By Momar Visaya/Asianjournal.com
NEW YORK — Businesswoman and lawyer Loida Nicolas-Lewis, one of the most successful Filipinas in the world, shared some of her secrets to success in a panel aptly called “Exercising Influence: Being Corporate Savvy” at the Fifth Filipina Summit in Washington, DC last week.
“I didn’t have a ladder to climb. I inherited TLC Beatrice which my husband bought in 1987 as a leveraged buyout for $985 million,” Lewis candidly shared, and explained that the term means a business strategy involving the acquisition of another company using a heavy use of borrowed money to meet the cost of acquisition.
Then in 1993, the unexpected happened. Reginald Lewis, Loida’s husband, died of a cerebral hemorrhage after suffering from brain cancer, six weeks after it was diagnosed. He was 50 years old.
“It was most devastating and (and the days that followed) were the darkest nights of my soul, and for six months, I was totally discombobulated. I had to hold on to God just to get going,” Lewis shared.
Almost a year after her husband’s demise, Lewis said that the business was “going south very fast” because the “company has lost its mooring.”
The company needed a CEO. They hired the best headhunters in town to do a search. Unable to find one who would suit the role, Lewis considered a thought.
“I might as well be the CEO. If I fail, I am the only one to blame,” she said.
And fail she didn’t. In fact, she was able to turn the company around, steer it in the right direction and in 1996, TLC Beatrice International Holdings Inc. passed the $2 billion sales mark.
Currently, Lewis is the CEO and chair of TLC Beatrice LLC and TLC Beatrice China and Philippines, a successful multi-national corporation of food companies with holdings in many countries.
Lewis cited three things that she considers as her secrets to achieving remarkable success.
“Set your goals, have your own code of ethics and have much determination,” she said, adding “Goal-setting is important, as well as having a belief system or a culture with no shortcuts. Do not shortchange people. You must also have the tenacity to believe in your dreams.”
In essence, her secret is GOD, an acronym for her guiding principles – Goal-setting, Obedience to a code of conduct and Determination.
Citing her own personal history, Lewis admitted that she did not even know how to read balance sheets, so she had to work overtime to learn them in order for her to lead the company’s operations.
“It was daunting. I was afraid but I knew we had a goal,” she shared.
Armed with her conviction and the knowledge she learned along the way, Lewis brought the company right back on track, and gave their investors reason to be happy.
“We all need to have a relationship with God. We all have to have a spiritual life. With God, nothing is impossible,” Lewis said, explaining that she had to hold on to Him to get through the dark days, weeks and months after her husband’s passing.
Lewis also keeps a prayer journal, where she keeps the day’s prayers and lessons. Before embarking on a full day’s work, she prepares herself.
“My day starts with Zen meditation, which I do for about 15 minutes. It empties and clears me out. Then I read what’s on the readings for the holy mass of the day. I also spend around 15 minutes to an hour to do yoga. I need to take care of myself,” she shared.
Wikipedia describes the many hats that Lewis wears: industrialist, philantropist, socio-civic leader, motivational speaker, author, and lawyer.
They forgot the one that Lewis holds most dearly — being a mother.
During the panel, she told the audience that she is a proud mother to her two talented daughters, Christina and Leslie – both of whom graduated cum laude from Harvard.
Someone from the panel asked Lewis a question during the Q-and-A that followed. The question was brief. “How did you meet your husband?”
Lewis paused for a second, smiled, and said, “My sister’s date fixed us up on a blind date.”
Lewis’ sister Imelda was then studying at Columbia University while Lewis was in New York with their mother as a tourist. Lewis was given the privilege to travel around the world by her father, a gift she earned after she passed the Philippine bar examinations.
“Seven months later, we got married,” Lewis said, still smiling.
Lewis continues to rack up her achievements. She became the first Filipino and first woman to be inducted into the Asian Hall of Fame earlier this year.
She was the first Asian woman to pass the New York State bar exam with a degree from a law school outside the U.S. She graduated from the University of the Philippines College of Law and is eligible to practice both in the Philippines and in New York.