At 7 AM on a weekday, Filipina businesswoman Jacqe Yuengtian-Gutierrez is awake to tackle a full day. She proceeds to eat breakfast, do a full-body workout, and spend some quality time with her family—with quick breaks in between. Wearing her CEO hat while at home, she then goes through emails, calls, and back-to-back online meetings seemingly non-stop until sunset. The mom and wife lives through this in the new normal, making sure all her business ventures—Happy Skin, blk Cosmetics, and Seoul White Korea—remain stable amid the COVID-19 pandemic. She knows she can't be too relaxed, as a life-threatening pandemic stays on the loose and leaves businesses suffering in the process.
COVID-19 has indeed posed a challenge to Jacqe, along with other business owners. Yet, she believes it's not something she won't be able to conquer knowing the adversities she's previously conquered.
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Leap after leap
Jacqe first thrived in the corporate marketing world for almost a decade. In her last years there, she managed the entire face category in Southeast Asia and Australasia for Unilever Singapore, a "fun" experience she says that eventually wore her out. She recalled how the job required her to travel so much—maybe an exciting thing for singles, but not for her who treasured family among her priorities. And so in 2013, she took a leap of faith and started her own beauty brand Happy Skin, which would fast evolve to become a makeup junkie favorite.
“I think Happy Skin entered the beauty business during the best possible time, when Filipinos were beginning to love local brands,” Jacqe tells ABS-CBN Lifestyle. “And so, we were able to create a local cosmetic brand that’s world-class in all aspects—from the product’s quality to its packaging design to its unique proposition. We created a brand that Filipinas would be truly proud to use and be seen with.”
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Jacqe later saw another gap in the beauty industry, and dreamt of filling it with another brand that could play in the mid-tier price point and still compete with other local players. She eventually birthed blk Cosmetics, which positioned itself with high quality, "uncomplicated" makeup products for on-the-go women.
Jacqe, then feeling more assured in her business decisions and on her way to command more entrepreneurial power, would again kick-start another project. With her two brands already performing well then, she would tap into personal care with Seoul White Korea.
“It was our attempt to enter that category—the largest and most competitive segment of fast-moving consumer goods,” she explains. “K-beauty is a major and a long-term trend in the Philippines and I wanted to provide Filipinas an everyday solution for them to achieve their K-white dreams.”
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Managing three businesses, Jacqe expected it to be tough—but quadruple times over it's become with a virus still crippling the world and its many industries. Much more pain with less gain, Jacqe said of how it all knocked on her door.
As a parent, she had to majorly adjust. Compared to pre-lockdown when she would just send her kids to school and focus on the business for the rest of the day, she now has to step up as a supervising mom at a dizzying pace—even with distance learning.
Jacqe had to work harder and adapt better, like how Darwinian things are. Ride the waves with the right mindset and time management, she advises fellow stay-at-home parents before declaring, “At the end of the day, I am a businesswoman, but I am always a wife and a mom first.”
As a "parent" to Happy Skin and blk, while they've not been tagged as "essential," Jacqe had to be proactive and innovative with sensitivity and social responsibility in mind. She launched each brand's new collection of shades in an effort to thrill her core market of beauty addicts. This, as she worked on giving out thousands of blk facial masks to medical frontliners to promote self-care.
Jacqe recalls both collections receiving positive response, as Happy Skin and blk would manage to keep its spot as among a leading online shopping platform's top 10 beauty brands.
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Key to survival
Without any help, keeping a business alive through a crisis could be either tricky or tragic. Thankfully, for Jacqe, she got some reinforcements. Apart from mall operators waiving fees and dues during the lockdown, she attributes her brands' survival to her partners.
“It’s a very volatile situation where things change at rapid speed. Decisions can change so fast because of the circumstances,” she shares.
With nary a handbook on coping with a pandemic, Jacqe calls herself lucky to be surrounded by “three power women” who have been helping her make real-time decisions. It's these ladies' vast experience in the corporate world that taught them fairness, logic, and compassion when it came to running a business in a pandemic, she says.
“Diane Carreon is our managing partner for Happy Skin and has an 11-year experience in Unilever, Stephanie Abellada is our managing partner for blk Cosmetics and has a 10-year marketing career in Coca-Cola and Unilab, Gracia Kalam is our managing director for Seoul White Korea and has a 12-year marketing career in Mundipharma and San Miguel,” Jacqe mentions in gratitude.
“My team has been sharing resources. For example, Happy Skin doesn’t have any warehouse personnel because of stricter quarantine in their area so blk Cosmetics employees are the ones helping pack their products for online selling,” she shares. “Our Happy Skin operations director Ann Ballesteros took on the role of the warehouse supervisor this quarantine since her team (couldn't) manage it from home.”
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Passion meets compassion
If there's anything small businesses can learn from Jacqe, she says it's about a team's openness and willingness to lend each other a hand.
“I think this period also helped us realize that we need to synergize so we can save our resources and that working together will help us be leaner in our operational expenses,” she relates.
Another thing, Jacqe adds, is passion that transcends.
“At the heart of everything we’re doing, I feel it’s important to give credit to all our employees who are still very passionate in their jobs. We are only thriving because they continue to give their 110 percent despite the work-from-home setup—they who don’t really ask for any recognition but continue to do their jobs amid this crisis.”
Due to COVID-19, the Philippines recently found itself swamped in economic woes evident in bleeding businesses, evaporating jobs, and dwindling income. In April, the second month of the lockdown, the country hit a record 17.7% unemployment rate—or 7.3 million unemployed Filipinos. The last time the Philippines went over 10% was at 11.3% in January 2005. Its labor force participation rate (covering 15 years and up) also hit a record-low since 1987 at 55.6%.
Fully aware these statistics aren't just mere numbers, Jacqe—ever the daring and pro-FIlipino entrepreneur—says she's found a new purpose.
“I am an entrepreneur not just for myself,” she says. “I have a huge responsibility because people’s livelihoods are in my hands, so I have to embrace that and make them my priority.”
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Photographs courtesy of the subject | Banner image taken by Sheila Catilo