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Successful Pinays in Business Inspire at DC Confab

By Momar Visaya/Asianjournal.com

NEW YORK — Filipina entrepreneurs shared their experiences at the Fifth Filipina Summit held in Washington, DC a couple of weeks ago.

Nini Alvero, Philippine Trade Commissioner for the US Western Region moderated the entrepreneurship forum, aptly dubbed “Make Me a Filipina Millionaire”.

“The Filipino American community is a sleeping dragon, and it is waking up,” Alvero said and talked about how business-minded FilAms can take the opportunity to do business in the Philippines.

Panelists discussed how they reached their first million dollars in business. They also talked about how they worked with their passion in order to achieve their dreams.

Healing the planet

Among the panelists was Cora Alisuag. She is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Aliron International, Inc., a diversified global company that she founded in 1989.

“It is a good idea to do this one step at a time. Grow your business and diversify when the right time comes,” Alisuag said. Based in Washington, DC, her company provides healthcare solutions and resources for clients throughout the world primarily in four distinct areas: healthcare operations and management, environmental technologies, information technologies, and educational programs.

“Money alone should not be the motivation to go into business, but rather think about what it can do for the common good,” she added.

Alisuag’s biggest dream for the Philippines is for it to have an efficient waste management program. Practicing what she preached, her company officially opened its hazardous and industrial waste treatment facility at the Carmelray Industrial Park II in Calamba, Laguna in 2005.

In early 2002, she created HEAL (Healthy Environment for Advancement of Life), a foundation devoted to developing programs to clean up solid and toxic wastes in third world nations, beginning in the Philippines. Alisuag has also been involved in multiple facets of healthcare delivery for more than two decades.

Philippine Food

Alice Ignacio founded API Enterprises, LLC, a company based in Chesapeake, Virginia in 1998.

A food importer and distributor, Ignacio, initially just wanted to get Selecta to be distributed in the US and ended up conquering the mainstream market. An “accidental businesswoman,” Ignacio has successfully penetrated the US market with accounts at Walmart, Sam’s Club, Farm Fresh (East Coast) and the US Defense Commissaries.

Her company is primarily involved in the importation and distribution of top quality, high-end food products for the American markets. Currently, she supplies Selecta ice cream, Goldilocks products and Bonuan bangus (milkfish).

Food for the Mind

Linda Nietes, CEO and owner of the Philippine Expressions Bookshop talked about how culture and business can co-exist.

Nietes admitted that being a bookseller requires “a real passion, hard work and long hours” in order to do it. She has been a bookseller for the past 25 years (13 in the Philippines, 12 in the US)

“I sell the history, hopes and aspirations of every Filipino who writes. I want to share our diverse and vast heritage with the younger generation of Filipinos here today,” Nietes said.

She lamented the fact that Filipinos are generally not a book-reading public and considers that as her biggest challenge in the book-selling business.

“We raise the consciousness of the people in the community through book and poetry readings and author signings. I dream of a more socially aware, aggressive and intelligent Filipino-Americans,” she said.

Nietes also admitted that she has not earned her first million yet, and she probably wouldn’t.

“There are no millions that await me but as long as we preserve the Filipino customs and traditions that are slowly fading away, I would be contented and happy,” she shared.

A statement on fashion

Gina Alexander, President & Designer, Gina Alexander, Inc. went through various challenges that pushed her to the limit.

“There was a point when I lost all my energy to work but when I reflected, I realized that I needed to continue so I could do greater things,” she said.

“One of my heroes is Gina Lopez of ABS-CBN. My maiden name is Lopez so a lot of people ask me about her projects or if we are one and the same. When I met her, I found out that we have the same dreams in helping Filipino children,” Alexander shared.

Her company owns kiosk stores at Hollywood & Highland and The Grove selling her photo bags, which are also sold at Nordstrom, ICE Accessories and Saks, Inc. department stores.

Alexander’s passion for helping children is reflected in her work ethic as she donates a portion of every handbag sold to the Hope for Children. She is also taking care of about 50 children in the Philippines.

Top of her game

Suzie David is President and Founder of Asian and Hispanic Trading and Consulting, a company that specializes in the sales and marketing of office equipment and supplies to construction companies in the metro New York area that are engaged in federal, state and city government funded projects.

She is currently the Chairman of the New York Women’s Chamber of Commerce, a membership organization dedicated to promoting and assisting the New York women gain economic independence and achieve personal success through business ownership, microenterprise development and self-employment.

David offered the reasons why she made it. “I refuse to fail,” she remarked.

She took the plunge – “with pikit-mata and lakas ng loob” – when she ventured into the business world. With tenacity, determination and hard work, she made it.

Caring homes

With those traits, Nimfa Yamsuan Gamez built herself a mini-empire as she currently own and operates several home care facilities in Northern California. “I have a God-centered business and He is the one who guides me through it all,” she shared.

The summit’s Entrepreneur Forum: Make Me a Filipina Millionaire was in support of Make Mine a Million $ Business, a program of Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence to help women micro entrepreneurs grow and build sustainable enterprises, create jobs and develop innovative products and services. (www.asianjournal.com)

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Filipinas in the U.S. Military Smash Glass Ceiling

By Momar G. Visaya

WASHINGTON, DC – Filipinas continue to blaze the trail even in the military, a field traditionally dominated by men.

At the 5th Annual Filipina Summit held at the nation’s capital last week, seven high-ranking Filipina military officers took center stage and shared their stories on how they broke the proverbial glass ceiling in their chosen field.

Capt. Paz Gomez, Deputy Director of Installations Requirements and Management under the Office of the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense (Installations and Environment) led the panel. She is the first woman of color, and the fifth woman overall, to be promoted as captain in the navy.

“We are here to defend our country, but we cannot deny the fact that we are Filipinos, to. Even though we will gladly say we’re Americans, we will also gladly say that we are proud of our Filipino heritage,” Capt. Gomez said.

Capt. Gomez, who was born in Waukegan, Illinois, grew up in a military family.

Her father was recruited into the navy from his hometown in Mendez, Cavite. “He wanted to give his family a better opportunity so he signed up, first as a cook, then a steward. He studied electrical engineering and became an electrician,” Gomez shared.

Growing up in a “typical Filipino family” with seven other siblings, Gomez said that she loved the military lifestyle and that she didn’t mind moving every couple of years.

Her father, once he found out that the navy has opened its doors to women, began bringing navy catalogues home, which he would let the children browse.

Major Rosadel Dominguez Hoffman’s father was also recruited from Cavite when he was barely in his teens. Her decision to join the military years later emanated from the military influence she saw growing up.

“It has been great. I met my husband in the military and I am proud that both of us serve the country,” Maj. Hoffman said.

Col. Rebecca Samson, chief, Troop Support Division, Army G-4 on the other hand, was born in Angeles City and grew up just outside Clark Air Force Base.

“When I was a kid I had a dream. I wanted to join the military and be an officer. I liked the discipline,” Col. Samson shared.

Col. Samson said that she was raised by very strong women, among them her Visayan grandmother and her own mother. “My father was in charge but my mother was the one in control,” she quipped.

As an officer, Samson believes that her devotion to the military and the hard work she provided were crucial to her ascent in the army.

“Once I earned the respect of my superiors and mentors, the minority thing, the woman thing, they were out of the door,” she shared.

Lt. Col. Shirley Raguindin, State Diversity Coordinator & Supervisory HR Specialist (Labor Relations) of the Arizona National Guard began active duty service in the US Air Force where she was commissioned a Second Lieutenant following her graduation.

Under her leadership the Arizona National Guard achieved a 300% increase in Department of Defense and National Guard Bureau nationwide recognition for diversity initiatives in 2007.

“I grew up wanting to serve. I wanted to do more than just what a regular job could offer,” she shared.

Raguindin had a lot of barriers to go through in order to be where she is at right now, beginning with her father who told her that the military is not for women. “That did not deter me from running after what I wanted,” she said.

LCDR (Lieutenant Commander) Christina de Leon, program analyst of the U.S. Coast Guard, was born in Dagupan City, but was raised in various parts of the U.S. as a Coast Guard dependent.

Her family moved from Pangasinan to the U.S. when she was barely three months old when her father was recruited into the coast guard.

“Call it family influence. My father brought home brochures of the coast guard, salary tables and application to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy,” LCDR de Leon recalled.

She applied and eventually got in. In 1994, she graduated with honors with a Bachelor of Science degree in Management.

“I never looked back since then. I am my father’s only girl, the only one among his children who joined the service,” she added.

Davidson honed her craft and took further studies, eventually earning a Master’s in Public Administration degree from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. She is currently assigned as a program analyst at the U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, DC.

Major Juliet Beyler recalled that she struggled and did not have good grades when she was in school.

“I was a wayward youth,” admitted Maj. Beyler, who is now the Legislative Affairs Director of the U.S. Marine Corps.

She realized that in order to straighten things out, she enlisted in the military, a decision that distraught her parents. “They almost had a heart attack,” she quipped.

Beyler said she found a home as she grew up in the military. “It was happenstance, but it was the best decision that I made in my life,” she said.

Lt. Lineka Quijano, judge advocate at the U.S. Coast Guard was born and raised in Florida. Her foray into a career in the military happened by accident.

“I was interviewing for a tax job in DC when I stumbled into a Coast Guard recruitment and back then, I had no clue what the Coast Guard did,” she said. Lt. Quijano currently serves as a criminal defense attorney and represents military members at both administrative proceedings and courts martial. (AJ)

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Loida Lewis Shares Her Secrets to Success

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.

Success secrets

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.

Spiritual

“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.

Love story

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.

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Filipina Women’s Network Honors 100 Most Influential Women in the U.S.

Pinay Power in Washington DC

By Momar G. Visaya

WASHINGTON, DC – It was a veritable who’s who at the gala night of the Fifth Annual Filipina Summit as the Filipina Women’s Network honored 100 of the most influential women in the United States.

The awarding was one of the highlights of the three-day summit at the nation’s capital.

Among the awardees were business executives Loida Nicolas Lewis; Oahu state Rep. Rida Cabanilla; Washington State Legislature’s Velma Veloria; Davis, California Mayor Ruth Uy Asmundson; former President Bill Clinton’s personal physician, Dr. Connie Mariano and US Navy Capt. Paz Gomez.

The nationwide search was a key initiative of FWN’s Pinay Power 2012, a campaign to identify the Filipina women who are shaping the Filipino-American community’s influence in American society today.

The network identified these influential leaders based on their impact, innovation, involvement, mentorship, sustainability and professionalism.

“It was a daunting task to come up with the process of honoring all these wonderful women,” FWN president Marily Mondejar said.

Philippine Ambassador to Washington Willy Gaa congratulated the awardees and thanked them for their contributions in uplifting the image of Filipinos in the country.

Panels

The Filipina Summit, attended by women leaders from different parts of the U.S., had different plenary sessions for its participants.

Some U.S. congressmen joined the gathering during the first day of sessions, which was held at the Rayburn Building near the Capitol.

Rep. Mike Honda expressed his congratulations to the event organizers and called on the participants to call their congressmen and be “very angry about the veterans issue.”

“I know that Filipinos are very passionate about liberty and freedom. If we break a promise, we have to correct it. This country promised something to the veterans. We should expect no less,” Honda said.

Rep. Jim McDermott shared tat in his district in Washington state, Filipinos are the largest minority. He focused on immigration issue and said that this is an issue that the government needs to deal with in “a very humane manner.”

On the veterans issue, McDermott said, “The veterans are old and most of them are dying. They are entitled to be respected.”

Rep. Laura Richardson, who represents the cities of Long Beach, Carson and Compton in California, promised the participants that they are working very hard on the veterans issue.

That morning’s keynote speaker was Gloria Caoili, one of Washington DC’s Filipino-American community leaders.

“This is such a momentous occasion to be with a distinguished group of women. The next three days will redefine us,” she said.

Caoili shared that there are 74 women in the House and 16 in the Senate.

“Access equals influence equals power. Register, get active and vote,” she told the participants, “If our community votes, we count.”

Pinays in politics

Kris Valderrama, eldest daughter of former Maryland State Delegate David M. Valderrama, took over a post her father had for four terms. Her father was the first Filipino American to win as representative to the Maryland Legislature.

“I got into politics because of my father’s influence. I echo Gloria’s call for all of us to be involved. Let us all vote and make our voices count,” Valderrama said.

She also mentioned her support for Vellie Dietrich-Hall, a fellow Filipina running for a Board of Supervisors seat to represent Mason Dsictrict in Fairfax, Virginia. Valderrama is a Democrat while Dietrich-Hall is a Republican.

“We may not share the same beliefs but regardless of our party affiliations, I am supporting her. I want to see more of us taking the risk in running for public office because this will advance the cause of our political empowerment,” Valderrama said.

She also shared that running was “a humbling experience” and advised those who want to consider a career in politics to not be overly sensitive.

“People will say mean things just to spite you,” she said.

Ruth Uy Asmundson, Davis, California’s current mayor pro-tem and future mayor, joined Valderrama and other elected Filipinas at the panel dubbed “Run Filipina Run”.

“I never allowed anybody to discriminate me,” the Isabela-born politician said.

Asmundson said that her husband, a former mayor himself, mentored her. “I made my own decisions though, and the people in Davis know that I am my own person. I am very hard-working and I’m just as good as any other man, if not better,” she said.

Hawaii’s Rida Cabanilla, state representative for District 42 said, “We must know how to run if we want to change the face of power in America.”

A first-generation Fil-Am from Narvacan, Ilocos Sur, Cabanilla said she faced some challenges along the way, among them the language.

“English was not my first language but that did not stop me. Don’t let that stop you,” Cabanilla, a nurse by profession, said. (AJ)

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