“It pays to be obedient and adaptable.”
These are the pair of traits Healthway Medical Vice President for Sales and Marketing Carmelita Pascual de Leon believes has helped her succeed in her chosen profession—one which happily combines her business acumen and advocacy for the well-being of Filipino families.
The Sunday Times Magazine sat down with the top executive as she took a break from her routine and socializing at the Asia HR Forum on July 19 at the Marriott Hotel Manila, finding her pleasantly candid in sharing her life story.
“I dreamt of becoming a fashion model and flight stewardess, but my father was strict, imposing and insistent that I should concentrate on my studies,” she recalled. “He wanted me to become a CPA like my uncles, get a corporate job, shun the lure of an unstable career and use my brain.”
Though tempted to accept offers to do print ads in college, she was forbidden to experience a single one, instead focusing her complete attention pursing a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, Major in Accounting, at the University of the East.
Looking back, de Leon has no regrets in heeding her father’s wishes, for if she hadn’t, she may not have reached the pinnacle of a corporate career in the country’s most trusted and preferred network of mall-based clinics.
“I’m still living the dream in a way,” she said with a glint in her eye. “I still have my model dress and having photo shoot everyday with my husband as my photographer so I’ve actually got the best of both worlds.”
Better known as Carmie among friends, family and the workplace, de Leon openly related that there was a surprise that came along the way of her ideal plans at age 21. She got pregnant but nevertheless accepted the child as blessing from God, even if it meant putting on hold a career for the next five years.
As such, it was only when she was 26 that de Leon finally got started, landing job as a medical representative for a 100-percent Filipino-owned pharmaceutical company. Ever a go-getter, she thrived at the company for the next 10 years, ending her stint no less with the post of regional sales manager.
“Back then, it was a choice between a prestigious multinational company and a new company but I opted for a young, growing pharmaceutical company. I can honestly and proudly say I have been a major contributor to where it is today,” she asserted.
With her winning skills in sales and marketing by then spreading around the pharmaceutical and medical industries, the opening of Hong Kong-based multi-national company Healthway Medical in the country provided a new avenue for de Leon to shine.
Starting as sales manager in 2004 it took a mere four years for the highly capable employee to rise to her current position as vice president for sales and marketing. The year was 2008 and her promotion took place amid an influx of changes in systems and leadership in the organization.
“Maybe I’ve never been the most genius [among those considered for vice president]but I’m the most
adaptable. That’s what I’ve learned to become from my past experiences, because every day, changes take place especially in a company. I meet a lot of people too, and all I have to do is to adapt to the needs [of clients and the company]and exceed expectations inside and outside Healthway.”
Adaptability, de Leon reiterated, is a trait everyone should imbibe to survive and move forward in all their undertakings.
“Because if you’re adaptable then you’re open to changes, and you’ll be ready to face challenges.”
Indeed, the last 13 years saw many changes in Healthway, what with the chain a multinational brand that has to find a compromise between standard operations and respond to the demands of the Filipino market.
“There had been many changes, different management styles, but it’s understanding the intentions [of the owners and stockholders]that made me adapt through the years. The company is growing therefore the demands are getting higher and more difficult from both sides. My mindset is always looking forward and upward. I never say ‘no’ whenever a new idea is presented. I always say, ‘why not?’ For how can you know if it works if you haven’t tried it?” she rightly pronounced.
And through all these, de Leon shared that the trust she gained from the owners and stockholders of the mother company has been her fulfilment—a feeling that no monetary compensation can ever equal.
“The fact that I have the full trust and confidence of the head office motivates me even more to bring the company to greater heights, getting into avenues never been tried before,” she enthused.
Loving mom, strict boss
Despite her busy schedule at work, de Leon has always made sure every member of her family receives her attention and that they are solid and strong.
“Our house-help has a kid kaya parang ‘yun na ang apo ko,” said the 50-year-old who hardly looks her age, adding that she has been pressuring her eldest to give her a grandchild and soon.
“Since I grew up with many restrictions especially with the things I wanted to do, I’ve made it a point to let my children follow the desires of their heart, empowering my only daughter to go ahead and be the person that she wants to be. She is into modelling,” de Leon smiled.
For her, the freedom she has given her four children has bonded them closer, and has made for a very happy household.
Her eldest son Ellise, aged 29; followed by Earl, 27; Angel, 23; through her youngest, Vince, aged 21 – all remain single, thriving, and to her delight, still living with her and her husband, Bernard, who in turn she describes as the only man she has ever loved.
As a boss though, de Leon confessed she is tougher. She does not accept excuses for lackluster performance.
“I don’t buy drama stories as causes of failure. I don’t accept excuses. ‘Just give me the numbers’,” is what she said she demands of her team.
All the same, she eases up on them when she sees the need to do so, relating,
“I realized over time that this generation is very different so, again, I have to adapt to them. I have to be with them to be able to have them deliver. I walk with them, I go to clients with them, I look at the details. Otherwise I won’t be able to help them.”
Leading a workforce of close to 800 is no easy task so that de Leon makes sure she runs the day-to-day operations of the wellness company that maintains seven mall-based clinics and close to 100 corporate clinics with the right attitude and tools.
“I lead by example, I don’t push people, I inspire them to join my advocacy. I trust people, work closely with them and that’s how I get results. I don’t just dictate but I listen and then connect the dots and bridge the gaps. There are reasons for everyone’s behavior and work ethics. A responsible leader must know why people are behaving in such a way before they can say how to do things.”
Health and wellness advocacy
An active member of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP), she’s a proponent of its Health and Wellness and Women Empowerment committees, and the only non-Human Relations practitioner member of the People Management Association of the Philippines (PMAP) appointed to head the fellowship and wellness committee nevertheless.
Given that she heads the sales operations of a health care company, de Leon’s advocacy goes beyond the medical clinics of Healthway.
Within the company, she sees to the well-being of employees by coming up with fun projects such as forming the “dance for health” troupe and competition.
De Leon further founded a campaign called the SEED (sleep, eat right, exercise, de-stress) Lifestyle, and conducts stress management lectures to reinforce corporate wellness.
“SEED Lifestyle aims to promote preventive healthcare through health education, health awareness and active promotion of a proactive lifestyle,” she explained.
Among the wellness activities practicing SEED are participants of Global Wellness Day, National Wellness
Day of PMAP, and Dance for Health and Wellness on Wheels (WOW). Dance for Health is the largest dance competition among corporations to encourage movement and agility in the workplace, while WOW is a wellness seminar that brings health awareness to the offices and communities.
“Along with SEED, we inform everyone that PHC (preventive health cycle) also means quick self-check and regular check-up with doctors,” de Leon continued.
Practicing what she preaches, the svelte executive revealed she practices belly dancing, yoga, circuit training and dancing to keep fit.
Pointing out the top three lifestyle causes of mortality – diabetes, coronary heart diseases and stress – she said there is certainly much to be done to change Filipinos’ attitude toward health.
“Normally Filipinos are hardworking to earn money for their families, but most of the time they forget about themselves, about their own health. They don’t even see the doctor for a check-up until they really feel something’s wrong. Starting with breakfast, most take coffee full of sugar; at lunch they drink soft drinks. And they don’t exercise. We at Healthway encourage people to have regular check-ups and a healthy lifestyle.”
Asked if she would ever be open to a government position that will allow her to improve health care in the Philippines, de Leon said she would take on the challenge if she is summoned to bring her advocacy across the country. While most Department of Health secretaries have been doctors, the wellness advocate who has a gift in convincing people may well be an effective alternative.
“It’s really more about selling the idea of wellness and rallying the nation in engaging a healthier lifestyle.
Doctors are well-versed when it comes to health but there are also other factors to consider. Business or marketing people with medical backgrounds can well bridge the gap between administration and empowerment,” she agreed.
Beautiful mind equals beautiful life
This is the essence of her first coffee table book, “My Beautiful Mind,” launched on her 50th birthday, for the benefit of Children’s Hour. The book simply states that “Positive thoughts yield positive output.”
Despite being competitive, de Leon does not discount the possibility of merging with other companies, which has become a trend in the corporate world.
“But it’s not my decision to make. It’s the owners’ and stockholders’ but I can live with it just in case because I am a team player. But as of this time, with all the competition in the market, I want to maintain our position as number one in the industry by providing excellent service,” she said.
To do so, de Leon knows she has to be at her best every single day at work. “I carry the name of Healthway wherever I go as I carry my credibility with me. I build strong relationships with our clients and partners, it’s really me that clients get in contact with, which I can confidently say as the best representation of our company and its services. That’s what our competitors cannot offer.”
A firm believer in the mantra, “A beautiful life comes from a beautiful mind,” Carmie de Leon has this advice to give in finding the kind of fulfilment she has today: “It is important to follow your heart and do the things you’re passionate about. Assert yourself but do so with respect for others. Fulfilment will surely come after.”