She walks into a coffee shop after tee time at the Manila Golf and Country Club one Saturday morning and comes across a table of elderly Chinese-Filipino men, one of whom is her octogenarian dad. Tycoon Andrew Gotianun Sr. warmly greets her and smiles as he tells his buddies, “my boss.”
Josephine Gotianun-Yap, the third in a brood of four and the only daughter, is the president and chief executive officer of Filinvest Development Corp. and flagship business Filinvest Land Inc. This means being responsible for close to 6,000 people employed by the Filinvest group—which is into property, banking and sugar businesses and now getting into power generation as well.
If the Philippines ranks high in global gender equality benchmarks, it’s due to women like her who prove themselves just as capable as their male siblings in leading the family business. Gotianun-Yap landed on Forbes Asia magazine’s 2013 list of “Asia’s 50 Businesswomen In The Mix,” a roster of women who lead profitable companies and whose accomplishments stand out. She’s one of the two from the Philippines who made it to this list, the other being Teresita Sy-Coson of the SM group.
As the CEO of the Filinvest group, her days are planned out way ahead so that each one focuses on meetings involved in decision-making or sharing of ideas with the team to get things moving along. These days, she even works through lunch to fit as many meetings in the finite daily calendar.
“Being the head of a conglomerate, just attending board and committee meetings of the subsidiaries already take up a significant portion of my time. Most will communicate through e-mails to me and I handle them in the wee hours of the morning when my family is asleep,” she tells SundayBiz.
She is the type of leader who manages based on consensus. “I believe in involving my team in direction setting so that I have the benefit of 360-degree listening—to those on the ground, those who do research or those who are involved in the other facets. I synthesize the information and make a decision but since the team had a chance as well to hear others and understand the basis for direction setting there is a fast buy-in and we are all united in our objectives.”
While she gives leeway for the team to pursue their work, she personally gets involved in a “hands on” manner in some areas—either a new business or an area where improvement is needed and it can move faster if she acts as a catalyst to gain support across the organization and generate immediate feedback.
“As businesses get bigger and more complex, managing the team becomes more critical than micromanaging the business,” she says.
Apart from her corporate responsibilities, Gotianun-Yap is a mother of three and a wife to Joseph Yap, who retired as president and CEO of Filinvest Land Inc. in late 2012. One of their children is now working as an apprentice at East West Bank, another based in Singapore and the youngest one is in college.
“My proudest moments as a mother are when people my children work with, told others that they are down to earth, hardworking and without air and also when the elders comment to me that my children are respectful and kind and that I have brought them up properly. I am proud when my child joined a seminar for the next generation with participants from all over the world and is the only one who took economy class while all others were in business class or their private jets. Or when I see my child give his allowance for a church donation,” she says.
The Gotianun business was originally based in Cebu. The patriarch Andrew Sr. moved to the Philippines from mainland China when he was 10. Like many of the country’s taipans, he didn’t finish school as he had to take care of three generations of women when his father and brother passed away. He married Mercedes, a Manileña of mixed French-Filipino-Chinese ancestry who bore four children: Andrew Jr., Jonathan (now chair of East West Bank), Josephine and Michael.
After World War, Andrew Sr. salvaged naval vessels known as minesweepers for inter-island shipping. Gotianun-Yap was born in 1955 and by that time, the family had relocated to Manila and embarked on the consumer finance business—financing second-hand cars. In the ’60s, the family ventured into the property business, beginning with a subdivision project in Cebu, St. Michael.
When Gotianun-Yap and her siblings were young, they lived in a house on top of the office, exposing them early to the family enterprise. On Saturdays, they would go down to the office to observe. “My parents talk about business at dinner tables and bring us to project sites,” she says.
“My parents were very clear in what they wanted to impart. Everyone must be a contributing member of society—no freeloaders. Hardwork is a must. One must be fair and honest in their dealings—deliver and live up to your commitments to your customers, business partners, employees and investors. One must be prudent with financial resources—don’t be a spendthrift—in business as well as in your personal life,” she says.
Long before Gotianun-Yap’s rise to the corporate ladder, she earned high marks in school.
During her elementary years at the Immaculate Conception Academy (ICA), she remembers growing up in an atmosphere where simplicity, faith, hardwork and discipline were highly valued.
In college, she first went to Maryknoll College (now called Miriam College) to take up Liberal Arts majoring in Business Administration. Not that she needed it but she received a scholarship for having the highest entrance exam score for incoming students. She was a consistent honor student.
In 1973, when Ateneo de Manila University opened up for co-education, she transferred and formed the first batch of female Ateneans. She obtained a BS degree in Business Management with departmental honors. She had a cumulative grade equal to that of a magna cum laude during her years at the Ateneo (1973 to 1975) but was not eligible for Latin honors due to short years of residency, being a transferee.
“So I had the benefit of a Jesuit education—grounded on being a man for others through our Philosophy and Theology classes, a general management approach from our Business Degree and a broad understanding of civilization from our Liberal Art classes,” she says.
After graduating from Ateneo, she went to the University of Chicago (UC) and earned her MBA, majoring in Finance and International Business at age 21. “UC is quantitative so I have an inclination to look into the numbers combined with gut feel. I was a bit too young for me to have made the most advantage of an MBA so what I truly learned were lessons in life. It was my first time away from home and so the lessons you learn by being independent are invaluable,” she recalls.
She joined the family business soon after getting her MBA. Her first job was to write a position paper for the pension plan, then moved to corporate planning.
In 2008, she was named as president of Filinvest Alabang Inc. and since then, responsible for overseeing Filinvest City and all of its projects such as Festival Supermall, Palms Country Club, WestGate and other high-rise projects. She became president and CEO of the publicly listed holding firm FDC since 2000. She also became CEO of the hotel group FDC Hotels Corp. starting 2011 and when the hubby retired as CEO of FLI in November 2012, she took over the reins as well.
How is she able to do all these things and raise three kids at the same time?
She met her husband Joseph, through a common friend at one of those “Betamax” parties, married him at age 25 and has since then teamed up with him in raising both family and business.
“Any success I have as a working mother is a result of the wonderful community that has helped me in bringing up my children and they include my husband and my long time household team who are like family. Together, we complement and supplement each other. You cannot do everything yourself so I am lucky to have a wonderful husband who is a hands-on father,” she says.
“We personally tutored my children as they were growing up except for the foreign language classes. My husband, being the valedictorian, took the brunt of the difficult subjects. While it is true that in tutoring your kids, you may create more opportunities of conflict with them, I think you get an invaluable insight into your children’s strengths and weaknesses so you can guide them in developing their strong points.”
Gotianun-Yap has an artistic side but which she can’t attend to these days. “I enjoy clay sculpture and painting but unfortunately I no longer have the time for it. I am looking forward to doing it again when I semi-retire,” she says.
Instead, she enjoys simple things like taking a hot shower in the morning and going to the supermarket every two to three weeks. “I have the luxury of playing nine-hole golf games to relax my stressed out neck and shoulder muscles as well as golf provides me a rare chance to have quiet moment with my thoughts.”
“When my husband and I do mundane activities like supermarketing together, I consider that my favorite hobby and watching movies together is my favorite treat,” she says.
Meanwhile, the missus is a poster girl for Cohen diet, having lost over 20 pounds in three months after embarking on this weight reduction program in 2012. But even before taking the Cohen program, she and hubby had been counting calories in their diet.
“When I lost weight, I’ve been able to shop for new clothes as well,” she says, recalling that when she was at her heaviest, it was difficult to find clothes that fit at local stores. “Now, I have to take a shopping diet too.”
As for the future of the Filinvest conglomerate, Gotianun-Yap is very optimistic. The entry into the power generation business—beginning with the building of a 405-megawatt power plant in Misamis Oriental, Mindanao (the first phase of which is expected to go online by 2016)—is seen to provide the third leg for the conglomerate, providing stable revenues regardless of economic cycles. At present, bulk of the revenues come from the property and banking sectors, with the sugar business providing a modest counter-cyclical hedge.
Filinvest is always on the look-out for new opportunities but within its existing line of businesses, there’s room to expand. In the case of the property units, for instance, the group still has about 2,000 hectares of landbank that will fuel future growth. Banking unit EastWest Bank debuted on the local stock exchange in 2012 to fund an aggressive branch expansion program.
While at the helm of the Filinvest group, Gotianun-Yap aims to solidify the foundation of the business and in the next few years, strengthen and professionalize group-wide workforce.
Unlike her generation where parents determined their career paths, the next-generation Gotianuns have more flexibility to pursue their own interests, whether or not within the family business. Everyone is encouraged to join the business to learn as shareholders but joining the management is “by invitation only,” she says.
What she would like to impart to the next-generation Gotianuns is a legacy of learning—“curiosity and the courage to pursue new things and go beyond your comfort zone.” “This is built on a foundation of integrity, work ethics, and fairness. In their personal life, we hope they can be down to earth and to live way below their means—yes—way below their means. And a legacy of generosity through the several foundations we have set up.”
By: Doris C. Dumlao
Source: CEO profile: Josephine Gotianun-Yap