Written by: Jyska Kuan Ken
Continuing the dream for a better education system
Holding on to the dream of better education for our
The past year
and a half was a test of trust, resilience, and gratitude. AHEAD, the review
and tutorial center I started, almost closed down because of the K-12 shift
mandated by the Department of Education. It was every entrepreneur’s fear
realized. We found ourselves at survival mode— from 4,000 students usually
enrolling in our summer program down to only 300 students. There were a lot of
heartbreaks, wasted opportunities, and sacrifices.
The closure of
the Greenhills branch was probably the hardest. We opened that branch in 1999,
the same year my daughter Darla was born. I always associated the Greenhills
branch with her. Both past and present students also had good memories within
its walls. They would hang out there in their free time, talking and laughing
with whoever is attending the reviews. We tried holding on to the branch but eventually
we had to let it go. It felt like a wave crashing upon us, the boat was
I poured my
savings in the company while selling properties to keep us afloat. I did my
best to hold on to keep my dream and the dreams of countless people alive.
We were more
affected than other tutorial and review centers because AHEAD has a dedicated
training and research team. The department had substantial financial
implications but quality is in our brand promise and I will never compromise on
bringing research-based and systems-backed education services.
The stress and
anxiety also made me sick, adding to the burden. I was diagnosed with
hyperthyroidism which slowed down my body and made me prone to develop other
sicknesses such as diabetes. Sometimes I couldn’t lift my feet despite shouting
orders at them in my head. It was a literal systems slowdown. How would I be
able to run AHEAD now?
Gratefully, it is truly during hard times that show how kind and supportive people can be. When I told the remaining staff to start looking for other opportunities, they stayed and continued to work together in bringing quality services to the few students who enrolled. Franchisees and landlords lent their support to help us weather the challenges. They patiently waited for us to get back on our feet. I am forever grateful for their kindness and friendship. I would like to mention Robinsons Galleria, the owner of the FBR Building, Xanland’s owner, and the franchisees. We were saved through their help.
But the most
crucial person during those trying times was my son Nicolo. He stepped up and
took over some of the operations of Ahead while I was recovering from
hyperthyroidism. He was fresh out of college and dealing with his own physical
condition. It didn’t stop him from quickly learning the ropes and making the
right decisions for the company. He later told me he learned valuable insights
from my stories about Ahead in the past years that guided him to understand
what needed to be done. I readied him for the position without even me knowing.
I was proud of him.
Now we are back, stronger than ever because of the challenges we faced. We are rebuilding what we have lost and working hard to achieve bigger milestones. AHEAD is rebranding and opening back branches. Students are returning to a better AHEAD. I am also finishing writing a book on women entrepreneurship called, “What’s the best business for me? And other common questions entrepreneurs ask.” It is the first book from my book series, SMART SUPERWOMEN.
I am also
reviving this blog to continue to share my story especially to the moms who are
experiencing the same things. I hope that this will inspire you to keep going
and fight for your dreams.
Rossana Llenado is the president of AHEAD Learning Systems Inc.
Written by Susan Agustin, Go Negosyo
To kick of National Women’s Month, Go Negosyo sa Radyo aired a femme-powered episode on March 1 with two phenomenal women entrepreneurs as guests. Hosts Sen. Bam Aquino & DJ Cheska San Diego-Bobadilla were joined by Emma Imperial of Imperial Homes and Rossana Llenado of AHEAD Tutorial and Review Center. Both have been previously awarded by Go Negosyo (Imperial in 2015 and Llenado in 2016) for being women entrepreneurs worth emulating.
On March 30, Go Negosyo will award another batch of women in the Inspiring Filipina Entrepreneur Awards 2017 which will be held in the prestigious Malacañan Palace. Much like Imperial and Llenado, the women who will be given recognition are those who have sparked significant progress and inspired change in the entrepreneurial community.
Sen. Bam and DJ Cheska began the episode by setting the tone for the listeners. At the end of the hour, they hoped to have uplifted the listeners and opened their eyes to the nuances of women entrepreneurs’ experiences.
Imperial Homes Group of Companies
Emma Imperial was the first to share her story. She is a well-decorated and respected CEO in the realty industry wherein her male counterparts mostly dominate. Imperial shared that at the onset of her career, she had to prove herself as someone worth paying attention to. “Big developers are usually male and the engineers that work for me are mostly male as well.” Despite these odds, Imperial has managed to lead her company to becoming well-recognized globally. With recognitions under her name like Biz News Asia 2016 Entrepreneurship Awardee and Filipina Women Network’s 100 Most Influential Filipinas 2015, it is an understatement to say that Imperial is at the top of her game.
Likewise, her company is equally laudable and has even received international attention. Imperial Homes Group of Companies was awarded by the CEO Asia Awards 2015 as the ADEC Innovation Green Company of the Year, certified by IFC-World Bank Excellence in Design for Greater Efficiencies (EDGE) for Green Building, and recognized by the Financial Times in 2016 as a nominee for the Transformational Business Awards. “You don’t have to be big to be counted in the global community. It’s about innovation and how you believe you’ll help your country; it’s not about the size but the idea,” Imperial shared.
Her big idea manifested when her company decided to construct solar-powered small houses. It was for them, a way to address the backlog of housing in the country as they were low-cost and efficient. In a country where solar power is somehow relegated to more expensive projects, Imperial homes saw the potential for them to be ideal for the provinces where brownouts were frequent. The switch to solar meant that these areas would never have to suffer from power cuts and solar at scale would actually be energy and cost efficient. It was a revolutionary idea: solar power for low-income families. After her company started this project, many took notice. “Ginawa tayong poster child ng World Bank,” Imperial proudly says.
With her story, Imperial wishes to impart to other women entrepreneurs that working in a male-dominated business doesn’t have to be a struggle. Although you have to prove yourself worthy at first, she shares that strict implementation and being consistent with your policies ultimately makes others listen. She’s proud that her organization is now seeing a lot of interest from the youth because the youth she says, are intrigued by innovation (like Imperial Homes solar-powered low-cost houses)
Not to take away from the men in her industry, but Imperial shares that she believes women have more heart than men. “ I had more chances to make my business high-end, but I chose to cater to the low-end group. I can also honestly stop doing business now and I’d be okay but I can’t stop because of my employees.”
She also shares that it’s important for women in business to have camaraderie. She shares that when she was starting in her industry, it was hard to be part of bigger projects because the men would already have a so-called “boys club” and she would be left out. Today, she happily shares that women entrepreneurs have already set-up similar groups to support each other and they often meet about projects related to nation-building.
AHEAD Tutorial and Review Center
Rosanna Llenado was the second guest who shared her story and insights on what it means to be a successful woman entrepreneur. She was named as one of the 100 Most Amazing Filipinas by Summit Media in 2012 and received numerous awards from the Philippine Marketing Association, Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Entrepreneur Magazine. Her business, AHEAD is one of the most venerated tutorial and learning centers in the country. As one of the first tutorial centers to offer college entrance exams review programs, Llenado eventually expanded their services to offer a wide range of programs to complement students’ learning.
Recently, they’ve put a center that focuses on teaching Singapore Math— a method that she believes is more functional and practical which eventually makes student’s more proficient at the often dreaded subject. They’re also offering courses on speed reading and mind-mapping which are valuable skills for any student tackling difficult and lengthy reading materials. From a small business started at her home, AHEAD has now risen as the go-to tutorial center in the metro because of its quality and comprehensive programs that position students for excellence.
When Llenado was asked about her opinion on Filipina entrepreneurs, she says that a lot of Filipinas are still scared to enter into business. But what most Filipinas don’t know, she said, is that we’re relatively lucky compared to women from other countries. She discovered this fact when she conducted a research on women entrepreneurs across the world. She found out that the Philippines was ranked #5 on the list of women-friendly countries for business. She further shares that there are some countries wherein women aren’t allowed to have properties or businesses registered to their name and would have to put them under their father’s or husband’s.
She recognizes that there are a lot more women entrepreneurs now compared to when she first started AHEAD. But she says that despite this increase, women will still encounter struggle or discrimination, especially when they’re just starting out. “I also had an experience when I struggled with doing business as a woman; I was invited to do business with these group of guys.
I noticed one of the men was trying to pulling one over us, and I called him out. They eventually met without me and kicked me out. True enough, that man I called out did deceive all of them.”
Despite the welcome positive change of more women entering business, Llenado wishes however, that more women in our country would hold positions in different boards. She noticed that most board of directors and trustees are still predominantly male. “Women can lead. We’ve had two women presidents! And in the senate and company presidents, ang dami rin babae.” So, why should the boards be different, right?
Llenado and Imperial’s stories are just two amongst a plethora of inspiring success stories of FIlipina entrepreneurs. They are a testament to the woman’s ability to lead and succeed. So, if you’re a woman, currently aspiring to turn that business dream into reality, but afraid to start, here are choice words from our two guests yesterday:
“Do things for the greater good of the country. Imperial Homes never really intended to become a social enterprise, but because we had the heart to think of the communities that other competitors weren’t thinking of, we were able to distinguish ourselves from them. We profited of course— but that naturally follows when you do good work” – Emma Imperial
“If you don’t know where to start, ask yourself— whats the right business for me? ano ang kailangan ng kababayan ko? If you can answer these two and somehow the answer is one thing then that’s a good place to start.” – Rosanna Llenado
By Maridol Ranoa-Bismark
“Good evening, Chelo. This is Ben’s mom. Sorry to disturb you at this time but he has not replied to my message. May I call you?”
I sent this panicky text message at 11 p.m. and Chelo, my son’s friend, replied, “Yes Tita.”
After explaining my problem, Chelo must have sprung into action. She contacted her network of friends. My son, who is in his junior year at the University of the Philippines, was on the phone in no time at all! Sorry, he told me. He was in a dead spot at the debate tournament and didn’t get my message. But he’s fine and will be home in an hour or so. I went to sleep smiling, grateful to Chelo. She must have been a mom in her past life.
Now you see why I have the cellphone numbers of around five of my son’s friends stored in my directory. I know deep in my heart that I will need them, especially during the wee hours of the night, and the morning. But having the numbers of your son’s friends is not good enough. You also have to be in good terms with them. It doesn’t take much: a smile, a hello, an offer to give them a ride, and the occasional get-together in your house. This way, they will warm up to you and even tell you untold stories about your son. Is he taking life too seriously? Does he need to loosen up?
Sometimes we parents act like bulls in a China shop. No matter how much we love our children, we do not realize that we’re just charging into their world and breaking valuables along the way. My son’s friends see another side to him that I, his mom, can’t see. They give me a fresh way of looking at my son. They don’t treat him like a son but as an equal. And that’s just what I need, even with my grown-up son. Now, I see him the way his friends do. And I can’t tell you how happy that makes me. Now, I know that I have to advise him to slow down and enjoy his youth, even if I don’t know exactly how he can do that with a worried mom like me around.
If you can’t beat ’em, be friendly with them. I don’t mean attending their parties or joining them for lunch. I mean just letting them know that they can count on you when they need you.
Now that my son is always away from home, spending more time with friends and giving monosyllabic answers to my questions, I know can still have an idea of how he’s doing through the people he hangs around with.
And I can only cross my fingers that he chooses his friends well the way I advised him to. So excuse me while I check my phone directory again and see if I missed any name on the list.
By Jane Santos-Guinto
It was my grandfather Lolo Manny who taught me how to read. He was a journalist for the South China Morning Post, one of Hong Kong’s two largest English newspapers at the time. But on weekends, he would teach me the rudiments of consonant-vowel-consonant blending.
Lolo comes from a family of educators. Both his parents were public school teachers in Agusan del Norte, a province in Southern Philippines. Up until her death in the 1970’s, his mother Lola Victorina was the Dean of the Northern Mindanao Colleges. Dean Francisco Benitez of the University of the Philippines and Sen. Helena Benitez of the Philippine Normal University are distant relatives.
Lolo taught himself how to read when he was barely four in 1938. By eight, he had already read Shakespeare’s entire collection, all volumes of the Encyclopedia for Children, and the Bible. World War II had broken out and children could not go to school, so Lolo Manny took care of his own education. “There was nothing else to do but read,” he would tell us his grandchildren later.
Ironically, Lolo never completed his formal education. He had married quite young, at 20, and when one child came after the next, there really was no time to study. But because he was exceptionally bright, having been a consistent honor student and later a top-scorer in the Civil Service Exam, he went on to have a career that many would consider stellar.
For a while, he taught in a public school like his parents. But when there were too many mouths to feed out of a teacher’s pay, he went to Manila and tried his luck in his real passion—writing. He wrote for the Times Journal with some of the country’s most noteworthy newsmen. At times, it still amazes me to find out whom he had worked with. In 1967, he became the first Filipino journalist to be sent by a local newspaper to Cardiff, England for a certificate course in journalism. For a time, he was one of the writers of Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr., one of the country’s most prominent heroes.
During Martial Law in the 1970’s with eight children, Lolo grabbed the opportunity to work in Hong Kong. This is where he mastered his craft for 20 years or so. And where he would tutor us his first few grandchildren in a tiny tenth floor apartment (or flat as the British-influenced Hong Kong Chinese would call it).
I don’t know if it was out of fear that I learned to read so quickly under my Lolo’s watch. After all, he had a feisty temper, one that I had witnessed on many occasions when I was young. By five, I was writing my own stories. He would bring me to company outings and introduce me to his journalist friends. Having always been on the petite side, I would stretch out my little hand to greet his British colleagues. One time, Lolo said I told them a made-up story, The Monkey and His Briefs.
In the late 1980’s, Lolo went back to the Philippines and became the editor in chief of The Manila Times. After retirement from full-time journalism, Lolo wrote chess columns for the Philippine Star and self-published a weekly chess newsletter for the players of the Quezon City Memorial Circle’s Chess Plaza. These days, he prefers to watch cable movies and exchange jokes with his great grandchild. He has survived three heart attacks and professes he has “no desire for anything else from life.”
Sometimes I wish I were a more diligent pupil; that I followed his advice to read, read, and read more. My knowledge of geography and world affairs is so poor that I squirm every time my 77-year-old Lolo asks his pop-up trivia questions. I salute the University of the Philippines for a great education, but I still feel inept in many areas. There are so many things I wish I knew more about.
I just hope that my own children would have a trickle of Lolo’s brilliance in their blood and pray every day that they would come soon enough to meet my first teacher and greatest mentor, their great grandfather Lolo Manuel O. Benitez, Sr.
By Mari-An C. Santos
Our family is not wealthy. My father is the eldest son among eight of a welder and a housewife who worked part time. Growing up, he worked many odd jobs, mostly selling odds and ends, waiting outside a different church every day, depending on whose Novena day it was, e.g. Quiapo, Baclaran, etc. My mother is the daughter of a district school
supervisor and public school principal in Mindanao. They would scrimp and save every last centavo until the next teachers’ salary came from the government, literally making ends meet for five children.
But both my parents value education. My father was a working student all his life and so, it was no wonder that he went into economics. My mother took up nursing at the advice of her grandparents and came to Manila to work. Later, they were both employed by a top multinational corporation, where they met.
My parents worked hard to send me and my sister to a school that they deemed would teach us not only the basic R’s, but also impart positive values that they too shared. We did not always have enough money to “keep up with the Joneses” at the school, but we did manage to have all the basic school supplies and participate in most relevant school activities like field trips and class projects. As a child, I did not fully appreciate why I could not afford to buy a Trapper Keeper or the latest pair of Keds or Reeboks.
It is in hindsight, of course, that everything makes sense. My father was very strict about maintaining good grades all through my grade school and high school years. He forbade watching TV on weekday nights—even going as far as locking up the TV case so that the time was devoted only to studying. When the time came after every quarter of the school year to claim the school cards, I trembled before seeing my grades. If I had a low grade or a lower grade than the previous quarter, my father would sit down with me and find out exactly what went wrong. He was tough, as most Filipino parents are, and put a great emphasis on high grades.
In grade school, I lived up to my potential and was part of what was called the “interdisciplinary classes” from fourth until sixth grade. In our school, we took an exam at the sixth grade to find out if we could go on to high school or stay one more year in grade school. I passed the exam.
In high school, I was placed in the “honors class” where we had to excel in the academic subjects. I dreaded the end of the schoolyear, as inevitably, some of our classmates were transferred to other classes. Thankfully, I graduated as part of the same class, and among the top of my batch.
In college, even though I lived near the university and enjoyed greater freedom, I found that I took with me the drive to excel in my studies. I was a college scholar every semester and I graduated cum laude. I was so proud to have my
parents on stage to award me on graduation day. It was, after all, due to their efforts that I received such an achievement.
Even when I was working, the drive that my parents instilled in me to excel was very strong. I made the most of every opportunity to learn and to be the best that I could be—whether it was as a production assistant or as a segment producer or as a scriptwriter.
When I began to pursue higher education, it was of my own initiative, not at the prodding of anyone else. I felt that I wanted to learn more and more every day. Although I had to abandon what I started when I moved from the capital city, I found more and other ways to learn from new experiences and new people I met in new places.
Now, that I am pursuing a degree with a scholarship, I value much more the good basic foundation that I have—thanks to my parents’ efforts and the education that they helped me achieve. Without such good foundation and records, how would I get a scholarship that would enrich me and fund my day-to-day expenses? That is why I strongly believe that good education is of primary importance in every person’s life, whether we can see it at present or not. The adage is true: a good education is something that can never be taken away from us.