PHOTOS BY RUSSELL PALMA
The title “Queen of All Media” would have been a better, if not the perfect, fit for Charo Santos-Concio, the first and only female president and chief executive officer to have led a Philippine media conglomerate via ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation.
But while she is still considered “the most powerful woman in broadcast and entertainment” over a year into her retirement, those who have read a copy of her newly published biography will surmise that Concio has no qualms that the label was coined for the network’s former talent rather than herself.
In fact, in reading My Journey: The Story of an Unexpected Leader, one will even go as far as to conclude that Concio would be uncomfortable with such a title and other similar adulations for that matter. For while she has greatly influenced the Filipino’s viewing habits and preferences both on television and the movies, while successfully steering ABS-CBN into the advent of social media toward the end of her tenure, she delivered her best as a quiet worker behind the bright lights of show business.
“I’ve always been very shy,” Concio, who penned her memoir with editor An Mercado Alcantara, confessed to The Sunday Times Magazine. “Even in school I would just be in one corner, and I wouldn’t be raising my hand [to recite].”
Nevertheless, she graduated valedictorian both in grade school and high school at the Holy Infant Academy of Calapan, Mindoro where she was raised, and eventually marched cum laude as a student of Communication Arts at St. Paul’s College Manila.
“I was a conscientious student but I was never up there to rally the troops back in school. Neither was I ever president of the student council as you might expect … but I was the bell ringer,” she laughed.
“That’s why I call myself an ‘unexpected leader’—the title of my book—because throughout my life, the common theme is that I never intended nor planned for any of this to happen. My life just unfolded the way it did. I was a shy provinciana with all my insecurities, and looking back, it seems that someone up there was holding my hand, and showing me all the opportunities that came my way.”
Out of a deep sense of gratitude for reaching heights beyond her wildest dreams, Concio said she agreed to write a book about her life in the hopes of inspiring a guileless country lass like herself to take on what she may deem impossible.
“If my story can touch just one person to believe in herself and begin living her dream, then my journey will be all the more worthwhile,” she intoned.
Concio, who launched her book at the end of March with the full support of ABS-CBN Corporation Chairman Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez 3rd and ABS-CBN Publishing Inc. President and CEO Ernesto “Ernie” Lopez, admits her life is full of ironies. For as shy as she is her rise to the topmost position of one of the country’s biggest companies began by becoming an actress.
“I don’t know why I ended up in the world of entertainment,” she shook her head. “Masunuring anak lang talaga ako [I just was a dutiful daughter] because I allowed my mother to live her dreams in me.”
In her foreword, Concio affectionately introduced her mother, Nora Navarro, as a “statuesque beauty who could sing like Joni James.”
“She really wanted to become a singer but when my mother married my dad, naunsiyami [her plans fell apart],” Concio continued in this interview. “She eventually became a teacher but she always encouraged me to join school plays, and I guess that’s how I overcame my inherent shyness. When I’m on the stage I just know I have to play a part so I do it, but when the curtains go down, I go back to my natural shy self.”
A statuesque beauty herself, Concio’s mother convinced her to join beauty contests too. She was crowned Miss Calapan and later Baron Travel Girl, which was where the late great film director Lino Brocka finally discovered her for show business.
“Lino asked me if I would like to audition for a movie [fellow director]Mike de Leon was doing. ‘Yan na yung Itim. [That was for Itim].”
Itim was Concio’s first ever foray into the silver screen in 1976, which won for her the Best Actress award at the 1978 Asian Film Festival in Sydney, Australia.
To this day, she enjoys reminiscing her experience in de Leon’s critically acclaimed film not only because of her international recognition, but because it was the first time her provincial upbringing worked to her advantage.
“When you’re a beauty queen, people automatically think you’re sophisticated, di ba?” Concio gleefully recalled. “Yun pala [but it turned out that]Mike was really looking for a probinsyana [provincial lass]for the movie. He asked, ‘Probinsyana nga ba talaga yan?’ doubting me, so he gave me an audition piece where I had to be a city girl.
“Imagine, I had to light a cigarette when I didn’t even know how to light a match! I kept trying and trying to light it until Mike said in exasperation, ‘Tama na nga yan, aksaya sa negatibo ko!’ [Enough of that, you’re wasting my film!], and that was how he was convinced I was really a probinsyana and not acting out the part.”
From there, armed with her mother’s unwavering encouragement and an innate talent for the camera, the shy beauty from Calapan would make some 40 or so movies throughout her acting career, reaping more awards along the way.
Coming full circle, when she retired as president and CEO of ABS-CBN, Concio’s highly anticipated return to the silver screen, Lav Diaz’ Ang Babaeng Humayo, clinched the coveted Golden Lion award at the 73rd Venice International Film Festival.
Beyond the movie set
Naturally, show business helped Concio outgrow her insecurities, but while she started to gain confidence for the camera, she never traded fame for her love of learning. She pursued a related course in college, excelling as a student of Communication Arts, and found herself inspired by the likes of producer Armida Siguion-Reyna and later Regal Films’ Lily Monteverde.
“I would watch Tita Armida, the producer running the show, and think to myself, ‘Kaya ko rin yun ah’,” Concio related when The Sunday Times Magazine asked what compelled her to go beyond the movie set and unwittingly begin her rise as a media executive. “I wanted to be able to manage a project, especially since I had a degree in Communication Arts.”
As she wrote the book, Concio belatedly realized that while it was her mother who brought out the actress in her, it was her father who sparked her interest in the production side. Winifredo Santos, chief physician of Calapan’s provincial hospital, would take his brood of six [Concio was the second eldest] to the movies every weekend to watch double features.
“I grew up in a movie house and as a movie fan,” Concio proudly declared. “Every Saturday my father would bring us to the movies so bata pa lang ako, hinahangaan ko na sila [even as a young girl I was already a fan of]Gloria Romero, Rosa Rosal, Nida Blanca, Amalia Fuentes, and Susan Roces. I guess very early on, I was fascinated by how movies were made.”
Her creative side and management skills soon won over the performer in Charo Santos, and come the 1980s, she produced such critically acclaimed films as Oro, Plata, Mata and Himala under the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines, among many others. She also gained further experience in the creative departments of Vanguard Films, Vision Films, and Regal Films.
Through the glass ceiling
In 1987, while working for Regal Films, she was invited to join the new ABS-CBN, which re-opened following the 1986 People Power Revolution. She joined the Lopez-owned company as a television production consultant.
As the network strove to rebuild its reputation as a major media conglomerate in the Philippines, Concio’s career simultaneously flourished, and with unflinching dedication and perseverance she steadily rose up the ladder as production manager, program director, executive vice president, until becoming ABS-CBN’s fifth president and CEO in March 2008 as the first female to ever hold the position.
It was Concio’s overwhelming success in conceptualizing and producing iconic Filipino television shows like Esperanza, Mula Sa Puso, Pangako Sa ‘Yo, Kay Tagal Kang Hinintay, Home Along Da Riles, and of course the longest-running Philippine TV drama anthology program Maalaala Mo Kaya, which she hosted from the very beginning, that cemented the Lopez’ confidence in Concio and sealed her appointment.
Her extensive experience with several movie companies further played a vital role in the eventual creation of ABS-CBN’s movie-making arm Star Cinema in 1991, where she produced critically acclaimed films all over again like Dekada ’70, Bata, Bata, Paano Ka Ginawa?, and Tanging Yaman among others.
Of her feat in shooting through the proverbial glass ceiling, Concio insists everything was unplanned.
“I never really thought that Gabby [Lopez] would consider me so that when he got someone from the outside when [former company president]Freddie Garcia retired, it did not affect me. It was a non-issue and hindi ko talaga inisip [and I never really gave it any thought],” she disclosed.
But in becoming the “unexpected leader” through the different stages of her career, proof that Concio was hardly driven by ambition but a passion for her craft, is her principle in steering any group or department to which she was assigned. Be it a production unit or the entire network itself.
“Being a leader is not about you,” she explained. “It is about leading a group or organization to be strong and dynamic, and leading the people to deliver based on the objectives of the organization.
“A leader should always be ‘other person-oriented’ to be able to encourage others and inspire them,” Concio continued. “That is why a deep sense of awareness is required of every good leader. You can’t be too big for your breeches and think you’re God’s answer to everything.”
Even as she spent her entire life turning heads in every room she entered, Concio, whose shyness is often mistaken to be an air that comes with the territory, was hesitant to publish her biography. It was only when she realized she was faced with another valuable opportunity that she finally agreed to write it.
“This book isn’t about a desire for people to know me, but for people to know that a person who is just like them—with fears, insecurities, self-doubt, and a humble background and upbringing—can also become leaders,” she expressed.
According to her editor and co-author An Mercado Alcantara, Concio was all for turning the book into a part-biography and part-self help title, because she could not think of publishing her success story just to feed her ego. She wanted it to have a purpose.
Concio, who now works part time as ABS-CBN’s chief content officer, further revealed during the launch that the book was a “retirement gift” from the Lopezes, her bosses who have also become her life-long friends.
“Of course they still had me working on their gift,” she teased them as she expressed her gratitude for yet another opportunity.
Asked to give a nutshell of how “someone like her” found the courage to take on every break that came her way, no matter how challenging, the self-effacing 61-year-old recalled to The Sunday Times Magazine words of wisdom from her husband, Cesar Rafael Concio, Jr.
“The day after we got married, I woke up to make him breakfast. When he saw me quickly getting up he asked, ‘Why are you awake?’ After I told him I was going to make him breakfast on my first day as his wife, he said, ‘Go back to sleep. Before you became my wife, you were already a person who is capable of doing so many things. Don’t forget that person’.”
To value one’s self with honesty, according to Charo Santos-Concio, is the first and most vital step in coming out of one’s shell, and realizing one’s potential.
“Be aware of your strengths, but also accepting of your weakness,” she added. “Get to know you are and don’t forget that person. Believe in that—in yourself—and you can do anything.”
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My Journey: The Story of an Unexpected Leader by Charo Santos-Concio is now available in bookstores nationwide from ABS-CBN Publishing Corporation.