April 13, 2012
Filipina on top
Mariels Almeda Winhoffer, IBM Philippines president
A quick look at Mariels Almeda Winhoffer's resumé will immediately make you understand why she became the first Filipina to land the highest position at IBM Philippines. She holds a double degree in Finance and Computer Science from Fordham University and was included in the list of 50 Outstanding Asian Americans in Business back in 2009. So while a lot of Filipinos were happily surprised to know that a Filipina will be one of the leaders of the company that defined computing, those who have long known Winhoffer are less surprised with the news, seeing that her educational and professional background can be easily considered a recipe for success.
Surely being promoted to president and country general manager is thrilling, but it also marks the start of doing everything a notch higher than before. Presiding over the local operations of a large multinational entails more challenging tasks, and executing these with excellence must be any leader's primary goal. Running both a company and a happy home seem like two tasks that are difficult to accomplish—difficult, but not impossible.
True enough, Winhoffer confessed that she's been preoccupied since the announcement of her appointment in January 2012. She returned to the US to ensure that the transition of her prior role as client advocacy executive to IBM chairman Samuel J. Palmisano was executed flawlessly; at the same, she stayed in contact with her Philippine team in preparation for the move to permanently stay in the Philippines with her family.
Winhoffer said that her family understands the amount of dedication her new job entails. "My family supports this [job] and are behind it 200 per cent. My 12 year-old, Mark, is now looking forward to the move and my husband, Ernest, and my 85 year-old mom, are just as excited to come back to the Philippines," she said.
IT RUNS IN THE FAMILY
Coming from a family of doctors, lawyers and entrepreneurs, working for a global company such as IBM was not the obvious line of work for Winhoffer. But being one of the leaders of the company one day now seems like the most natural thing because, apparently, excellence runs in the family.
Her father, Winhoffer narrated, had a great deal of influence on who she is today, especially in terms of being an achiever and being able to deal well with people. "My father had a great and innovative mind—always thinking and trying new things; never afraid of change and challenges." she said.
"But my mother inspires me because, while raising seven children, she has achieved what very few Filipinas were able to accomplish during her generation," she said. Her mother graduated with honors at the University of the Philippines as a CPA (Certified Public Accountant) and furthered her career as a Doctor of Optometry, and later as Doctor of Medicine to join her father's practice.
She joined IBM's college work/study program during her last semester at Fordham University, and was offered a permanent, entry-level position upon graduation at the company. But although her career choice wasn't anywhere near her parents', they assured her of their support and taught her to always strive for success and excellence in whatever career path she chose.
LIFE ON TOP
Even from being an entry-level employee, Winhoffer made it a point to leave a "mark" to distinguish herself from her peers. She believed that being an Asian and being a Filipina contributed to her success because, "We embody values that are reflected in how we work and in the work that we do." Moreover, her willingness to embrace new challenges helped her position herself competitively for better opportunities.
When she was named one of the 50 Outstanding Asian Americans in Business in 2009, Winhoffer admitted that she was exhilarated with the news, especially because as one of the leaders in IBM even then, they were engaged to "give back". Her engagement with and contribution to the Asian Diversity Network Group was already rewarding in itself and to be recognized in the US for being in the prestigious list of outstanding Asian Americans in business gave her great pride in being a Filipina.
"As an Asian, I felt I could make a difference in advancing Asians in leadership positions at IBM because I personally experienced it and found success." Winhoffer said.
Of course, she doesn't forget to acknowledge the company that gave her such great opportunities. What makes IBM a great company, for her, is its focus and clarity in developing its leaders and helping every employee achieve his or her full potential. But beyond this, she particularly commends the company for giving women a fair hand at leadership, as opposed to those who still see the president's office as "a man's world". Although statistics show that this is still the case these days, and percentages of women in CEO positions have remained flat, the IBM ASEAN organization are proud to have a number of women leaders. "In fact, I have two other women peers that are president of IBM in their respective countries." she said. So Winhoffer may be the first Filipina president of IBM, but she's almost sure she won't be the last because, as she attests, IBM's culture is about being inclusive.
SOME WORK AND SOME PLAY
With her new job, family-work balance become even more of a priority. She said that she is fortunate because the company's programs were designed to enhance productivity by helping its employees integrate work, family, education and personal responsibilities better.
Although Winhoffer admitted that there will be instances when time simply won't allow get-togethers and such, she is firm that she will remain the same "reachable" person, most especially to family and friends. "Prioritization is key," she added.
So when she's not running a company, Winhoffer allots weekends for family and friends, and as with all working moms, looks forward to indulging in her old hobbies. "I would like to get back to playing my favorite childhood sports: badminton and volleyball. And certainly, I would like to pick up my golf game as time permits," she said. Being back in Manila also means she can again take up two favorite activities: shopping and decorating her home. For the latter, she plans to put Filipino artwork into her new home.
With every aspect of her life falling into place, Winhoffer is grateful and looks forward to making a difference at the end of each day. "I love what I do," she said.