We had our first speaker tonight and it was night full of inspiration and laughter. I was so excited to attend the class not just because it is our very first speaker but because our speaker is a woman and represents a Filipino company.
Ms. Yolanda “Yoling” Sevilla. Ms. Sevilla has been an entrepreneur for more than 30 years and the CEO of the Leather Collection. She fondly shared that The Leather Collection is the grandchild of the first company put up by her husband more than 30 years ago and it was partly because of boredom that they got into manufacturing leather goods. The Leather Collection is a leather goods manufacturer and has been providing the executive accessories and business gift requirements since 1991.
Her talk was just not about a successful business that withstood the test of time but a story about community, relationships, transparency and trust.
What resonated with me the most is how they incorporated Integral Human Development in their company’s operations. I had first heard about IHD from my professor in Management Action Research, Dr. Benito Teehankee . While I believe that the framework is laudable I always wondered if business owners actually put said model into practice. Most businesses look at CSR as something they will only take part in once they achieve a particular financial status. Imagine my delight when Ms. Sevilla started talking about her company’s kabalikats, the efforts they made to help save the environment and their initiatives involving women from the far flung provinces that are badly in need of assistance.
Ms. Sevilla credit their working and personal relationship with their “kabalikats”, not employees. Their kabalikats are enjoying regular employee status instead of being paid according to their output. Employee compensation does not only come in a form of fair wages but also through values formation, skills training and continuous learning and improvement. The company have looked out for their kabalikats even during the financial crisis.
I am always at awe whenever I come across organizations that is just after the traditional bottom line but also look after their employees, community and the environment. The way The Leather Collection treat their employee is commendable. They don’t simply provide them a source of income but also help them boost their morale and self-esteem. They call their employees kabalikat. They are given the chance to improve their lives in several aspects. Last term, while I was meeting with my groupmates in our project, our conversation went to the required minimum wage (481?). I was working on the SWOT analysis and one my group mates (which is also the business owner) said that he considered the minimum wage as a threat to the company because it cuts down his revenue, (he does follow the law and give his workers minimum wage). I was surprised though because when you think about it a day’s minimum wage can barely support a family so it was appalling for me to hear someone say that they want to pay a lower wage but then as the rest of the group pointed out I am not a business owner and I never had to worry about working capital and paying wages and they’re probably right). I blurted out that these people have families to support too and they have to work hard labor under the sun for 8 hours something that we can’t even imagine to do. To cut the long story short, I stood firm with my belief that giving a minimum wage is a just thing to do and my group mates told me that I can’t and shouldn’t be doing business (they probably think I’d end up bankrupt) to which I defiantly replied “I can and I will prove you wrong”. Mrs. Sevilla validated my belief that not everyone build business for the sole purpose of making a profit. That some people are okay with a slightly lower net income if it means that their employees are living above the poverty line. I am just at awe at this wonderful woman who is a mixture of compassion and grit.
In this day and age when everything seemed to have a price and most businesses are focused on cutting costs (even if it means giving unfair wages) and increasing net income, it’s refreshing to come across people who genuinely care about their employees and work hard to contribute to the society while helping boost the economy. During the open forum, I told her that her company and its story is very inspiring. I shared with her that I used to wonder if there are companies out there that that actually practice IHD and she said that there are actually quite a lot of businesses that do but most of them are SME. She further said that it is easier to do CSR when you are the owner and there are no investors/shareholders to please.
Her talk was very inspiring and listening to her is like reading a feel good book, it left me with a warm, fuzzy feeling but also instilled realistic scenarios and business strategies in me. I hope that there would be more companies like The Leather Collection and that being fair in every aspect of their operations become the new norm. May the entire organization of The Leather Collection live long and prosper.