Maid to CEO: A Rebecca Bustamante Interview

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Maid to CEO: A Rebecca Bustamante Interview

A positive attitude that never fades, unwavering dedication to her work, and an ambitious Filipina is how people describe Rebecca Bustamante. An endless crowd that awaits her speak and countless deals with foreign and local companies is the daily lifestyle she currently has. CEO of one of the largest events company in Southeast Asia and the President of a multinational executive recruitment firm, Rebecca Bustamante began from an ill-fated past to become one of the most accomplished female entrepreneurs in the Asia Pacific.

Initially, the word maid is a title that is to be forgotten. To her, the past is something to be remembered and learned from. Rebecca grew up in Dasol, Pangasinan and the seventh of the 11 siblings. Food, water, and electric shortages were the things she had to endure during her childhood.

At an early age, Rebecca learned the value of money by selling pan de sal in the morning. As she tried to balance her work as a housemaid and her schooling at the age of 10, she always persevered to be the best version of herself.

“To help the family, I have to sell pan de sal early in the morning, to buy a kilo of rice, so we have something to eat when we wake up,” she said. “When you sell, you find a solution; and whatever challenges you go to, you can always turn things into positive. It makes you strong, it will make you better as long as you always look at the right side like the glass half full instead of cup empty. That’s the lesson I learned from selling pan de sal.”

After she graduated high school, she aspired to become an accountant, hoping that she would learn to run a business and manage her finances effectively. To make her dream a reality, she went back to her province and work at the local factory saving money for her college fees.

“When I was young, I wanted to become an accountant because I wanted to start my own business,” Mrs. Bustamante said. “After high school, I decided to work in a factory because working in the factory during the day can help you make money and pursue your education in the evening.”

After a year working at the factory, the businesswoman faced her first challenge that would change her life.

“I received a telegram asking me to come home because my mother was sick. I immediately went home to later find out that she had lung cancer and only had 3 months to live. I was devastated. I ran to the chapel crying and praying for an hour.”

Filled with sorrow and despair, the young Rebecca decided to work abroad and become a domestic helper to help her siblings and help repay the debt her late mother had. She worked in Singapore for three years and at the same time she studied accounting at an open university without her employer knowing it. When asked how she managed her time efficiently, she replied: self-discipline.

“I wake up 5 a.m. and go to bed 11 in the evening,” Mrs. Bustamante said. “Unlike my colleagues who spent their day off partying and doing other activities, I spent mine studying accounting.”

Aspiring to earn higher income she decided to quit her job in Singapore and work in Canada while pursuing her graduate degree in the country. Working only for five days a week and a maximum of 12 hours a day, Rebecca Bustamante used this opportunity to study accounting and marketing every Monday and Wednesday while selling kitchenware on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and the weekends making more money on her part-time job than being a nanny. After she received her documents as an open permit, she founded her own recruitment company in Canada and later became the President. When asked what is the secret behind her success, she answered: action.

“Action is fundamental to one’s success. You should also have a vision,” she said. “Vision is why purpose is how. Once you have those two, it’s easy to do the action. A lot of people want to be successful but they don’t commit. The things that need to be done scares them, they fear that they will fail and hat forms doubt. Instead of focusing on their curiosity they focus on their fear. Rather than being afraid they should just say ‘what the hell! I should just do it right away.’ As long as you choose what needs to be done, you will be successful,” she added.

Despite her success abroad, she decided to return to the Philippines and help promote our country.

“By doing all the things I did abroad, I realized that I love my country,” Mrs. Bustamante said. “That’s why I decided to return to the Philippines and help make the Philippines a first world country by encouraging foreign investors to the Philippines.”

Her return to the Philippines and her promise to promote the country led her to organize the annual Asia CEO Awards, one of the largest corporate events in the Asia Pacific region. In spite of being at the top executive position, she never tried to forget her past. When asked what advice she can give to OFW’s she said: save money.

“OFW should learn to save money and to start a business,” she said with eagerness. “Look at Henry Sy, he is very rich and why are OFW’s not that successful? Focus on savings and when you have the money to start a business do it. My advice for them is to learn financial literacy,” she added.

I asked the interviewee one last question if her dreams had ever changed over time and she answered with much wisdom.

“All the time, there are things that we like. Big goals always remain, but short-term goals change. A big goal is how you hit it, sometimes you’re not hitting the target, so you play around, change the numbers, and change the strategy. That’s normal, as long as your long-term goals never change, it remains the same,” she concluded.