HEADING the country’s largest private employer with a 65,000-strong workforce across the archipelago, Convergys Philippines Chair Marife Butalid Zamora has been elected president of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) for 2017. She is the third woman and the 68th chief executive of the elite managers association since it was established in 1950.
Zamora pioneered the operations of global leader in customer management Convergys Corp. (NYSE: CVG) in the Philippines in 2003, after serving as managing director of integrated solutions and digital technologies Headstrong Inc.; and holding various positions in sales, marketing, and management with IBM Philippines for 18 years.
She became managing director for Asia Pacific and EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) in 2011 and was responsible for Convergys contact centers in the Philippines, India, UK, and Malaysia. She was named Convergys Philippines chair in 2014.
The lady executive studied at the College of the Holy Spirit, the University of the Philippines (UP), and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
Among the industry leadership positions she held include being president of Philippine Software Association, board director of Contact Center Association of the Philippines, and treasurer of the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (AmCham). She is concurrently vice president of AmCham.
She is also Steering Committee member of the Integrity Initiative, a private sector-led effort to promote good governance in the Philippines; co-founder and chair of the Filipina CEO Circle, an organization of Filipina chief executive officers who rose from the ranks to lead large corporations in the country’s private sector; board director of PLDT; and board adviser of ABS-CBN Lingkod Kapamilya Foundation, Inc.
Honors conferred on her include the Asia CEO Awards 2011 Global Filipino Executive of the Year, the ‘Go Negosyo’ Woman STARpreneuer Award 2012, and the 100 Most Influential Filipino Women in the World Award (Founders & Pioneers Category) 2013.
In an interview with The Manila Times, Zamora – a widow with two children, Ian and Tina, and a doting grandma to Ayrton – shares her plans and visions for the future; opinions on varied topics and allows readers to have a peek into her background and beautiful mind, making her the strong yet flexible woman that she is today.
The Manila Times: Why do you think MAP members again voted for a woman as president?
Marife B. Zamora: The MAP Board of Governors is composed of nine members whose term of office is two years. Voting by all members of good standing is by secret ballot and no proxy voting. The nominees who receive the four or five most number of votes, depending on the vacancies in the Board shall be elected as Governors. The Board of Governors shall then elect from among themselves the officers of MAP. This is my second and last year in the MAP Board; I was the vice president last year. I am the only female in the Board this year, so they must have chosen the fairest of them all.
Is there something in a woman leader that differentiates her from a male counterpart?
Across all types of organizations and all leadership levels, there is no significant difference between male and female leaders. Perhaps it’s about time we all looked further than gender and concentrated instead on which skills make the best leaders—male or female. With the recent rise of transformational leadership and its emphasis on traditionally “feminine” traits like empathy, collaboration and emotional intelligence, could the expectations of female leaders be shifting? Of course, there is no universal rule: different individuals are differently suited to different situations, and context is—as ever—king.
How do you differentiate your position at AmCham and MAP, and handle the responsibilities at the same time?
I was AmCham treasurer and vice president for 2015 to 2016. For 2017 to 2018, I sit in AmCham as a board director. It’s different in the sense that I am president in one and one of the directors in the other. It’s similar because you have a membership that manage their businesses, contributing substantially to the growth and development of the country’s economy. I handle both organizations with the same commitment and dedication.
Will Convergys continue to expand nationally and internationally? How does your being MAP president affect your plans and visions for the large company that you head?
Yes, Convergys continues to grow both in the Philippines as well as globally. As a publicly traded company, we cannot talk about details of expansion or any other forward-looking statements. However, we can confidently say that we continue to have demand from our clients, and the Philippines continues to be a critical location for them and for Convergys.
As the President of MAP and Chair of Convergys Philippines, which is the largest private employer in the country, I believe that we can leverage both organizations in promoting best practices, and collaborating on shared priorities crucial to the success of our business and the communities where we operate. Inclusive growth, as an example, is a priority that both MAP and Convergys share. Convergys takes pride in having a true nationwide operations, providing jobs and careers to talented Filipinos from Luzon to Mindanao—in fact, 42 percent of our entire employee headcount is outside of Metro Manila. Truly, both MAP and Convergys are helping to deliver inclusive prosperity.
Do you see more women leaders in the political arena, perhaps a third woman President of the country?
I certainly hope that more and more women will take the top leadership posts in any field – be it politics or otherwise. I believe that sex or gender should neither be a hindrance in, nor reason for, being selected to the top post. Leadership should be based on meritocracy, performance, track record. We are in the 21st century, and as more and more women get educated and empowered, anything is possible, and more and more glass ceilings will be broken. We are seeing women leaders in the political arena and a third woman President may still happen in my lifetime. I want the next generation to grow up thinking nothing is special at all about women wielding power.
Do you intend to continue serving in the MAP board after your term?
All MAP officers or the MAP Board of Governors serve for a term of one year or until their successors are duly elected and qualified. The MAP president shall serve for only one year and shall be forever ineligible for election to the same office. However, the president shall still be eligible for election as governor after the expiration of three years from his/her last term of office.
What qualities must a woman have in order for her to beat the men in the workplace, particularly in getting executive posts?
Let me answer this in the context of working and competing with men. I am asked most often about this and let me share some tips. First, recognize your power and own it. If you were invited into that environment, that room, that conversation – then you deserve to be there. Never question it. Second, understand that you have the advantage. If you are the only woman there, then everybody notices you and everybody is listening to what you will say. You don’t have to fight for airtime. That said, you better make sure you are prepared to deliver. Third, invest in relationships. In fact, just when you think you need to pull back and focus on the work is when you should push and put yourself forward. People are held back not because of the work they did but because of the lack of relationships with people who can speak on their behalf when they are not in the room and help them move forward. Remember that everything that happens in your career happens without you there. It’s decided when the management committee does a revalida of people’s performance or in the boardroom when the directors approve the new organizational structure.
The argument that women might be better leaders than men over-emphasizes feminine relationship-building skills to the exclusion of masculine competitive instincts. As with most either-or pendulum swings, the truth falls somewhere in the middle.
In any case, this issue should focus not on men versus women, but on organizational culture. At that level, a mixture of feminine and masculine traits is required.
Regardless of whether more women make it to the top, there is now more emphasis on relationship skills, emotional intelligence, the ability to nurture talent, listening skills, collaboration, and partnership. These skills are essential for success for both male and female executives.
Does gender play in the consideration where female and male candidates up for promotion are equal in every aspect?
Companies often use promotions both to give workers an incentive to work hard and to retain valuable employees while, at the same time, filling higher level positions. In addition to giving workers financial rewards, promotions afford them the incentive and opportunity to acquire new skills or additional training that may ultimately – especially among young workers who are promoted –result in permanent earnings differences. Overall, the qualitative nature of promotions is the same for men and women. Rather than being automatic, promotions are linked to increased responsibilities and a change in work duties. Promoting decent and productive employment and income opportunities equally for women and men is one of the key priorities of a business.
What do you intend to do at MAP that has not been done already?
I intend to continue the great work that has been accomplished by the previous board headed by former president Perry Pe. This year, we have included a Committee on Women Empowerment. MAP membership has exceeded the 1,000-mark. However, only 20 percent are female. Thus, one of the committee’s goals is to increase the number of MAP’s female members. Another goal is to mentor women in the workplace with the will to lead and help them become CXOs or SheXOs. There are exciting initiatives that the MAP Committee on Women Empowerment is working on.
Is there still a big deal about women’s liberation movement when two women already became commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces?
There is still a dearth of women in government and business leadership positions. The ultimate goal is to encourage women to lean in to positions of leadership because by having more female voices in positions of power, there will be more equitable opportunities for everyone. As Sheryl Sandberg said, “A truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes.”
What advice can you give to those in lower ranks so they can reach the top?
I am a big Ian Fleming fan and there are pieces of advice that we can take from James Bond to help us flourish in our career? A) Keep it cool. Bond never gets sidetracked or blames others. He focuses on the situation at hand, gathers info, [then]moves forward. B) Dive right in. 007 is a man of action, always ready for the next step. He’s decisive and he doesn’t second guess himself. C) Believe in yourself. Any name can become legendary when said the right way. His belief in himself is palpable. “Bond. James Bond.” Even the way he introduces himself speaks volumes. D) Have a secret weapon. Bond always has a trick up his sleeve. He knows what his strengths are and uses them in new and interesting ways. E) Find a mission. As an operative in Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Bond serves something greater than himself.
What can you tell the youth about success, in relation to what you have gone through?
The quality you need to succeed is resilience. The higher you want to go, the more resilience you need. Inevitably, things won’t go your way or as expected, so you must accept that failure is part of succeeding and learn from the disappointment. Use it to launch your next move. If you don’t learn from the unexpected challenge, and you just sit there, you will not realize all of that which you were meant to do.
Coming out of college and business school, I embraced the concept of meritocracy, which suggests that you just need to be smart and work hard. But after starting my career, I realized that there were other things that informed the success equation, like understanding that perception is the co-pilot to reality. How people perceive you will directly impact how they deal with you; understanding that you can’t do it on your own, that you would need other people’s relationships in order to maximize your success. It was other things also, like understanding that you have to embrace taking risks, and you have to leverage your network.
How do you define Marife Zamora as a person, a friend, a boss, as MAP president, and as a citizen?
I grew up as the eldest in a no-nonsense, no-excuses household. My parents gave me the sense that I was supposed to do well, and never made me think it was extraordinary to get As or to excel in school. My mother always told me – and I thought this was genius – “There are a lot of inequalities in the world. If you want an A, shoot for the A+, so if the teacher is unfair, you still get an A.” What a genius way to say the world isn’t fair. I’m a low-hopes-and-high-expectations kind of a person. My dream job as a kid was to be a supermarket cashier or a bank teller. I loved counting money and making change. I still do – counting revenue and profits and making a difference in this world.
As 2017 MAP president, Zamora leads the Management Association of the Philippines, along with Eduardo Francisco (president and CEO of BDO Capital and Investment Corporation) as vice president; Ramoncito Fernandez (president and CEO of Maynilad Water Services), as treasurer; Emmanuel Bonoan (vice chair and COO of KPMG R.G. Manabat & Company) as assistant treasurer; and Donald Patrick Lim (chief digital officer of ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp.)as secretary.
Other Board members are Romeo Bernardo, managing director of Lazaro Bernardo Tiu and Associates; Alfredo Pascual, outgoing UP president; Peter Wallace, chair of Wallace Business Forum; and Eduardo Yap, president and CEO of Clairmont Group.