“To listen and to hear.”
Evoking change by quiet action.
“What’s a mayor?” Aurora Claudia Mandanas Gaston (nicknamed Duday) wondered when she was a young child living in Batangas City. Her grandfather was the mayor of the city, but at the time, she didn’t know what a mayor was. What Aurora understood was what she saw: people thanking her parents by giving them a portion of their harvest, and free jeepney rides to town. She then realized that her grandfather was a leader that people looked up to.
Gaston came from a family of eight. His grandfather, even though he was the city mayor, he treated everyone around him with respect – even the household helpers. Her father, a corporate executive, taught her how to relate to people, explaining that listening to what the other person had to say, was important. Gaston’s mother was a business woman and owned a garment factory. She taught the young Aurora to value their hard-earned money, to never waste food, and to always be grateful for what they had. Also, Aurora learned to work smart, to leverage her efforts, and to always “support every effort with profit” (i.e. ensure adequate ROI).
USANA started in the Philippines 11 years ago. Gaston joined them from the get-go, and helped them set up their office at the Enterprise Centre. That year alone, in 2009, the company made PHP 300 million (about USD 6 million) in sales. USANA call themselves ‘The Cellular Nutrition Company’. It was founded by a microbiologist and immunologist, Dr Myron Wentz after he saw how painful degenerative diseases could be.
USANA uses a network marketing distribution model and have many top athletes in their organization. They are the number one dietary supplement seller in the Philippines, according to Euromonitor. In 2017 USANA Philippines won the award for the Best Customer Service globally.
Employees who want to further their studies will be sponsored by the company. The same goes for seminars (depending on the employees’ needs). The USANA Foundation supports nutrition and education. In the Philippines, they partner with ANCOP-Cornerstone in a literacy programme for elementary and high school kids, aged 10 to 12 years who are not yet able to read, and have slipped through the cracks of the education system. Another CSR partner is Project PEARLS (short for Peace, Education, Aspiration, Respect, Love, Smiles) which seeks to help the poorest of poor children to have a better life by giving them PEARLS.
What challenges do their gregarious executive face? Gaston recalls an incident when some of the top leaders in the organization questioned her style of leadership, saying it was vastly different from her contemporaries’ styles. Gaston defused the situation by listening to their side of the story. Only then did she offer solutions. She treated them with professionalism, and gained their respect.
People who work closely with the regional VP call Gaston ‘mader’ (mother) because of her nurturing instinct. But while she is mostly concerned with their well-being and relationships, she is not afraid to speak her mind and give feedback.
How is Gaston different from other leaders? She is result-oriented. In order to do that, she has to be able to influence the decision makers, to have her thoughts and ideas heard and implemented.
She believes being successful means that you have helped others be successful too. She strongly feels that it is important to pass on skills, principles, and legacies, and is therefore delighted when she sees a former staff climbing the corporate ladder and becoming successful in their careers.
“The ability to listen is one of the most underrated leadership skills, and one which Gaston has in admirable amounts”
Shanggari Balakrishnan, Chief Executive Officer, MORS Group
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