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Woman Made: Berna Villaseñor

Woman Made: Berna Villaseñor

8th Mar 2018

Like any true Girl Boss, Berna Villasenor has worked her way to the top. Read on as she shares her unparalleled journey, her multiple business ventures and the secret to becoming the Girl Boss that she is.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?

I am the sole proprietor and general manager of my own construction firm. I am a licensed contractor for the DPWH--building schools, hospitals, multipurpose buildings, but I mostly concentrate more on the construction of national highways in different parts of Quezon and Laguna Provinces.

As a sideline, I ventured into real estate. I buy condominium units, mostly located in Fort Bonifacio and have them rented out. Most of my tenants are from embassies, like the Federation of the Russian Embassy.

How did you find yourself in the industry that you are in?

I never really thought I would end up in the construction business—most people would say it's a man's job. My grandfather was a contractor, my father is both a civil engineer and a contractor, and they both had their own different companies.

I first worked for my grandfather’s construction firm as a “summer job”. My job with my lolo was… well, a driver, a time keeper, a book keeper and a liaison officer. In other words, an "errands girl." But I didn’t mind it, because I knew that I had to start somewhere, and that somewhere was the bottom. I will forever be grateful I had started that way.

It was here I started learning about the construction business- the terms and learning about purchasing materials. Moreover, it was a bit hard for me to adjust to the environment. In construction, I was surrounded by men. And I needed to adjust to that.

After a few months, I was able to land a job as a Credit Analyst in HSBC. I was there for about 8 months. And it was here and through the book I read "Rich Dad Poor Dad" by Robert Kiyosaki that I realized I wanted to own land in Fort Bonifacio, which was then a wide space of nothing. Now, I have a few properties being rented out for passive income.

One day at work, my mom called me up and asked if I could work for her firm where my dad was the engineer. Because my dad was sick, of course I said yes. It was tough for me because it meant that I had to give up my life in Manila. Here I learned things I never thought I would do such as lining up at the Social Security Service (SSS) Office, going to the LTO to have the trucks registered and going to PhilHealth to fix the employees' forms.

Before closing the year of 2008, I decided to make my own firm. It was just supposed to be a "joke” but when I got my DTI approval, I was in shock. But through working for my parents firm while simultaneously starting my own, I was able to build a network not just in Quezon Province and Laguna, but the entire CALABARZON region. I started doing small projects on my own, and kept pushing so that my license as a contractor would grow. And as it grew, my name as a contractor started to grow, as well. And this is where my life changed.

I have been told by our workers that they get their strength from me, but truthfully, it's the other way around. I don't see our people as just workers. I see them as family. And when you respect them, they give you just the same.

What inspires you daily to be the Girl Boss that you are?

The thought that I haven't done enough. The thought that there is so much more I can do. Once you start thinking that you are done and better than the rest, that's when you fall. And I don't like falling. I like learning. And I like testing my limits--yes. I make mistakes, and I learn. Because there is always room for improvement.

Some people used to say, "you can't do this, you can’t do that" ... and I always like the challenge of proving them otherwise. I admit it used to be about proving other people wrong when they say I can't do this, or I can't do that. But now, it doesn't matter to me what others may think.

I do the things I do to prove something to myself and no one else. I am in no competition with anyone but myself. It's the curiosity of finding out more about myself. More often than not, instead of taking one step, I jump 3 steps ahead. I want to see how far I can go. I want to know how strong my willpower is. I want to know what else I am capable of. And the fact that I don't know what I could be in the next 10 or 20 years inspires me to challenge myself.

In the 10 years since I built my company and built my real estate portfolio, another thing that inspires me to continue this career is getting the chance to give back. One of the best feelings I've ever had was being able to send the daughter of one of my truck drivers to college--and it makes me so proud that she finished with honors. She told me she was sorry that she could not work for me. And I was so proud of her that I teared and said: "I didn't send you to college to work for me. It will be a dead-end job. I sent you to college so you can do whatever it is you want to do"

And since then, I was inspired to do more, so I could give more--to the point that I now have a few scholars. Not a lot like others do. But at least a handful is good enough for me.

What do you think has been the most significant part of your approach that has allowed you to thrive?

Learning the art of being resilient. Life will always throw you lemons, apples, tomatoes and what have you. But if you learn to be resilient enough, even when one throws a stone at you--yes it would hurt, but it won't sting.

Another important strategy here is being able to maintain a good relationship with your colleagues, to people who are above you and people who look up to you. It's important to have communication and respect with one another in order to thrive and survive in this industry. Be courteous and giving when one seeks your help.... be humble enough to admit that you also need a hand. You can never be too proud.

What’s next for you? What is your ultimate career goal?

I want to expand my real estate business—to own more properties; condominiums, townhouses, lots, or house and lot. And design them. I've always wanted to be an interior designer. Most of the condominiums I rent out now were designed by me.

As for my company, I want plan to turn it into a corporation and venture out of Quezon and Laguna provinces and maybe make a name not just in CALABARZON Region but hopefully across the country. Crossing fingers!

Hopefully I can retire by 40. But still do some work. Build houses. Design them. I think I'd get sick if I stopped working completely.

How do you think women are making strides in your industry?

I have only met a few female contractors in my life. But never really had the chance to talk to them. But am sure they are go-getters themselves. To be able to last in this industry, doing government projects with the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), the Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Interior Local Government (DILG) and etc., you need a whole roll of patience, extremely thick guts, the fortitude to keep going, a mind that can think quick, and a mighty strong character to be able to stick to your values and most especially, a heart that could take in every blow that may come your way. Construction business is not easy...again that's why they say it's a man's job. So basically you have to man up.

What advice can you give women who are aspiring to be Girl Bosses like yourself?

I don't know if this answer will make sense, but my advice would be to never lose yourself in the process. It's a long walk. It's a journey. Certain things can change you. Certain things can make you or break you. Truth is, success is like a double bladed sword. If you don't know how to use it or how to handle it, it could either hurt you or hurt those around you. So never forget who you are when you first started your journey, always keep in mind all the experiences you learned along the way, remember those who helped you and those you've helped; because at one point in your life, you will ask yourself: "How do I want to be remembered?"

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