Maria Grace Yao Uy, cofounder and president of Converge ICT Solutions, has achieved some of the biggest milestones in her career over the last couple of years.
In 2021, the telco chief was included in Forbes magazine’s list of “Asia’s Power Businesswomen.” The list honored 20 outstanding business leaders in the Asia-Pacific region who “continue to break barriers” and “expand their businesses despite the lingering pandemic.”
She was the only Filipina on the roster.
Uy’s name figured in another reputable list this year—Forbes Asia’s “50 Over 50.” This time she was one of the only two Pinays who made the cut, the other one being Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Rappler CEO Maria Ressa. She was the youngest among the honorees who are, according to Forbes, “shattering age and gender norms all over the globe.”
Uy, an accountancy graduate at the De La Salle University, has held multiple roles in Converge since it was founded in 2007. These include managing all aspects of financial planning and resource allocation, overseeing human resources, purchasing, facilities management, sales, and marketing, and steering the overall strategic direction of the company.
Working hand in hand with her better half, Converge CEO Dennis Uy, the formidable businesswoman steered the company’s growth in 2020. “For Converge, [my husband and I] leverage on each other’s strengths and cover each other’s weaknesses across all decisions in the company,” she says. “I believe our dynamic has enabled us to grow Converge into what it is now.”
In September, the power couple made it to Forbes’ list of 50 richest people in the Philippines, ranking sixth with an estimated net worth of $2.8 billion.
Ms. Uy admits that one of the major challenges Converge had to overcome in its early years was entering the Metro Manila market and disrupting the existing duopoly of the two telco giants, PLDT and Globe. “For a while people only knew us through word of mouth, we had to rely on our network of friends and family to grow our business,” says Uy. “But this changed during the pandemic when people started clamoring for a third choice in their connectivity.”
The chief resource officer proudly reports that in November 2021, the company has completed its nationwide backbone, which allows Converge’s service to reach more people all over the country. According to Uy, they now fiber-power the homes of more than 1.5 million Filipinos.
Converge’s growth amidst the pandemic is a testament to the company’s agility. It also exhibited the lady boss’s, well, grace under pressure. “Everything happened very quickly. There was a surge in demand [for fast, reliable internet] so we set up additional customer service units to attend to applications and customer inquiries,” she says. “We had to scale up from increasing our customer service support to installation teams.”
Full of grace
The Converge cofounder says she was raised by “extremely hardworking parents.” Her mother and father moved to Manila from China to find a better future. Her father worked for a plastic manufacturing company while her mother was an entrepreneur. “They taught me values of hard work, perseverance and being conscientious,” she says.
Uy is the youngest and only girl among three siblings, and she describes herself as the “most mischievous and ambitious” in the brood.
One of the crucial turning points in this businesswoman’s life, and what prepared her for life’s bigger challenges, was when she lost her mother when she was barely a teenager. At a very young age, Uy had to learn to be responsible, independent, resilient and determined. “I learned to juggle studies, take care of our household and my dad while most of my friends are partying and having fun,” she tells ANCX.
When Uy got married, it helped that she had a very strong support system that allowed her to balance work with her life’s many priorities—her husband, three kids, family, and friends.
The daily Grace
She and Dennis like to start their day with a walk and breakfast together. “We try to carve out that quality, alone time together and start the day on a positive note before the business of the day kicks in,” Uy says. “Meetings and work run until around 5 PM, then Dennis and I like to wind down, catch up, relax and have a drink before dinner.”
She practices yoga and pilates for exercise and relaxation. These are important parts of her routine, she says, “to make sure I have time to center myself and relieve myself from the stress of the workday.”
Asked about her role models in life, Grace says she looks up to former US first lady Michelle Obama. “I admire her as a strong advocate for education, awareness on poverty and healthy family life. We have a similar belief that ‘the only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work hard for them,’” she says.
Her foremost role model, however, “the most pivotal person” in shaping the woman that she is now, is her mother. “She raised me to be hard working, driven, goal-oriented and conscientious. ‘Always have a goal, work hard and be in control of your life.’ She would repeatedly tell me that growing up. She was also a large believer in the power of education.” These lessons that molded this industry dynamo are now what she tries to impart and pass on to her three kids. “She always said that education is a precious gift that she can give us and abiding by its disciplines will carve who we are and what we will create for our future.”