathon) on the TV3 channel to help raise money in aid of medical research. Recently we also gave a concert at the Figueres correctional center. As an experience, it was quite different from any other I have had, it was something very powerful.” An essential human dimension for Marisa: “You know, in a group you don’t always have exactly the same tastes. But, when you perform songs that might not have come immediately to mind, you discover that you can leave your comfort zone behind and make a success of it. It’s a question of mutual respect, listening to others, and working. It makes you very happy.”