Madame President

May 23, 2017 Nestor Licanto

ANNIE GARCIA LOVES TO go shopping. That certainly comes in handy for the president of SM Supermalls, the largest mall operator in her native Philippines. And when planning for the next big project, she always has the customer’s experience in mind. “I want to make sure that for everyone that comes into our malls it will be better, it will be nicer, it will be happier. These are the things that I aspire to,” she explained.

Garcia was on Guam recently to be the keynote speaker at the International Women’s Month forum hosted by the Guam Women’s Chamber of Commerce and the Philippine Consulate of Guam. She joined SM Malls in 1989 as the manager of the company’s second mall.  Almost 30 years later she now runs the business, which has grown to nearly 70 supermalls across the Philippines and China.

For Garcia, becoming company president was never an ambition. “No, that never was my thought. My thought was I would get married and raise my kids. However, life presents you with different opportunities, and I thought, ‘Wow, these are wonderful opportunities,’ and so I should just go for it. And I learned so much, and then a new opportunity opens again. This is just how my life has been. I’ve been blessed, and I thank God on and on for everything,” she said at length.

When she was in school and deciding on a possible career, Garcia dreamed of joining the Foreign Service and one day becoming an ambassador. “I wasn’t one of those that was overly driven, that wanted to be the valedictorian, or a class medalist. I wasn’t driven in that way. I wasn’t complacent, but I was very diligent. I like a balanced life. I like being with my friends, I like being with family, and I like doing my best,“ she said.

She brought that attitude to her professional life as well, where she doesn’t believe in all work and no play. “I tell my colleagues who I may see laboring in overtime that it’s good for some days, but not all the time. You need to go out, you need to spend time with family, you need to spend time with friends, you need to make yourself feel whole and happy. Work is good, but you become more productive, you work faster, in fact, your mind will be more clear when you’ve had a few laughs with friends. You will be more productive that way,” she explained.

According to Garcia, being a woman was not an impediment in her rise up the corporate ladder. “I never saw myself as having to compete with a male counterpart. I really just focus on my work, and when you do that you realize that there are no genders.”

One of the keys to her success is that she has become very good at building relationships. “I enjoy the people I work with and the people I work for,” she said. “I work with very good people, and I say that not because they are my bosses or because they are my subordinates. I like working with good people. And I feel good about that because we help each other. We grow together, we share the same values.”

Garcia said SM has a lot of competition, and to stay ahead they have to understand what the customers want. “You have to know what excites them, and you have to know how to translate that into merchandise or experiences that can be found in the mall.”

She added that they are always looking to innovate, while maintaining SM’s distinct service levels. “We want to make their stay inside the mall worth their while. We want them to feel that it is good to be here, that we are a preferred mall because we have things that they need and they want to do,” she emphasized.

While strong recent growth in the Philippine economy and an emerging middle class have boosted domestic retail consumption, there is also increasing competition for malls from online retailers. “We see online [shopping] as complementary to the brick and mortar stores. Of course, we have to play close attention to it because it’s a new avenue of growing the business,” Garcia said. “This is something that we take very seriously. But we also want to be part of it, that’s why we’re working on our own online [presence].”

As for how long she plans to continue in the job she never envisioned having, Garcia said she has no immediate plans. “I just like to do things one day at a time. I enjoy my husband, his company. I like to enjoy my children and my grandchild, so I don’t really have a bucket list, I just do things and I pray to God for everything that comes.”

“I wasn’t one of those that was overly driven, that wanted to be the valedictorian, or a class medalist. I wasn’t driven in that way. I wasn’t complacent, but I was very diligent. I like a balanced life. I like being with my friends, I like being with family, and I like doing my best.”


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