A tale of two women in businessBy Myrna Rodriguez Co
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Myrna Castro Bituin and Cynthia Aguilar Villar.
Successful women entrepreneurs both, but poles apart in motivation when they were beginning their respective ventures.
Villar, a former representative, had altruistic motives at the outset—to create livelihood opportunities for her constituents in Las Piñas City.
For her part, Bituin went into business for the usual reasons— to generate income for herself and her family and secure her children’s future.
Somehow, both women ended up improving their communities and uplifting the lives of the people they work with.
Bituin, owner and founder of Betis Crafts, Inc. and Villar, president of Villar Foundation, recounted their experiences, struggles, and insights in starting and running their enterprises at a recent forum on “Distinguished Entrepreneurial Leadership” organized by the Small Enterprises Research and Development Foundation (Serdef) and the UP Institute for Small-Scale Industries (UP ISSI).
Betis story: Focus on productivity, worker’s welfare
Myrna and husband Joe Bituin began the business in 1978 as JB Woodcrafts, mainly engaged in producing wooden carcasses—seasoned wood used as base for woodworks, like lacquer ware.
In time, the sole proprietorship grew into a conglomerate of four companies producing furniture for the international market.
The couple named it Betis Crafts. Inc., after their hometown in Pampanga that vintage-furniture has made famous.
Today, Betis Crafts is the acknowledged leader in hand-carved and solid wood furniture and accessories like reproduction chairs, tables, mirrors, consoles, bedroom pieces and cases.
It enjoys a strong following in both the local and export markets, including the United States, Australia and countries in Europe and the Middle East.
Betis products are rather upscale. They end up in the living rooms of the rich and famous, even the blue-blooded.
“I sometimes see our pieces in foreign magazines and movies, with the likes of Joan Collins, Boy George, and Jessica Parker,” Bituin quips.
She attributes the growth of Betis Crafts to carefully planned productivity measures. “To stay in the race, you have to be very good at what you are doing.”
For this reason, the company has invested in year-round programs of raising productivity and skills and inculcating productivity values among workers. For example wood carvers undergo continuing training, as carving is considered the company’s competitive edge.
In the early days, Betis Crafts approached the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) agencies for technical support. The Forest Products Research and Development Institute (FPRDI) obliged with a kiln dryer, spray booths, and a centralized dust collection system. The Technology Application and Promotion Institute (Tapi) sent UP ISSI and Serdef consultants to rationalize factory layout and work flow.
The business has since spun off to three other companies managed by the Bituin children: More than a Chair, run by Allan; JB Woodcrafts, by Leslie (Bituin-Mendiola); and South Sea Veneer Corporation, by Lieza Marie.
The management of Betis Crafts has been passed on to daughter Alona (Bituin-Sinsuat).
Bituin has handed down to her children not only a productivity-oriented management style but also an entrepreneurial motivation beyond profit. This means working hard to improve the quality of life of workers and getting involved in their family problems.
She cites, for instance, the factory worker who pawns his ATM card to a loan shark and the family driver with a cancer-stricken wife.
“We see to it our workers have food on their table, medicine when a child gets sick, money to send kids to school.” To her, that is success in business.
With the business firmly ensconced in local and export markets, and with her children taking over most of the operations, Bituin has herself moved on to social concerns such as environmental protection through a bamboo propagation project, rights and welfare protection for the differently-abled, culture preservation, waste segregation, and organic gardening.
Returns from these ventures will take long in coming, she admits. She may not even live long enough to see these bear fruits. But she takes comfort in that “there is always the next generations to prepare the future for.”
See a need, fill a need
Villar Foundation’s entrepreneurial philosophy of “see-a-need, fill-a-need” gave impetus to its various programs designed to uplift the livelihood of urban-poor communities in Las Piñas.
An entrepreneur should be aware of his surroundings and from such awareness spot an opportunity to help, to improve things. For social entrepreneur Cynthia Villar, the role of the business is to improve lives. Profit is only secondary: You use it to further help people.
This is apparently how Villar Foundation’s community enterprise projects in water hyacinth basket weaving, coconut coir and peat manufacturing, handloom basket weaving, composting and vermi-culture, parol-making, and bamboo propagation started and flourished.
With such projects, the Foundation has succeeded in creating an “army of entrepreneurs” rather than an “army of employees” or job seekers.
This is how she sums up how Villar Foundation implements a project: “Find a need or market, find the technology to produce the product or service that will fill the need, train the people to use the technology, and raise capital to purchase the technology.”
To those who get discouraged from their entrepreneurial goals by lack of capital, Villar has this to say: “It is not such a big obstacle. Once you are able to prove you know what you are doing, there will be higher confidence in you among financing sources.”
She urged entrepreneurs to approach government assistance agencies. Government can make technology accessible and affordable to small businesses. It was UP Los Baños, for example, that assisted Villar Foundation’s livelihood projects to adopt technology.
On the other hand, she suggested ways by which government can further help entrepreneurs such as by providing a marketing platform that will bring buyers and suppliers together, exempting micro and small businesses from minimum wage and other regulations, and providing subsidies to selected industries needing extra push to become globally competitive.
More business management tips
In the open forum that followed, the two shared more entrepreneurial wisdom.
“The best entrepreneurship education is to seek employment in the field you like. Work and learn. Save money. Then put up a similar business. But locate where you won’t directly compete with your ex-employer.”
“Never give money to your beneficiaries. Money is liable to be spent whenever there is a family emergency. Instead, give training and make technology and equipment available.”
“You need not register with government outright. Register when you are big and stable enough.”
“Don’t try to do everything in your business. You will not grow if you don’t learn how to delegate. But knowing your business is good. That is how you become credible and win your people’s respect.”
And from Bituin:
“Don’t be afraid of competition. Don’t waste your time worrying about them. Devote your energies being steps ahead. Find out what you can do that will be difficult for them to copy.”
“To encourage your people to work well, they should be clear what they should do from start to finish. Training is important. The feeling of being appreciated, knowing they have done well—these will motivate workers to give of their best.”
“Persistence in getting help from government and other sources of assistance will pay off. We cannot do it all by ourselves. Government is there to help us. Kung sino ang mahusay mangulit sa gobyerno, sila ang nakakatanggap ng tulong.”
(Visit the Serdef website at www.serdef.org for more inspiring stories of entrepreneurs and how-to’s on starting and growing a small business.)
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