(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)
Mary Jane’s name is a fixture in any conversation about Filipino workplace excellence in the UAE. Through her exemplary hard work and discipline, she has carved a reputation as a true benchmark of what Filipinos can accomplish abroad, an icon of female empowerment.
She is not only a key figure in the Middle East business community and a global force for women empowerment but has gained 25 years of experience in quality assurance, certification, and analytical laboratory services. She gained various industry awards for her outstanding body of work: Emirates Businesswoman Awardee 2008, Emirates Woman Award, Visionaries Category, 2013, Most Influential Filipinos in the Gulf 2015,2016,2017, 100 Most Influential Filipina Women in the World 2013,2017, Gr8t Women Award 2014, Commission on Filipinos Overseas Office of the President Pamana ng Pilipino Award 2012, Blas F. Ople Natatanging Bayani Award 2009, Bagong Bayani Award 2009, CEO of The Year award at the World Water Leadership Congress, the World Women Leadership Achievement Award at the Women Leadership Congress in India, Lifetime Achievement Award at the Golden Globe Tigers in Kuala Lumpur, Quality Leadership Award at the Global Awards for Excellence in Quality Management and Leadership, and the distinction of being included amongst Dubai’s 100 Global Sustainable CEO’s.
She would love to be known for her humility as she quoted, “I want my worth to be measured by the values I have added and influenced in the life of the people I inspire every day in my life.”
What makes you do what you do?
There are three factors that make me do what I do. First is the clarity of my purpose. With my purpose, I can identify and know my priorities, understand the process and measure results. Second is my decision. CEO, by their role, means decision every single day. My activities are initiated with articulate decisions. Being the CEO of one of the leading global research group of companies in the United Arab Emirates, I make thousands of decisions. These decisions rely on my strength and the ability to shape and lead a culture that motivates my team to be creative and innovative in acting and implementing ideas. My decisions encourage them to utilize their combined expertise to come up with the best result. The third is focus and confidence. Focus is when you know that every single decision you make counts and values and confidence comes when you are focused on the alignment of your direction.
Clarity of purpose, the decision in every single process, and focus and confidence are the things that make me do what I do. A female leader in a male-dominated country was never a hindrance for me to rise and chair a board of male attendees.
How did you rise in the industry you are in?
Hard work, patience, focus, humility, commitment, and knowledge made me rise in the industry I am in. I was an ordinary engineer who had an extraordinary journey climbing up the corporate ladder. I am one of those many women in technology who has broken many glass ceilings.
I came to Dubai in 1992 with my BS Chemical Engineering Degree, started working in the garment factory as a Quality Control Supervisor then advanced my career as a Chemist in a reputed laboratory after 7 months of working in the factory. Looking at my career path in the past, I never expected to be one of the most inspirational female CEO here in the United Arab Emirates.
I was terminated, but I had to take it positively because I had no other choice than to rise on that occasion and live for my existence being the breadwinner of my family back home. My journey continued, I joined a neophyte company – Geoscience Testing Laboratory more than 20 years ago, where my life has been changed completely. I was entrusted with huge responsibilities which have shaped me with integrity and commitment. Having the weight of fulfilling the expectations of the Chairman of the company given his full trust of me has a lot of struggles and challenges, I am thankful that he supported me throughout.
I never thought that one day I would be in this stage, where the source of living of more than 500 employees depend on every single decision I make. Geoscience Testing Laboratory is one of the biggest and leading laboratories in the Middle East Region. It provides testing, verification, validation and compliance activities on consumer products, building materials, environmental products and monitoring food, beverages, and water. Our laboratory has been involved in the fast evolution of the development of the United Arab Emirates. One of the most prestigious projects we were involved with was the world record-breaking Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Downtown which were built on barely a desert area.
Moving forward with the success of Geoscience, we have established different business entities which are correlated to each other’s activity. Prime Group in the UAE is a one-stop-shop global conglomerate providing solutions from the supplier, production, labeling, verification, training, certification, registration, distribution, and selling.
Just like any other CEO, I have built a customer-driven growth engine where we focused and invested on our customer needs in the field of science, technology, and know-how. People, processes, and technology are the pillars of our business.
Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?
I love my work and it is my passion. Challenges encourage me to be more focused and determined in achieving my goals. I understand that fulfilling this role I had to know that every single decision I would make can cause bankruptcy or success, and is always at risk. I believe I could make a difference in the lives of the people who believe in me.
Sharing the knowledge and my expertise whenever I was invited for speaking engagements in every forum I have been invited to was always self-fulfilling.
With my status now, people would always look up to me as an inspirational and influential leader. Sustaining their expectations motivates me to grow more and make a difference in the lives of others as much as I can. I, myself, is a story to tell.
Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?
I do not have a mentor in this industry. I have to learn myself the ABC’s of the business. I grew up working and focused on it. I have worked with different leaders from different cultures, each has a unique style of leadership that is I believe what formed me to be flexible and diversified in the industry where I belong.
Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
I have been further developing my career and talent by advancing my knowledge into adapting global demands. I have updated myself through networking with other skilled talents through researching and learning from others’ experience and sharing my expertise with others as well, attending training, seminars, and forums.
Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why? Unity in diversity is going very well with us.
Yes, I fully support diversity because I, myself is a woman of diversity. Innovation and creativity start with diversity.
What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
You have to be strategic and focused to be a great leader. Strategic in every decision you make and focused on every action you take, even if the outcome is not always 100 percent sure. Do what you say you will do and recognize that some ideas will come from other people.
My journey in climbing up the corporate ladder has made me think holistic and has taught me to be a better person. I have learned that we cannot control others’ behavior, but we can control ours. Seemingly, the decision of every leader determines the destiny of a team. A leader must learn how to make effective decisions despite unpredictable conditions and remember that decisions are always under his/her control.
Advice for others?
I am successful because I am always in the pursuit of precision though I know all the while that I can not achieve it. However, I struggle for it.
Failures can open opportunities to learn the best. Rethink and change the path of direction, master a flexible mindset and continuously evolve to sustain growth.
If you’d like to get in touch with Mary Jane, please feel free to reach out to her at [email protected]
This article is co-written with Lara Patricia Sayao-Gargarutea.
Lara, a mother of twins and a little girl, is the head volunteer of the cub reporters of Women on Top in Tech series. She is the founder of Digital People Philippines that aims to provide programs and training for her fellow Filipinos to contribute to the growing community of digitalized work in the country.
She also has started a media movement called Bulacan Rampage where she is co-chair, where they encourage unity to all media person at her hometown to put a spotlight to the growing industries in Bulacan.