After one becomes a beauty queen, what is the next step? For many, having a beauty title is a passport to the world of showbiz and entertainment. Still, others use their newfound fame to enter into the crazy world of local politics. But every now and then, there are those who choose to pursue their own dreams of making it in the corporate world, and a few of them actually succeed.
Meet, Aurora Claudia Gaston. She is currently the head of Usana Philippines, being the general manager of this United States-based nutritional company that manufactures high-quality supplements, personal care, energy and weight management products. Its mother company is called Usana Health Sciences Inc., which is a direct selling company that started in Salt Lake City, Utah, 21 years ago. It was founded by Dr. Myron Wentz, an internationally recognized microbiologist, immunologist and pioneer in the development of human cell culture technology. Since its inception in 1992, the company grew rapidly and went on to become a publicly listed company in several bourses, from the Nasdaq to the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol USNA. It is classified as a direct selling company, with 2011 net sales of about $582 million. At present, Usana operates in 18 markets, which include Australia, the US, New Zealand, Canada, United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan and Singapore.
In the Philippines, Gaston or “Duday” as she is fondly called by both her friends and peers is in charge of overseeing all the aspects of running the company, from recruiting, selling and delivery of the products, to managing the company expansion through its dealers nationwide. In meeting and orienting the company’s dealers, Duday says she makes it a point to tell them the vision of Usana’s founder who she explains “wanted to make a difference in this world, in that he wanted to go into preventive and nutritional medicine instead of diagnostic medicine.” She adds that it is indeed inspiring to learn that the company she works for has this “vision of a world free from pain and disease through basically nourishing your body with healthy cells instead of diagnostics, after you have already been found to be sick of a disease.”
The product range she says is more varied and diverse in some countries than the others. In the Philippines for example, she says they carry only the basic line which includes the complete set of vitamins and minerals, along with a few other complementary products, like the powdered “Nutrimeal” and recently, their brands called “Pure Rest” and “Vegetarian Procosa.” She explains that this is because, their business here has been growing tremendously even with just the introduction of their basic products in the local market.
Duday says she’s been with the company since its entry into the Philippine market in January 2009. She was actually hired four months before the actual launch of the brand, and she remembers with a laugh how she had to oversee everything from the construction requirements of the main office in Makati, to setting up the initial batch of dealers and the network.
They are on their fifth year now she proudly states, and adds that the company’s growth went even beyond her expectations. “When I came in, I came from a different discipline and I was not a multilevel marketer.” She goes on to explain further that in direct selling there are basically two facets: the traditional one, where it is very mass-based, and you only earn from your direct group; while the other facet is multilevel, where it is not the wideness of your network, but the depth that counts and this is how Usana as a business works. This is also one of her biggest challenges, she admits, because multilevel marketing is not very popular in the Philippines and sometimes carries with it a certain stigma, because of similar set-ups that turned out to be pyramid scams.
She was determined to give Usana a different discipline, culling from her past career experiences. “When we started, all the global networkers of Usana came to the Philippines, two months before our formal launch and started to help build the foundation for the networks. That’s when I told myself that this will turn out big time, and I was correct.” Her other big challenge was how to market the products in a country whose average family income is considered way below other more progressive and seemingly more economically viable Asian countries. She also had to deal with the “sachet-type” of marketing that made other products hugely successful and within the reach of most Filipinos.
But at the end of the day she says it still boils down to the quality of the brand. A testament of this she says is that they have grown to P2 billion in a span of four years. “We started with P300 million on our first year, and we kept on growing beyond our own expectations.” Today, she thinks they’ve kept true to their promise of “true health and true wealth” especially for their dealers because it not only gave them excellent supplements, it also afforded them a more prosperous lifestyle so they could enjoy more in life.
As for this 1984 Mutya ng Pilipinas Asia-Pacific title holder, she says at this point, she couldn’t really ask for anything more. She became a beauty queen, entered into the world of direct selling through previously held sales and management positions in other direct selling companies, such as Triumph Intl., Sara Lee Direct Selling and Avon Philippines, and most importantly, fulfilled her own dreams of making it into the male-dominated corporate world. Its like breaking the proverbial “glass ceiling,” and thanks to Usana, emerging victorious while being at the pink of her health.