This is the second of our profile stories on the country's movers and shakers in business. In partnership with the Management Association of the Philippines, we hope to portray individuals who have reached a certain level of success, not just by mere luck, but through failures or rejections that helped shape them.
After 15 years since setting up Figaro Coffee Co. and making her mark in the Philippine coffee industry, Pacita "Chit" Juan stepped down as the chief executive officer last June 2008.
She considered leaving the company, which she nourished like her own child, to venture into social entrepreneurship as her life’s biggest challenge yet.
The timing of events was crucial in making the sudden shift, saying that things would have turned differently if she thought about it any sooner.
She was at a crossroad. She was seeking for and yearning to reach her life’s purpose—something that has evolved since she started her 30-year ascent as a profit-seeking entrepreneur.
Her partners expressed that they wanted to try their hand at management. It seemed logical. She still wanted the business to soar but preferred that it wasn’t too dependent on her leadership.
"The challenge for me is how you transition from being a corporate person talking about business, coffee shops, to actually linking all this. From being just an entrepreneur, you now become a social entrepreneur. So how do you marry business with social impact?" she said.
Juan is now a full-time social entrepreneur who focuses on causes ranging from social to environmental.
"My advocacy in coffee is in the Philippine Coffee Board. For the environment and a sustainable lifestyle, it's in ECHOstore, and my advocacy to different communities is through my work in the Peace and Equity Foundation," Juan explained.
The Environment and Community Hope Organization Store (ECHOstore) at Serendra in Taguig City is a profit venture with a social cause. Commencing operations in September, the retail space markets products from small communities and marginalized sectors and promoting a sustainable lifestyle. It has also evolved into a venue for mentoring programs for those interested in organic and sustainable community-based products.
Juan was also appointed as a business sector representative of the Peace and Equity Foundation, a non-government organization (NGO) that administers an endowment fund for poverty alleviation.
These new roles are a breeze. The entrepreneurial spirit of her family, who has an almost half a century-old automobile parts venture, got her going even at a young age. She bought and sold chocolates and peddled them to her elementary classmates. Not long after, she was creating perforated bags out of scrap metal from their auto parts factory and retailed them in bazaars.
With the help of friends, she founded Figaro Coffee Co. in 1993.
Making the decision
To address supply bottlenecks for Figaro Coffee, she started getting involved in social issues that were holding back the business’ expansion plans.
Alongside her daily business-related duties, she put up Figaro Foundation, the company’s social arm, which essentially assured the bean supply for the coffee shops through engagements with local coffee farmers all over the country. The coffee farmers were battling technological, credit, supply, and marketing challenges. Eventually, she helped establish the Philippine Coffee Board, a private-sector group that promotes the country's coffee industry.
All these made her reflect: “I'm not married, so what is my legacy? It's easy for people who are married or those who have kids. They'll just teach everything to their kids and hope that the kid will turn out to be a good citizen. But for people like me, how do you impact your world? What can I do next?" Juan said.
Her travels and exposure to other women from other countries played a role in finding the answers.
From April to August 2008, she attended an Asia-Pacific economic summit in Peru, a women’s summit in Hanoi city in Vietnam, and a 3-week program of the US State Department she spent with four other Filipina entrepreneurs from the southern regions.
How the women entrepreneurs managed to address social issues through their own ventures while wrestling tough situations and locations, further encouraged Juan that leaving her “Big Boss” role in the coffee business was worth it.
“This was like being shown how people are organized so you can spread the word about women empowerment—all in an entrepreneurial fashion. It's so beautiful. After those three weeks I thought, I have to replicate, I have to infect more women," she said.
Juan now watches Figaro Coffee from a distance, leaving her partners to chart its destiny. She still holds a 42-percent stake in the company and maintains her seat in the board. She still leads Figaro Foundation.
Letting go was initially something she needed to get used to. Whenever she visits restaurants and cafes, for instance, she would point out shortcomings to waiters and managers as if they were her own staff.
She found it discomforting at first to repeatedly explain her decision to people who would always come to her to ask for a franchise, or to complain about a certain branch. But Juan said she managed to make the transition because she was more excited about the roles she was transitioning to.
As Big Boss, Juan would get up early in the morning for work since she wanted to be first in the office. For each day, she would focus all her energies on strategic planning, making sure that there's growth every year like every business should be. She would go to stores to check on her staff's performance, acting like the noise police if she senses anything wrong.
Juan still gets up early, and her schedule is still packed with meetings. But instead of being concerned with numbers, she now looks forward to establishing new relationships and networks for her causes.
"Now I use my 30-year experience to make the biggest impact on other people's lives. So it's no longer about economics, but leaving the world a better place than when you found it," Juan concluded.