Most hardworking corporate luminaries look forward to retirement after establishing and securing their company’s success. They greatly anticipate the prospect of finally leaving their demanding jobs behind after many years, to pursue activities they enjoy at a leisurely pace.
For Remedios Aberin Rivera, chairman of Remed Pharmaceuticals Inc., however, the opposite is true. For, at 77 years old, she is still hard at work, even more so than the time she served as vice president for Quality Assurance. Work at Interphil from 1975-1996.
How then can a septuagenarian be busier now than as head of a division at a multinational company? The answer is simply because she still had the energy to build her own company rather than retire and put her extensive knowledge in the pharmaceutical industry to good use.
Now the answer as to why she chose this path can be found in her unique life story—that of a woman who never allows outside circumstances define what she can do and achieve.
“We grew up very poor in the province. My father was a farmer who had 10 young mouths to feed,” Rivera began sharing her history in this one-on-one interview with The Sunday Times Magazine.
The second to the youngest among seven boys and three girls, Rivera knew the value of hard work from the onset, growing up with household chores while her brothers helped their father in the farm.
As many provincial folk do to this day, Rivera’s older siblings uprooted their family to seek a better life in Manila, where everyone did their share in establishing a home and sending one another to school.
Fortunately for Rivera, her older brothers pooled their resources together so she can attend college at Mapua Institute of Technology, recognizing her intelligence and capability.
“I took Bachelor of Science in Chemistry at Mapua not because I liked it but because it was the most affordable course for my family,” she chuckled. “My older brother was also studying there at that time, taking up Chemical Engineering, so it worked out that I was able to use some of his books para tipid [to save money].”
Rivera worked hard to get good grades by studying at night and was still able to devote the day to helping around the house, until she graduated and ready to join the workforce.
“Actually, I had no concrete plans at that time, and I had no idea I would be in the pharmaceutical industry,” she reminisced. “At that point, any job would do for me as long as I’d be able to help my family.”
Up the ranks
Just as she gave everything at home and in school, so did Rivera in her first job with American company Muller and Phipps Manufacturing Corporation in 1964. As such, she quickly rose through the ranks from entry level, and through to Muller and Phipps’ merger with Zuellig-owned company Pharma Industries Incorporated in 1975, which gave birth to Interphil Laboratories Incorporated.
“Funny as it may seem that I went to work for the only job available [after graduation], I stayed focused all the same. Gusto ko pa ring paghusayan ang trabaho ko. Kaya naman naging mabilis ang pag-asenso ko [I always want to do the best in my job, which contributed to my success],” Rivera proudly shared.
From working in the laboratories to becoming a manager, Rivera counts focus and determination as the two crucial factors toward her swift climb up the corporate ladder.
“Some people thought I became a manager too quickly because of favoritism from our president but I said no—it’s because of focus and determination. My aim has always been to excel in my work because I had the dream of taking my family out of poverty—that was my fuel in life.”
Moreover, a gift of adaptability further contributed to Rivera’s success at Interphil. For, far from the lessons she learned in Chemistry, she had to become an all-employee as her responsibilities grew in the company.
“When I became the Vice President for Quality Assurance and eventually Vice President for Production, I had to learn engineering, production and other disciplines all at once because my position demanded these,” Rivera explained.
Instead of allowing herself to be overwhelmed by the challenges she faced incessantly, she poured her efforts into researching the skills and knowledge involved in every step.
“Kasi for me, learning is a two-way street. You don’t just wait for the boss to tell you what to do. You should also learn on your own, primarily by reading. So kahit di ko alam yung trabaho nung una [So even if I had no idea what my position required], I kept reading to fully understand what to do.”
As generous as she is hardworking, Rivera was always one to take subordinates under her wing to mentor them and pass on to them the traits she has found to be effective in her success. She was both a strict boss and teacher, however, earning the reputation of being “cold-hearted” or even “heartless” at times, as she often made her employees cry over work.
She remained unapologetic for her ways explaining, “I always told them, ‘You should consider yourself as the owner of the company with one employee—that’s yourself. You should also sell one product and that is your service. By doing that, you should be proud of yourself and your accomplishments because that will be your legacy.’ That’s why I always demanded perfection from everyone.”
As for being tough, she admitted, “Oo marami akong napaiyak noon, pero yun lang naman ay dahil gusto ko silang matuto. I was upfront and told them right away kung ano ang mali nila pero right then and there, itinuturo ko ang tama. [I may have made many cry but it’s only because I wanted them to learn. I was upfront with them and immediately taught them what was right after making the mistake].”
Deep into work as she is today, Rivera did experience retirement after 22 years of working for Interphil. Convinced she had achieved her goal to help her family, while passing on her knowledge to the company’s next generation, she opted for an early retirement package at age 55.
“Even then, I knew I wouldn’t be idle taking the early retirement; modesty aside, I also knew my capabilities and my market value,” she said matter-of-factly.
True enough, other pharmaceutical companies courted Rivera to join them and the lucky company that succeeded was Pascual Laboratories, which initially offered her to be a consultant, and eventually the post of director for Product Research and Development. A hard worker through and through, she accepted the offer along with other freelance consultancy jobs, as well as running a manpower agency business with a trusted friend.
Her retirement indeed short-lived, Rivera met another milestone in her life when she allowed a friend “coerce” her to finally put up a pharmaceutical business of her own.
“Initially wala naman talaga akong ganung [I had no intention to] focus on having a business. It was my friend who coerced me. Ang sabi niya, walang yumayaman sa pagiging [She said no one got rich being an] employee. You need to have business, which I realized was true,” Rivera recalled laughing.
Rivera clarified, however, her goal was not necessarily to be rich on her own. By then, she was content with her life and had been able to put her children to school, buy a house for her family, and give back to her siblings who had sent her to college. She had the future in mind in deciding to take the leap toward entrepreneurship.
“What convinced me truly was the idea that I’d be able to help my family in the long run, my children, even their own children and my relatives. With the company, I could seal not only their future but my employees’ as well,” Rivera intimated.
This selfless goal, partnered with the genuine desire she had culled to help the public health sector through her years in the pharma industry, led to the birth of Remed Pharmaceuticals Inc. in 2002.
With a mere 10 employees, Remed—a play on Rivera’s first name—started selling its products in across Metro Manila.
One of the company’s major selling points, besides being 100-percent Filipino-owned, is the taste of their medicines.
“Our tagline is, ‘The power of tastenology.’ Because we believe medicines will only be acceptable only if they are acceptable to the user’s taste.”
As such, it is not surprising to learn from Rivera that their best-selling products are fruit-flavored medicines they have for children, namely Remedlor (generic name Cefaclor), an antibiotic in strawberry flavor; Rhinitrin (generic name Cetirizine) an anti-histamine in Tutti Frutti flavor; and Liquisone (generic name Prednisolone) an anti-inflammatory also in Tutti Frutti flavor.
Remed also offers TLC Vita Syrup and Drops, a food supplement with Vitamins and Minerals, Taurine, Lysine and Chlorella Growth Factor for kids; and CTZ Vita Syrup, a combination of Vitamin C with Taurine pluz Zinc.
Rivera shared she still implements the same work ethic in her own company as she did in the past.
“I’ve always kept the same principle. I have to approve the product’s quality before it is sold. I take pride in my work. In fact, at Remed our tagline is also ‘Where Quality means Efficacy’.”
Eighteen years after establishing Remed, its market went from the territory of Metro Manila to supplying medicines nationwide. The company now has regional offices and employs almost 60 personnel in total with Ortigas as their headquarters.
Never one to stop aiming higher, the ever-energetic chairman looks forward to more developments in her company in the future.
“I have a vision for Remed to be known as a company with quality products, and eventually, I want to export our products abroad,” she excitedly shared.
Her enthusiasm palpable for her company, Rivera also told The Sunday Times that that her plate is also full with overseas auditing consultancy jobs, as well as her charitable endeavors including the construction of the Sto. Niño Parish Church which began in 2013.
Asked where she gets her energy, Rivera replied, “I don’t think I’ll tire of this industry because I enjoy what I am doing. If you don’t enjoy it anymore, that’s the time you lose your energy for it too. To this day I still enjoy sharing my knowledge, working with people and mentoring them,” the amazing 77-year-old achiever ended.