Flor Gozon Tarriela
Inspiring career advice from women achievers
Aneth Ng-Lim (The Philippine Star) - March 11, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — International Women’s Day celebrations get bigger and bigger each year, and this year was no exception.  Last March 8, we once again toasted to the success of many outstanding women around the globe.

Yet these same women will be the first to say that there’s still so much more to be achieved.  They appeal for year-long activity and collaboration, not just fanfare on one day of the year.  They argue that collectively, everyone can play a part in pushing for a gender-balanced world.  They advocate for the public to take action and amplify the message with audiences worldwide.

As we mark National Women’s Month here at home, we showcase three trailblazing women whose drive for success opened doors not only for themselves, but for women, and men too.

Flor Gozon Tarriela

Chairperson Philippine National Bank

As chair of the fourth largest private bank in the country, Flor Tarriela is one of the most successful female bankers in the country today.  You would think she has enough on her plate as first woman chair of Philippine National Bank (PNB), but Tarriela wears many other hats including director, trustee and advisor to institutions of varied interests.  Apart from her multiple roles in the PNB Group and Lucio Tan Group, she is also involved with Foundation for Filipino Entrepreneurship, Financial Executives of the Philippines, Institute of Corporate Directors, Tulay Sa Pag-unlad, and Makati Garden Club.

And these are only her current engagements.  If we look further back in her career, she also served as undersecretary in the Department of Finance, Alternate Monetary Board member, and president of the Bank Administration Institute of the Philippines.

But Tarriela will humbly offer she started out as an ordinary student.  “I remember we were looking at the admissions list for the University of the Philippines Preparatory High School.  My name was not in the first section, not in the second section and also not in the final and third section.  Instead, I was in the waiting list so I did what I always do in difficult situations – pray.”

She eventually got into UP Prep, and Tarriela calls it as one of many God-given favors that she has been blessed with.  “I studied hard, I would sit in front and listen intently, and I would ask my classmates what they learned from our lessons so I can mine their knowledge too.”  She also liked to raise her hand for the first recitation question, saying that was usually the easiest and that strategy worked well for Tarriela who moved on to earn an Economics degree from UP and a Master’s degree in the same field from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA).  What’s more, many years later, UP Prep invited Tarriela back and awarded her as one of its Distinguished Alumnae.

Asked about the secret to her continuing career success, Tarriela’s simple learning: “I just try harder and exert more effort.  I admit I never felt being a woman was ever an issue for me, even when I worked at a multinational bank and became its first Filipina vice president in the 1990s.  I was also the only woman then in the management team.  Maybe because I have a glass half full mindset and I do not like to dwell on lost opportunities.”

Or maybe she learned the secrets at her mother’s knee.  Carolina Gozon wanted all her four children to go abroad for graduate studies but her husband’s salary as a government employee would not allow it.  So Carolina saved, recycled and worked hard driving a jeepney to sell fish sauce in the markets.

Tarriela recalls: “my mother was action-oriented.  Give her an assignment and you can be very sure it will be done.  When she was 90 years old, to our surprise she ordered 60 kilos of coffee seeds to plant.  She went to the farm daily, monitoring and checking and when the seedlings were ready, began supplying to coffee retailers.”

No surprise that Tarriela’s advice to women and men alike echo her mother’s teachings: “Love what you’re doing.  Work hard.  Give back to society.  And last but not the least, Trust God and make Him your Partner.”

Stella Cabalatungan

Executive vice president BDO Private Bank

Fresh out of college, Stella Cabalatungan joined a multinational bank at a tumultuous time.  “I was 20 years old, and the country was facing a financial crisis, the economy was not doing well, and unemployment rate was high.”  She had an entry-level position in sales and coping with what felt like perpetual sales goals.  “But I enjoyed building banking relationships with different types of people.  Apart from my sales responsibilities, I was given the opportunity to handle process streamlining projects, conducting product and sales trainings, even developing operations manuals.” 

Cabalatungan thrived in the very competitive environment and welcomed her expanding roles.  “These tasks accorded me the chance to develop other skills and deepen my banking knowledge which I put to good use as my career progressed.”

Concerning gender balance in the workplace, she shares: “I noticed women are usually assigned tasks that require greater attention to details and I believe women should take this opportunity to enhance their knowledge and use the skill to become more effective managers and stronger leaders. Women’s soft skills are a big advantage to jobs requiring customer interface as they can manage difficult service situations better.”

Her success could also be attributed to Cabalatungan’s gender-neutral approach.  “The women I manage are trained to work in a gender-neutral environment.  They know they are treated equally.  Being a woman should never be a hindrance to a successful career.  Women should have equal voices, must be able to express their thoughts and opinions freely, and should not be intimidated by men.”

When she joined another multinational financial institution, Cabalatungan had the chance to learn about the fixed income business.  In 2003, BDO Unibank acquired her second employer and established the first stand-alone domestic private bank with its own commercial banking license.

Cabalatungan chose to stay with BDO and put all her years of banking know-how in BDO Private Bank. “My experience in sales and operations became my basic foundation in managing the private bank business as I learned to make decisions with a 360 degree view without losing my sales focus,” she relates. Her hard work and loyalty paid off  when she became the youngest female executive vice president in BDO at the age of 43 back in 2008.

She also graciously recognizes the mentors she’s had, women and men. “I had very good women mentors and one person stands out – the former president of BDO Private Bank and current director of BDO Unibank, Josefina Tan.  She allowed me to spread my wings and gave me the opportunity to hone my leadership skills.  She knows I am passionate about my job and there were times she did not hesitate to remind me to go slow and be less of a control-taker.  Her wealth of experience made her the most credible to give sound advice.”

According to Cabalatungan, “it is very important to have mentor who believes in your potential and is genuinely willing to spend the time to guide you, but not control you.  She allows you to commit mistakes as long as you are strong enough to take the responsibilities and consequences.  Your mentor should have no insecurities about herself so she does not look at you as a threat nor future competitor.  Your mentor should lead by example.”    

How about her advice to young women starting a career?  “Don’t jump into any job available to you.  Take a job that interests you most where you will be allowed to demonstrate your skills.  And when you have taken the job, work with passion and do not short-change your employer.  Maintain a high moral standard at work.  Be a good team worker but do not compromise your values.”

Kaye Tinga

Co-owner and manager W/17

In her recent social media post, Kaye Tinga congratulated a friend’s success and stated: “there is a special place in heaven for women helping women.”  If that’s true, Tinga has one waiting for her.

Many years ago, while touring public schools in Taguig City and engaging teachers on how my employer at that time could support them by way of citizenship programs, I was surprised to have them gushing about Mrs. Tinga.  They kept bringing her up in the conversation, and spoke at length about the pioneering programs she was bringing to the public schools.  One teacher in particular called it life-changing, as she had the chance to travel with Tinga abroad for an exposure trip on education innovations.  Unfortunately for her husband Freddie, the high profile city mayor and later the district congressman, he did not come up in any of these conversations.

Tinga manages W/17, a conscience-driven business that values the works of artisans and age-old crafts as viable sources of livelihood.  If you’re looking for a conversation piece for your home, and want to feel better that you are supporting local artists and promoting livelihood opportunities in marginalized communities as you shop, W/17 is the store for you.  Complementary to this, she runs a livelihood center that provides opportunities for women through training and placement. 

She is also co-chair of the annual Red Charity Gala fashion show featuring top Filipino designers.  Through this annual fundraiser, she has raised millions for the benefit of the Philippine Red Cross, the Assumption HS 84 Foundation and a number of other equally worthy beneficiaries.

With all these commitments, it may come as a mild shock that Tinga started her professional work experience as a traditional banker.  She was a financial analyst in a local bank, and later worked in account management with a multinational bank in its offices in Manila and Hong Kong. 

Tinga also looks to her mother as her most inspiring female figure. “My mother who graduated with a degree in dentistry opted to stay home to raise all six of her children, five of whom were women.  She did everything for us – nurtured, tutored, and fed us.  From her, I learned the value of a good education, the importance of family, and our self-worth.  She always reminded us that we were strong women who should always be able to rely on ourselves.”

With two daughters Kylie and Kerry, who are 23 and 21, Tinga also offers advice to today’s young women.  “Always reach for your dreams, but to get there takes time and effort.  Be patient, whatever work or jobs you are involved in now will be important in shaping your future.  It might not be the most exciting but the value of experience cannot be measured.”

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