(Editor’s Note: Since last year, the Property Section has been running a series of features on top women executives who have made a mark in the real estate, construction, architecture and design industries here and abroad. We decided to call the column “Steelettos” as a play on the words “steel” to signify their strength and resilience, and “stilettos” to represent their power and femininity.)
They are part of a growing crop of successful women executives in the highly cutthroat Philippine real estate industry.
In a country touted to be the “most gender equal” in the region, women in the Philippines enjoy key managerial positions across a number of industries. And it’s no different in real estate, where female executives have long played a crucial role in defining the landscape.
The Inquirer sat down with some of these highly successful women, whose unwavering passion, ingenuity, and sheer determination have allowed them to rise through the ranks, and at the same time, helped shape the industry in which they are active and present.
Here are their stories.
A STRONG FORCE
President and Chief Executive Officer
Filinvest Land Inc.
She is a force to reckon with.
Her keen aptitude in heading one of the country’s leading property developers across several economic boom-and-bust cycles has been widely recognized within business circles, and had accorded her numerous prestigious citations and accolades throughout the years.
But there seems to be no stopping Gotianun-Yap as Filinvest Land continues to innovate and embark on new projects. As it is, the Filinvest Group has already introduced a number of landmark projects over the last several decades to cater to a growing and changing demand in the local market.
Gotianun-Yap, who got involved in the property business in 1989, recalled that as early as the ’60s, her parents introduced gated residential communities for the middle class with their Filinvest Homes communities.
According to Gotianun-Yap, Filinvest was among the first companies to get involved in mass housing in the ’80s, and in the following decade, it then introduced the first satellite central business district with Filinvest City.
By the year 2000, the company’s subsidiary, Cyberzone Properties Inc., received pioneer developer status for the Northgate Cyberzone, which now has the largest concentration of outsourcing offices in the south with 17 buildings and almost 250,000 sqm of gross leasable area.
Gotianun-Yap further shared that Filinvest City was also the first to register for the LEED in Neighborhood Development with the US Green Building Council.
“We have the country’s biggest district cooling system in Filinvest City to improve the energy efficiency of our buildings. We are ground-breaking another first—a water recycling plant for industrial use within the city. All these contribute to the sustainability of Filinvest City in addition to our electric vehicle loop, linear greenbelt along our river walks, the dedicated bike lane system we have put in place, and the Spectrum pedestrian walk in the landscaped median,” Gotianun Yap explained.
“Today, we are venturing into another first, being a pioneer developer of New Clark City. We also recently introduced Filinvest Mimosa + Leisure City and we would like to invite the public to see the refreshing changes and renovations we have introduced to Mimosa. We aim to bring a premier lifestyle hub to Central and Northern Luzon,” she added.
Indeed, Filinvest remains well poised to sustain its strong momentum, as it continues to introduce even more significant innovations in city development. Gotianun-Yap and the team behind the Filinvest Group are definitely a force to reckon with.
THE ‘IRON’ LADY
ROSEMARIE B. ONG
Wilcon Depot Inc.
Her name inevitably crops up every time the brand Wilcon is mentioned—for obvious reasons.
Ong has been with Wilcon when it had only two stores and its operations were still categorically small. At that time that they were building the company, Ong recalled of needing to be “well rounded in every aspect, to know everything, and to have that strong desire to succeed,” which served as their driving force to do their best.
Decades later, Wilcon has grown by leaps and bounds with depots being built across the country. And it seems that the company is well poised to meet its goal of having a total of 65 stores in its network by 2022.
“I modestly claim that I am instrumental in building the brand and I’m also considered a pillar in the growth of Wilcon. It is always built on the premise of giving the customer full satisfaction in every aspect of their buying experience,” Ong said in an interview with the Inquirer.
According to Ong, their strategy was to give their customers an enhanced shopping experience by providing the latest and most innovative products and solutions, and by making the process of buying easier and more convenient. It’s all about bringing world class shopping experience to the local market, she added.
“I think we leveled up in terms of providing experience, leveled up in terms of products, and in terms of providing trendy and functional items that can help improve the lives of every Filipino who shop in our store. Wilcon has, in the broader aspect, contributed to the country with the number of stores we’ve opened and the number of customers we’ve served and helped. Wilcon has helped in terms of providing employment and boosting trade, thus contributing to the growth of the economy,” Ong further explained.
In recent years, Wilcon has further leveled up its contribution to the economy as it ventured into “selling ideas and concepts that help the industry.”
The target now, according to Ong, is to make Wilcon, its products and services even more accessible to a wider range of customers.
“We plan to be available to the homeowners and homebuilders for their requirements in fulfilling their dreams of a beautiful home. We will expand in key areas. For next year, our target is to build nine stores spread throughout the country,” Ong disclosed.
“The most fulfilling part in all that we’re doing is when we are able to help people and make them happy. At the end of the day, it’s really about satisfying your customers and seeing them go out of the store feeling happy and contented. It’s fulfilling for us when we have people telling us that they are happy with our service and with the products they bought from us. People will always remember you —that this is the company that served me well and helped me in fulfilling my dream of building and improving my home,” she concluded.
CAREEN Y. BELO
Chief Procurement Officer Wilcon Depot Inc.
Belo admits that she and her two other siblings have big shoes to fill.
And it’s fairly understandable as their father, William Belo, is the founder and chair emeritus of Wilcon, the leading home improvement and construction supplier in the country today. With the children now at the helm of the company, the younger Belo waxed optimistic that she and her siblings will be able to move Wilcon forward and continue to cement its leadership in the market over the next several years.
And each of the siblings are doing their fair share. In her role as chief procurement officer for instance, Belo ensures that she is always a step ahead.
“You have to know the latest products—sort of like having the first dibs. I have to always be two steps ahead of everyone in bringing the latest products in. I don’t need to wait for my competitors to move. If I see it, and I like it and believe in it, I will get it,” she said.
“We’re always looking for innovative products. That’s why I travel monthly so I can find new products for Wilcon. And even for the current categories we’re in, we still try to expand, by looking for new suppliers and new designs,” Belo added.
Belo officially started working for the family business right after she graduated in 2006—officially because even when they were still studying, the older Belo would normally give the siblings reports at home, thus enabling them to learn the business early on.
“I started right after I graduated. But prior to that, my dad would give us reports at home and make us do calculations. I think he was trying to ease it in and have us learn the business,” Belo said. “When I started, I was going around different departments—I went through purchasing, accounting, and audit. It came to a point that I had to go around branches. I also did a little bit of marketing before ending up in procurement,” Belo said.
Belo was quick to point out that the business of procurement was not all glamour, as people only see the products elegantly displayed in fancy showrooms. According to Belo, finding the right product entails a lot of leg work—from the frequent travels to lengthy visits to fairs, exhibits and factories abroad.
Still, Belo enjoys it all—doing the leg work and learning all the nitty gritty details that will allow them to complete, update and innovate Wilcon’s existing product line.
At the end of the day, all these efforts boil down to providing the market with new products and unparalleled customer service.
“What they love about Wilcon is that we don’t just end the relationship after the sales transaction. For us, it’s all about the customer experience—the ease in every step of the way, from the moment you step foot inside a Wilcon Depot,” Belo concluded.
THE COMMUNITY SERVANT
MAY P. RODRIGUEZ
BellaVita Land Corp.
There is a different kind of fulfillment that comes with selling a house. But more so, if it’s for a family looking forward to living their dream of owning a decent home.
This is exactly how Rodriguez feels every time a BellaVita home is sold.
“BellaVita is a relatively new player as we have been in the market for just six years. We’ve launched about 20,000 units outside Metro Manila, but we’re happy to say that we are able to help in uplifting the living conditions of Filipinos. That’s part of our contribution to nation building,” Rodriguez explained.
Rodriguez, who has been part of Ayala Land for more than two decades now, noted that selling luxury units is mostly the same with that for affordable housing. But there is a slight difference.
“In Ayala Land Premier, it’s financially rewarding. There is also that satisfaction from meeting their demand. But for BellaVita, what’s more rewarding is that when you turn over the units and hand them their keys, they are literally ready to move in. You can readily see the excitement and the life changing effect of having a home on these families,” Rodriguez explained.
“You can say that this formed part of Ayala’s community work. Ayala Land has been known to service the upscale market. But we went for this market not for financial gain, because we will be working with a mandated price cap while ensuring that we are able to deliver a better product. While we have the option to partner with another group to comply with our socialized housing requirements, we decided to build our own company because this is part of our contribution to nation building,” she added.
Rodriguez started to work for Ayala a week after she took her CPA Board Exams. At that time, she landed a job in accounting and finance, before she eventually moved to operations or the project development side for Ayala Land Premier after a decade. It was in 2014 that Rodriguez assigned to BellaVita.
“Ayala Land was the first and only company I have been in since I graduated from college. I stayed for 23 years here because I believe in what we were doing—that it’s not just all about selling a home. We influence the lifestyle of people as we build and develop communities,” Rodriguez explained.
The same holds true for BellaVita homes as, according to Rodriguez, they design these units in such a way that these do not like raw houses despite their size, which often ranges from 22 sqm to 24 sqm. All houses are designed in such a way that it would still be a “beautiful home ” that the low income segment would want to aspire for.
For now, Rodriguez could only hope that the government can help by providing subsidies, to ensure that more Filipino families are able to afford a decent home.
OFFICER BEYOND ORDINARY
Chief Revenue Officer
Rockwell Land Corp.
She came in shortly before the Asian financial crisis had sent economies reeling.
Soliven, a hotelier for four years, found herself working with the newly formed Rockwell Land Corp. as an assistant sales manager in 1996—a year after the company’s inception and a year before the worst financial storm swept across the region.
“I was lucky to have joined at that year—that was shortly before the crisis. At the beginning of 1996, we experienced the last wave of the peak in sales. The crisis started in 1997 but it didn’t hit us, as a company, until 1998,” Soliven recalled.
Soliven could have readily packed up her bags and leave as she had been with the company—which was then a new industry player that has yet to establish its reputation—for only two years. But she opted to stay.
“I believed in the project. I believed in the leadership of Mr. Nestor Padilla (president of Rockwell Land) and the Lopezes, who were all determined to see the projects through. I’m not the type who would turn my back in times when you’re needed the most. And in the end, it worked out pretty well,” Soliven shared.
“Those two years (starting 1998) were really bad, but we started to recover in 2000. At that time, we were selling the big units in the West Block, but there was really no market then—liquidity was low and interest rates were at their highest. We then started offering the Manansala, which I believe saved us from the crisis. We also decided to find another market at that time—the US market because back then, the dollar was strong and their economy was doing well. We also had many Filipinos living in the US,” she explained.
Fast forward to today, Rockwell Land remains unparalleled in the market, having carved a niche of its own. Through its masterplanned communities, Rockwell has been offering residents and patrons an impeccable environment for their day to day living, while providing a holistic lifestyle and top of the line experience. Its mix of residential, retail and office spaces created a lifestyle embodied in opulence.
Soliven, meanwhile, aptly serves as the company’s chief revenue officer—a position that bears significant weight in ensuring the sustained growth of Rockwell Land.
“I have to make sure our revenues are sustained, and our pipeline is stable. A chief revenue officer makes sure that all revenue centers are optimized. I also need to ensure that processes are efficient, synergies among business units are maximized, and that the pipeline happens,” Soliven explained.
According to Soliven, Rockwell Land took a more conservative
approach in its expansion during its early years. Today, however, it has since expanded geographically outside Makati and outside Luzon, and has likewise expanded to other segments including hospitality, offices, and even affordable housing.
“The company was built slowly and surely—until recently wherein the expansion mode just went full throttle. For sure, we’ll make our presence felt across the Philippines. We are making sure that we cover key regions and key cities,” Soliven said.
“Did I imagine that Rockwell will be this big? My hope then was for us to be able to make a difference—not necessarily in scale, but in the way people appreciate and patronize what we create. We are not that big compared to the other players. But I’d like to think somehow that even if we’re not so big, we had created a niche that’s all our own,” Soliven concluded.
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