Filipino Women in Business

Around end October 2011, several newspapers featured articles on how the Philippines fared in the global gender gap report by the World Economic Forum, with the Philippines ranking a high 8th in a list dominated by the Nordic countries of Iceland, Norway and Finland.  As the Philippines pursues its goal of increasing its position in the global competitiveness ranking (75th among 142 countries), it would be interesting to look into how some accomplished Filipino women in business may have already ignited a spark for this reality to happen.

It was quite providential that the rankings came out just as the Women’s Business Council of the Philippines presented its bi-annual conference entitled Women Connect:  Women to Women Mentoring Conference Part II last November 8, 2011.  It was intentional however that the conference was a showcase of power women whose capabilities created business successes and whose cases of survival due to challenges that were both gender-generated or business specific,  were meant to inspire other women. 

There were nine speakers in this conference, each sharing their own stories of possibility-thinking and making things happen.  This article will focus on two speakers:  Mercy Corrales who spoke on Soaring with your Influence : From Sceptics  to Believers and Choosing your Path : From Thinking Small to Thinking Big; andDr. Mary Ann Sayoc who spoke on Soaring with your Imagination :  From Imitation to Innovation.

Mercy Corrales was former Regional President of Starbucks Asia and prior to that was president of Levi Strauss & Co. (LS & Co.) both in Japan.  This made her the first non-Japanese woman to run two significant –sized publicly traded companies in Japan for two very visible iconic brands – Levi’s and Starbucks.  Her career highlights include:  becoming the first minority to become Country General Manager at LS & Co. where she transformed LS Japan from a losing business to the biggest money maker for LS & Co. and with the strongest brand equity (from No.4 to No.1 position) in 18 months’ time;  she also grew Starbucks Coffee Japan from 600 stores to 872 stores and increased revenue by 75%  to a billion dollars in three and a half years (making Starbucks Japan the biggest market and the first to reach the billion dollar mark outside the US). 

Mercy began her talk with reference to an incident where she was being given an award by the Harvard Business School Club of Japan where one senior professor mistook her, with a hint of condescension, as the interpreter.  She was in fact, justvoted Business Stateswoman of the Year by the same club, the first non-Japanese woman to win the award.An individual shareholder even posted an online comment:  “What makes this Filipino woman think she can run a business in Japan?”   A front page feature in the Nikkei Weekly that posted her turnaround achievements was enough to silence the critics.  She further shared some tips borne out of her own leadership belief that leadership is about people. “Lead from the heart. Listen to their voices. Put yourself in their shoes. Help them achieve their dreams.“

Dr. Mary Ann Sayoc is the General Manager of East-West Seed Company, and is a veterinarian who chose to blaze a path in agriculture.  She led her company to pursue long term goals as they developed hybrid seed varieties that were suited for Philippine farming conditions.  They also knew it was not enough to just produce the seeds, they needed to train farmers in modern technology to enable them to get maximum harvest and earnings. They set up Farmers’ Field Schools in various provinces and gave farmers access to both credit and market.  The company also sought to address the low vegetable consumption of Filipinos through its “Oh my Gulay” campaign with tie-ups with schools, government and military camps, urban subdivisions, churches, among others, thus penetrating not just traditional but new segments as well.

Mercy’s and Mary Ann’s many accomplishments are indeed phenomenal and made many participants in the conference wonder why they were hearing their stories only now.   We need to share more of these best practices so we have more women role models moving this country forward. It was Melinda Gates who said “A woman with a voice is by definition a strong woman.  But the search to find that voice can be remarkably difficult.”  As more Filipino women in business are being heard, expect then a tipping point toward our country’s rise in global competitiveness.

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About the Author

Chiqui Escareal-Go is the CEO and Chief Behavioral Strategist of Mansmith and Fielders, the only advocacy-based training and consultancy firm focused on marketing, sales, strategy and innovation. For more information, please email

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