Wilma "Amy" T. Eisma: My Journey to Leadership

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Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority Chair and Administrator, Wilma "Amy" T. Eisma (Global FWN100™ '17), delivers the Leadership Keynote at the 14th Filipina Leadership Global Summit held in Toronto, Canada on October 27, 2017.

Below is the full text of her Leadership Keynote.


Magandang gabi,  Mabuhay ang Pinay Power!

Taking up the challenge

My journey to this moment of honor actually began when I decided to walk up to Dick Gordon who was then Chairman of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (or SBMA) to join his corp of volunteer for the conversion of the former US Naval Base to a freeport despite the fact that my father is from the opposite political fence.

The boss as we call him, accepted me not just in his staff but even let me in in his inner circle. 

Aiming high and staying grounded

And boy, did the inner circle made me cocky.

Imagine, a 22 year old fresh graduate from the Ateneo Law School, working side by side with the founding Chairman of SBMA, riding helicopters, negotating contracts with the World Bank, joining business missions all over the world.

I was on top of my game, or so I thought. 

The I flunked the bar.

It was the most trying time in my adult life. It was also the time where I got my first real lesson in life.

The lesson to move on and fight back when life knocks you down. The lesson not to dwell on the failure but how to stand up and move on. The lesson that I can never be cocky ever again.

And so after my stint as volunteer and as lawyer for SBMA, I moved to the private sector and for 15 or so years learned international corporate business practises, won awards and accolades and honed my craft which I bring and use in my job today.

Subic Bay Freeport

Then Philippine President Duterte appointed me as Administrator and CEO of the SBMA  in December 2016 and eventually as its Chairperson and Administrator.

It was a job I never asked for asked for, lobbied for or applied for. In fact, I even made a pilgriamage to Our Lady of Manaoag so I will not to get it.

When I got the fatal call, that pit in my stomach told me it was destiny. I told myself that the Universe must be telling me something. 

Being born, bred and raised in Olongapo City, I thought the message was, it’s time to come home. And so I did.

Moving to a 25-year old government bureaucracy was a jolting experience.  Unlike other appointees, I did not bring to SBMA my own personal staff. Doing so would mean that I judge them to be incompetent and demoralize the ranks. Instead, I only brought me and myself alone.

Because to me, my job is clear: to provide leadership and vision, moral compass and heart. I also brought with me my values for hardwork, work ethic, integrity and passion. The one thing that I did not bring is a personal agenda.

My only agenda is to help my community, my home, and for my people to have a better life

Unfortunately the road is not paved with gold. At the outset, I found myself in loggerheads with those whose agenda is questionable. It was tough and I thought I really do not need this crap. I wanted to take the easy way out and quit.

However the overwhelming love and support of my people, my board of directors, the local and national government leaders,  even strangers,  made the difference in the choice between the quitting and fighting on.

As they say, the rest is history.

I came up on top and now am here, with a mandate as Chairman of the Board and Administrator/CEO of SBMA. The real work has began.

As I said I did not bring anything lofty or fancy dreams to SBMA. I am not promising high tech, or bridges or tall buildings.

I rather that we bring back what we lost in the last 25 years.  To go back to basics. The meaning of true service. To give back when there is nothing else to give.

Build, build, build

If “Build, Build, Build” is the main focus of the Duterte administration; in Subic Bay Freeport and at SBMA,  I have my own “Build, Build, Build”. 

But it is not physical infrastructure, but soft ones like jobs, skills, employee morale, work culture and ethics, core values, services, good governace, malasakit , and a quality of life my people and our children deserves. 

So, what other lessons have I learned and am I still learning along the career path I have chosen?

A lot, I would say but for tonight, I have three major take-away points that I would like to share.

No. 1: Power is a challenge and a test of character and leadership. 

Heading a complex government agency like SBMA, with 2,600 employees, is challenging enough. 

But even more so is managing the Subic Bay Freeport –with its own seaport, airport, 1,699 local and foreign investors and US$9.1 billion worth of investments employing over 121,800 Filipinos.

Despite these challenges, my post is much-coveted because it brings with it power and prestige, not to mention dominion over 67,452 hectares of land.

This can be overwhelming and intoxicating. 

If you ask me, the reason why some government officials feels entitled is because the Filipino culture of innate sense of respect, kowtowing to figures of authority and refer to them by their honorific titles, unwittingly cocooning them in a false yet heightened sense of self-importance. 

Little do they realize that the manner with which they wield their power reveals their true character just like the emperor who wore no clothes.

With my short stint to date, I realized the most important lesson that I should never forget is that “Those who have the most power should be the most humble”

Yes, power is a challenge. How one handles power is a test of character and one’s brand of leadership.

It is important to stay humble.  ALWAYS.

No. 2: Leadership is service and the foundation of meaningful success. 

But true leadership is not about power.  It is about service. 

While it is true that success can bring fame, glory, and wealth, success to be truly meaningful must be founded on service, the kind that cannot be bought or measured with money. This kind of service is what drives me today. 

As you all know, government is a poverty job but it came at a time in my life when I no longer need a fourth Rolex to be happy. At this point, the legacy of my father’ last name is all I care about. To support my team. To inspire and be a man for others. 

At the end of the day, knowing that I made life better and brighter for my people, or that I have done well by my father’s name is what matters most. 

No. 3: Genuine service begins with malasakit.

The last and, I would say, most important lesson I have learned in my career is that a strong sense of service begins and ends with the Filipino value of malasakit.

This is why Filipinos here and elsewhere are much valued in any kind of work setting –that requires customer attention and care.

In other words, we serve because we care with compassion and nary a thought of the cost to ourselves.

Malasakit was the driving force that brought some 8,000 volunteers to help secure Subic when the US Naval Base was turned over to the Philippines. 

Without thinking of remuneration or personal comfort, they unselflishly gave of themselves and took up the struggle of creating a new Subic as their own, simply because they cared.

I should know because I am one of them.

I was among those volunteers who flocked to Subic, coming from all walks of life and places and whose malasakit was as palpable as the thick blanket of smoke and ashes that covered our community when Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991.

To the non-Filipinos in the audience, no English translation for malasakit comes to  mind.  The closest English word I can think of right now is empathy but malasakit means more than that. It is more than just a strong sense of civic duty because malasakit comes from a sense of oneness with whoever is in need without being asked or compelled to. It can be as ordinary as picking up a trash from the sidewalk – not because civic duty compels us to do so but simply because we love and care for our community. Perhaps altruism is a more fitting translation because altruism can only spring from a deep-seated desire to be of help and value to someone else.

In other words, malasakit is what compels us to embrace and take up the plight of one as our very own, to expand our concern and sense of responsibility beyond our own backyard to include the rest of our community and our environment.

Malasakit also drives passion and excellence. We work with passion and the desire to excel because we intensely care about what we do and how we do it. It prompts us to give better than our best to anything and everything we do.

Noblesse Oblige

 The French has a phrase that captures everything I have learned and shared about power, leadership, service, and malasakit...

Noblesse Oblige, which literally means "nobility obligates". Today, it means that those with power should extend themselves and use their position to help others because they have the means to do so. The more privileged we are, the bigger and heavier is our responsibility toward the less privileged.  And the more humble and grounded we should be.

Because of the position we hold in our respective careers and areas of endeavor, we have the power, the leadership, and the means to advocate on behalf of the less privileged, to impact on their lives, especially those in our home country. This, I believe, is the challenge behind tonight’s theme, “LEADING. ADVOCATING. IMPACTING.”  

To wrap up, I would like to repeat what I said in in my time capsule video: To lead and achieve success, we should do everything with integrity and character, passion and love.

Because how else can we lead and bring value to our work without integrity and character?

Without passion, how else can we achieve success?

Without love, how can we be happy with success and serve others?

Maraming salamat po at mabuhay!