September 19, 2019
The Business Case for Digital Transformation
September 23, 2019

Leadership by Choice, Not by Chance

by: Jeanette B. Zulueta

If someone were to tell me 16 months ago that I would encounter a great wave of change and find myself in the position that I am in today, I would probably not have taken that remark seriously, nor would I have even given it that much thought. And yet here I am, not quite fitting into the traditional mold of the female leader in the workplace, but rather, shaping a unique role that to me is anything but incidental.

As in many family-led or entrepreneurial businesses, leadership is often passed on, inherited. But in my case, it was not an imposition, but an open invitation. It was not ambition, but rather a sense of duty that led me to where I am today. Along with the grief came a strong resolve in my heart to continue to do the things that matter, and undoubtedly, family and ZMG Ward Howell ranked high in my list.

I have witnessed ZMG Ward Howell flourish from its early years with WDScott in the ‘90s. Unbeknown to many, I, too, was a headhunter during my days as a young professional. After trying my hand in property management, I shifted to becoming an executive search associate. I had my set of accounts to manage and grow. I contributed what I could to the firm’s bottom line. As the years passed, the firm slowly earned its reputation, and my husband Gigi was at its helm and continued to run a tight ship. The firm was set on its course to a future that was clear, until things suddenly seemed uncertain at the time of Gigi’s demise in late 2016. At that time, I was no longer immersed in the firm’s day to day operations, but I recognized that stepping back in and stepping into Gigi’s shoes was imminent.

Fast forward to the present day, when I now find myself back in Ward Howell’s office corridors and doing what I can to continue Gigi’s legacy and life’s work. The new path that emerged for me 16 months ago is not without its share of bumps and stumbling blocks. But this same path has presented opportunities for me to learn. I certainly do not regard myself as a captain of industry, but as a woman at work, I have learned these valuable lessons that apply both in the board room and in life:

Say Yes and Be Present
When I was invited to serve as Chairman of the firm, I knew that learning or re-learning the business was a tall order. But I also had a choice to lead and not just lead as a result of circumstance. I had an opportunity that was too valuable to decline from, and I accepted it to serve as an example to my daughters. Too many doors close too often for women in the workplace, and I felt it was my responsibility to say “Yes!” with humility and with the willingness to learn and act in earnest. Say Yes to the opportunity, Yes to the challenges, and show up every day to deal with them. Being in my position means I also say Yes to feedback, Yes to improvement, and Yes to leaning on and learning from the competence of peers, colleagues, and even clients and partners.

Have a Clear Purpose
Knowing one’s role in an organization is the first step to making contributions that count. Often, defining and coming up with a clear purpose is a continuing process than it is a one-off instance. In my case, I listen, I watch and observe, I ask, ponder, process, and act. This is a cycle I repeat as I move from one endeavour to the next. I continually learn what perspective I can offer and what kind of atmosphere I can create in the workplace, and it now forms a significant part of my role in ZMG Ward Howell.

Serve and Commit
I started my professional life being exposed to ministry and public service during time spent with my parents who were then active in church and in government. I was also inspired by how my parents excelled in their work and approached it with passion. My mother ran a home-based costume shop, while my father served as legal counsel in the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. Little did I know that their influence would remain relevant to me as I carry out my responsibilities up to this day. Like my parents who often spent time with their communities and colleagues, I find myself among the firm’s staff, providing the maternal touch and creating opportunities to nurture the familial culture that is often attributed to ZMG Ward Howell. I have also learned of the lengths leaders take for the benefit of their organizations, and in that respect I remain committed in continuing many of the firm’s partnerships and business relationships. I actively serve in my parish and lead various church initiatives, and I carry over this same passion for parish work to my corporate life.

As a woman and as a member of a company’s leadership team, I count myself as a participant in the ongoing conversation that pushes gender equality forward, and challenges the status quo in many organizations. I am a testament to the struggles many women face and overcome to prove they have earned their seat at the board room table. I know I have still have much to learn and I do not deny that by any means. But I draw strength from my late husband’s inspiration to serve and contribute to society. My active choice to assume a leadership role has been one of the best choices I have made because it enables me to champion other women making their mark in the workplace.