Back in the ’80s, people took to the streets to protest against government dictatorship. Linda Oliva Ramos, then an accounting major at the Polytechnic University, defied the student leaders who urged the youths to rally and fight.
“I remember standing up and saying, ‘Just like you, I love the Philippines, but I will not go through that venue. Who will hear me when I’m on top of the mountain? When I reach the corporate level, I can influence my society,” she recalls.
Today, the 47-year-old business leader uses her position to help in the country’s progress. Her career has encompassed improving the fiscal standing of the Corazon Aquino government to helping to develop a supply chain in the Philippines.
Now, as the first female CEO of SEAIR (Southeast Asian Airline), her goal is an advocacy: To make traveling more affordable to Filipinos while providing an excellent product and services.
SEAIR plans to bolster its position as a low-cost carrier (LCC). “Reaching out to a wider market and giving people access to a quality airline are the priorities for me and this organization,” she says.
SEAIR aspires to be a Filipino carrier with world-class standards.
The partnership with Tiger Airways, a minor investor, will help boost the brand.
SEAIR has been known for its missionary flights, serving destinations that were previously not covered by commercial flights such as Coron, El Nido, Batanes and Caticlan. Since last year, SEAIR has been phasing out the smaller planes and has been flying bigger planes to nine local destinations from Manila-Laoag, Cebu, Tacloban, Iloilo, Puerto Prinsesa, Kalibo, Davao and Bacolod. In Asia, the jet services depart from Clark, Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangkok and Kota Kinabalu.
With a young fleet of five A320s, the medium range commercial jets by Airbus, and more coming in the future, Ramos views having one aircraft model as an advantage.
“You can create a team that focuses on one expertise that caters to the domestic or regional flights. There will be business continuity. If one leaves, there’s another one who knows because you are working on one business model,” she explains.
“Even in logistics, we are going low cost. All industries are thinking of cost leadership, efficiency and innovation. To me, innovation starts with a lean management. You trim the bureaucracy. There are no in-betweens so the accountability is easy.”
Carabaos and cables
Previous to SEAIR, Ramos became the first female president and managing director of in the entire history of DHL Supply Inc. (now known as Deutsch Post DHL), a global logistics company.
Her former colleagues from a previous company, who are with SEAIR, tapped her because of her tenacity, her understanding of the local market and her acuity in logistics.
“Logistics is not far from the airline. It’s more complex because it involves multimodels-airline, shipping, barge and carabao.” Ramos cites working with international telecommunications companies that needed to set up cables in the mountains. Since there were no road networks, carabaos were used as the mode of transport.
She served DHL through its various transitions for 17 years. In 2006, her promotion to becoming the first female country head raised eyebrows in the corporate world.
“Gender doesn’t matter in strategic planning,” Ramos maintains. She adds, “Women are good in multitasking. They are inherent managers. They are good in outsourcing and delegation.”
Modest about her achievements in DHL, she says it became very profitable. At the start of her term, the company was in a breakeven position. When she left, the stockholders were receiving handsome returns.
Ramos’ career has always been characterized by her patriotism. In her previous job, she helped companies in making the Philippines part of a global network in outsourcing. She developed strategies for their supply chain.
She also cherishes her work in government as a turning point. Her first job was a management trainee and an accountant at Urban Bank. She earned the position because she was a Jaime C. Laya scholar and graduated as a cum laude.
In 1986, the Department of Budget and Management wrote to top graduates including Ramos to join the government.
“This was my chance to help build the democracy,” she says.
“As a fiscal analyst, my job was budget management. I studied debts of the Marcos government and how to reconstruct them. I was only 21 years old,” she says. Ramos became a national government scholar at the University of the Philippines in the program for development economics.
“That was one of the more meaningful parts of my life,” she says. In those years, Ramos helped in the clean-up of behest loans under Marcos; plan the national budget for Congress and negotiate more funding from USAID.
While pregnant with her only daughter, Anna, Ramos would research at the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, and give espasol to the clerks to facilitate data gathering.
“I examined the debt reduction program of developing economies like Mexico and studied how we could apply them here.”
Ramos is also proud of being part of the team that studied the debt for nature swap. This means that environmental preservation could help reduce outstanding loans.
After government service, Ramos became vice president for controllership for Pacific Semiconductors Inc. “I looked for investors. Although I was a finance person, I realized I could sell. I got investors to sustain the business.”
She then moved to MSAS Cargo International as financial controller which was bought by Exel. When Exel was integrated into DHL, Ramos became chief finance officer.
In those years, Ramos says she was inundated with the 5S, Japanese list of how to be efficient the workplace—sorting, straightening, sweeping, standardizing and sustaining. These attributes have become second nature.
Even in her own life, Ramos has been constantly clearing, cleaning and organizing. She has learned to let go of her emotional attachment to possessions, realizing that she needs little to be happy. “Remove what you don’t need, and group what you need,” she advises.
When the head honcho grooms herself for work, she arranges her cosmetics one side of the table, the hair accessories on the other and limited her choices for perfume. Her articles are kept in various compartments in her purse. A black cosmetic kit stores everything from brushes, toiletries, medicines, a small spritzer for hairspray, and Salonpas. “I could survive with this,” she says. Likewise, her desk is free from clutter.
She works with a precision of a laser. “Lasers are so focused that they can remove the tiniest stone without damaging other organs. If you concentrate, you can achieve your purpose without compromising your family, society or yourself.”
One of her guiding lights is Canadian author Robin Sharma’s book, “The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari.” It’s the story about Julian Mantle, a wealthy, top-notch lawyer, who suffered a heart attack which consequently led him to deal with the spiritual crisis of his stressful life. He went to India and discovered a mentor who taught him about having positive thoughts, valuing time, nurturing relationships and living life one day at a time. He learned to let go of a lot of things to find contentment.
“He (Mantle) realized that life isn’t about money.” Ramos says she could relate to Mantle’s journey. As a business leader, she’s had her pressures, but she always maintains a balance of solitude and socializing.
“I spend time with friends. I will make the most of my life because we pass this road once. When people say they are busy, they forget to savor what life is all about. In fact, what keeps us busy doesn’t always add value to our lives.”
She also cherishes moments of introversion. In a trip to the US, she was able to sit back and detach from the world and just observing the scenes. While taking a train to New York, she saw a passenger rushing with his luggage. “I was like that before—always in a hurry.”
During the Me-Time, she was able to regain her perspective and gather her inner strength. “You’re in peace. There is a life of a higher realm that we can achieve in solitude.”
This balance of logic and intuition will define her leadership style at SEAIR. The discipline helps her to think clearly and to simplify matters. Her advice to colleagues: “Set your priorities. Remove the clutter—mental or physical—and start afresh.”