Nina Aguas: Opening Keynote at 2013 Filipina Leadership Global Summit
Nina Aguas (Global FWN100™ '13) is the president and chief operating officer of Philippine Bank of Communications, Inc. Nina gave the following Opening Keynote on October 24, 2013—Day 1 of the 2013 Filipina Leadership Global Summit—at the Charles Schwab Headquarters in San Francisco. Day 1 was co-hosted by Charles Schwab and the Filipino American Network @ Charles Schwab (FANS).
Thank you so much for inviting me to speak this morning. I am both honored and delighted to be in the company of so many accomplished Filipina women.
That said, while I shall speak of my personal experiences in the next several minutes, let the rest of the day be about all of us having some time off, to reflect and be grateful for the great lessons of our lives, celebrating and embracing our past achievements at the same time mindful that the future holds much in store for us, and, as we map our way forward, we relish opportunities such as this one, where we can share our stories, exchange ideas and learn from one another.
What I hope to share with you today is not of me or from me exclusively but the collective wisdom of our history, the past, our parents, of great men and women, saints, mentors, philosophers, and even poets.
WE are the sum of many parts, made up of many events and moments that create and make what is today, the next day and the next … the many, many morrows before us. I believe this to be true, in both the corporate world as well as personal.
My own personal journey goes back many decades marked by achievements as well as disappointments. I continue to have my share of peaks and valleys.
The successes far outweighed the failures and for these I am deeply grateful for God’s Divine providence.
Early in my career, I was clueless. I became a CPA because I was an obedient daughter. I envied those who had a clear vision of where they were going and how they would get there.
They were children of families with legacies and their future was given a leg up. This was long before we had the Internet and information or research was available with a click or a tap.
As a fresh graduate and A CPA, I joined the prestigious accounting firm SGV as a junior auditor. It was a field job I found uninspiring—I was drawn more and more to the client’s side of the business.
Despite my lack of enthusiasm, I persevered and gave this my best; clients did take notice and offered me jobs.
MY BANKING CAREER
I was always attracted to banking propelled by the seeming glamor and the opportunity to travel more than the vibrancy of the trade, commerce and industry.
My transformational entry into banking was by God’s grace alone.
I came back from living in the US and there was this open position with the largest foreign bank in the country. I had done some work for another foreign bank, but I had to give this up to join my husband who was overseas for study and temporary posting.
As you can see, I wanted a family and career at the same time.
I was very drawn to the institution, I told myself, I was one day going to work for Citi. I liked everything about the bank, its reach, its global presence, the opportunities for learning and growth were boundless. I believed then that anyone wanting a banking career must go thru Citi. As the song goes, if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere.
But while it was the right institution, it was not the job I wanted. The opening was with the Internal Audit.
I took it—it was my ticket to lunch. By then I knew at least where I wanted to be.
However, being a woman, Filipina and Asian in a multinational institution had its share of challenges. I had to apply myself to the fullest, raise my game and function at the next level in order to be heard and recognized. In a few years, my perseverance paid off, and I became the first woman ever to hold a Regional Audit head position globally.
But I never forgot my dream of being on the client side of the business. By then too, I was traveling 70% of the time and I wanted more family time so I engineered myself out and asked for what we called a “revenue line” job.
I was so pleased that the organization was willing to take a risk on me and gave me increasing management responsibilities in the country and globally.
Again, it was marked with a first, as I became the first woman appointed as Country Business Manager in Asia—we broke the proverbial glass ceiling much earlier.
Fast forward, I left Citi after almost 26 years and took on a post as ANZ MD for Retail Asia Pacific/MD Private Bank in Singapore. I was one of the key drivers in ANZ's ambition to become a Regional player in Asia Pacific. I did so for over 3 years.
IT’S GOOD TO BE HOME
It was toward the middle of 2012 that I decided to come back to the Philippines. My move was fueled by a desire and the opportunity to be home and work in the Philippines—I wanted to be closer to my family our mom who at 91 needed more loving and caring and also wanted to be in a place, and where I could give back and pay it forward.
We lost our mom last month but I feel joyful of the times we spent together in her last year.
Again, God’s hand was at work, for there could not have been a better time for me to come home.
We live in exciting times—our country has achieved many economic milestones in the past months, bringing us much international attention.
In the first quarter of this year, our economy was the fastest growing in Asia, out pacing China’s growth. Most promising is how the increase in our GDP has been driven by internal growth – a resurgence in local industry. The Filipino’s purchasing power and consumption have increased, not just because of an influx of cash from overseas—but because there is more production and more jobs locally.
In the past few years, we have seen a growth in the middle class and a level of socioeconomic mobility that our country had not experienced in years.
Perhaps of greatest significance to those who, like me, are in the banking and finance industry, is that our country has received investment-grade ratings from Fitch, S&P and, most recently, Moody’s. These votes of confidence from the world’s leading credit rating agencies send a clear message that our country, once upon a time dubbed “sick man of Asia,” is now in the game and ready to play in the big leagues.
Truly, there could not have been a better time for me to leave the international banks for which I have worked for many years and come home.
PBCOM—NEXT LEVEL BANKING
Home, however, can mean many things to a person. It certainly does to me. My move back has meant being closer to my family. It has meant being back home in my own country after several years of working overseas. It has also meant finding a new home in an institution that I have a high level of faith and confidence in.
Today, I am with the Philippine Bank of Communications. Last 1st August, I celebrated my first year anniversary with the company. I am overjoyed to be home and be part of this seemingly modest institution that is poised to be stronger and to do greater things.
Unbeknownst to many, the Philippine Bank of Communications has been in operation since 1939. Next year, we will be celebrating our 75th year. We have a proud history behind us.
PBCOM was one of the first foreign owned commercial banks to be established under the Philippine Commonwealth.
In our early years, we bore witness to many events that shaped our nation. For instance, at the end of the Second World War, we operated in a temporary location, as the PBCOM offices were used as headquarters by General Douglas MacArthur.
Our former headquarters in Binondo was home to many infrastructure innovations in the 1950s and 60s, including the first escalator to be installed in Binondo.
Today, I am proud to have a new Management Team—a set of leaders that share my vision for a re-invigorated PBCOM.
In the past months, we have begun a period of transformation. We have taken an end-to-end look at the Bank—how we do things, the products we offer, how we server our clients’ needs—and have found many opportunities to make things better and move things faster.
What we are now working to deliver is what we call “Next Level Banking.”
We’re looking at an expanded branch network, a wider range of banking and investment products, new distribution channels and a renewed focus on the customer experience.
We’ve also worked hard to be closer to our people.
Together with my management team, I have hosted town halls and visited branches, so that we can meet and interact with our staff. Their reaction is one pleasant surprise—first time for many of them to meet the CEO in person, first woman CEO for the bank. As our country has been faced with recent crises—floods, the conflict in Zamboanga and, just last week, the earthquake in the Visayas and Mindanao, we have endeavored to ensure that each member of our team is safe and well and our customers continue to be served and looked after.
Every day, I wake up energized and excited about what lies ahead. We are on a journey at PBCOM—one that allows us to craft the bank’s future and make history each day. I am grateful to be part of this journey. It truly is good to be home.
LOOKING BACK ON THE JOURNEY
As I look back on the road that has led me to where I am today, I cannot help but reflect on the strength of the Filipino.
Many of us here today have had the opportunity to work outside of our beloved Philippines and witnessed first-hand how we are able to redefine ourselves and succeed, even when far from home, as well as how our unique Filipino spirit shapes our actions, as we work to re-create ourselves in foreign lands. Our capacity to leave family, friends and much of what we hold dear speak to our courage and strength of heart.
We have a Sense of Purpose. We seem to shine brighter overseas. Working in other countries gives us access to stronger platforms and more advanced technology, supporting our abilities and allowing us to maximize ourselves. Beyond technology, however, we seem to be more determined and work much harder when we are in a foreign land. Perhaps being thrown into the unfamiliar ignites in us the desire to rise above ourselves. It creates in us a hunger that allows us to endure the loneliness and separation that comes with being so far away.
We have a Sense of Service. Service is synonymous with being Filipina. We have always been associated with service—for many years, we have supplied the world with the most caring nurses, the best domestic helpers and the hardest-working seafarers. These days, we are breaking into new industries and are gaining footing in hospitality, medicine, financial services, technology and other fields. While the diversity of Filipino talent has enabled this success, what makes us stand out is the quality of service that is uniquely Filipino. We, as a people, exude a certain warmth—there is something about a Filipino’s smile that can light up a room. We can be joyful even in the most trying situations—we have a resilience that stems from our deep faith.
We have a deep Sense of Faith. Faith is, in fact, one of the things that keep us bound together even when we are apart physically. Anywhere in the world, if you ever feel homesick, all you have to do is stop by a church on a Sunday—you can be certain to find Filipinos there and will quickly feel at home. We take our faith with us where ever we go as if on a mission to convert humanity.
We have a Sense of Family. In the absence of our biological kin, we band together with fellow overseas Filipinos and form groups that stand in for family. They instinctively become our companions, confidantes and emergency contacts who provide us with a sense of home. They are the surrogate mothers and sisters who satisfy our yearning for the tastes and smells of a Filipina kitchen, as we gather over home-cooked Filipino food from our many islands. We are a people that generously share meals with those we care for, in fact even with fresh acquaintances. In places where Filipino restaurants are hard to find, we cook together and eat together in one another's homes.
We have a Sense of Responsibility. What is perhaps most remarkable is our sense of responsibility, even as we strive to succeed beyond our country’s borders, we always look after the ones we leave behind. One of the reasons the Philippines is on the rise despite the challenges that face the global economy is that, unlike other emerging markets, where remittances go down during times of crisis, in the Philippines, the inflows rise during the most trying times. Home is always in our hearts and minds.
As is always the case, however, too much of a good thing can also cause pain—our culture can be a double-edged sword. The same characteristics that allow us to succeed can sometimes also be our handicap. Our resilience and resolve can turn into tolerance, which causes some overseas Filipinos to become the subject of abuse.
Our respectfulness and fear of offending others can prevent us from speaking out and defending ourselves—in the professional arena, such silence can be equated with a lack of ability. For us women, the challenge is doubled, because, sometimes, we cannot be heard. Professionally and technically, we are drowned down by seemingly stronger voices. We need to work harder and speak louder in order to be recognized.
Those that stand out in the crowd are those that manage to strike a balance and leverage our strengths as Filipinos, while adopting practices and characteristics from foreign cultures that can make us stronger and more effective at what we do. These are the individuals who adjust to the local culture and customs of their adoptive homes, yet always keep the Philippines at heart.
During my first year at PBCOM, one of the things I made sure to do was spend time with as many of our employees as possible, so that I could personally communicate my vision for the Bank to them and share with them why I believe so strongly that PBCOM is a great bank and is now on the road to be even greater. As I made the rounds and met with various groups, I shared with them how, in my time working overseas, I had experienced the strength of the Filipino and how it is this unique Filipino spirit that I hope will shine in PBCOM. There is, after all, no reason for us Filipinos to shine brighter only overseas—we can and should also let the best of the Philippines shine within our borders. Within my sphere of influence, I hope to inspire my team to showcase the best of the Philippines in PBCOM.
This is what I wish for each of us here—that, as global leaders, we are able to replicate the success we have had overseas in the Philippines and help bring out the best of the Philippines right at home. I hope that the depth and breadth of our personal and professional experiences allow us to encourage our fellow Filipinos to broaden their horizons and expand their own experiences beyond what they are accustomed to, for by conquering what lies beyond our comfort zone, we gain deeper self-knowledge, broader insights and strengthened capabilities. If, overseas, the hunger and passion of the Filipino worker is fueled by a need to outdo him or herself, in the Philippines, let this hunger and passion be fueled by inspiring leadership and vision that we as global leaders can provide.
Our challenge today is to look beyond the 100 influential women recognized be FWN. We must aim to reach one million more who can lead and inspire not just our own but other women where women's existence matter little and are denied certain rights because of tradition and culture.
If we can, so can they! Success and its many expressions did not happen overnight. There were many building blocks, twists and turns. Every achievement gives you more confidence to do even better.
As I said, there were also disappointments along the way, but even in these there is grace. The lessons learned are many and translatable at the next turn. It takes courage and faith to deal with difficult situations for certainly every successful person I know had their share, even Steve Jobs as an example. Without darkness, you do not appreciate the light.
Let me end with a quote from the American jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes. He said: "What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us." A depth of talent and a lot of heart lie within us. Let's allow what we have embrace and conquer what lies ahead and may we be the strength, courage and the woman for others.
Thank you, and enjoy the rest of the day.