IF WE CAN LEARN ANYTHING from Bernadette Valencia, it’s that success is limitless, and you are bound only by the walls that you build yourself. “Plan your work and work your plan,” she encouraged.
The 48-year-old is Matson Navigation’s general manager for Guam and Micronesia. She has been with the company since 2008, starting out as the regional sales and customer service manager. “I had certain goals I set for myself. I took a calculated risk, and there was an opening here at Matson,” she said. “I had to give up to go up.”
Valencia’s professional career started at Continental Micronesia where she was an airframe and power plant mechanic. “I worked there for a few months,” she said, laughing.
She graduated from San Francisco State University, with a degree in Aviation Maintenance. “My mom wasn’t too keen on having a daughter for a grease monkey,” said the offspring of an elementary school teacher and an engineer.
Valencia was also a big-time jock in college. She played on the school’s Division II women’s basketball team. “I played basketball so much, and didn’t really spend too much time on school contrary to what my mom thought,” she recalled. “I realized I better get my act together, so instead of Engineering I still wanted something technical in nature, and I found Aviation and it really interested me. I had NASA engineers for professors and got to test our projects out at Moffett Field. I got to use my hands aside from the theoretical engineering stuff.”
After her short-lived job with the airlines, she found more stability with Mobil Oil Guam where over the course of 14 years she worked her way up the ranks to become the operations manager. When Valencia turned 36 she realized she needed a change of pace to align with her objectives.
“I had a professional goal to lead a global or U.S. organization by the time I was 40,” Valencia said, and that joining Matson was “the best risk I’ve taken in my life. I applied for the job recognizing that I could possibly be leaving the largest company in the world.”
Valencia has found another home at the shipping giant. She said she is not a leader of an organization, but a leader of people. She attributed much of Matson’s success to its sense of family and togetherness.
“Matson as a company has this wonderful ohana and hafa adai spirit,” she praised. “The spirit that we have for our customers, our coworkers, the community as a whole—everyone is family, and it makes us do a great job in our business because we have that type of attitude. Everything that we do is meaningful, whether it’s part of our business or personal lives, it’s not just a task, and it’s not just work. Ohana is family, whether it’s work or play you never want to let your family down.”
Valencia is driven by compassion and the extraordinary capacity of the human spirit. With her deep values for human respect and integrity, she co-founded the non-profit organization iCan Resources Incorporated. “It is an organization that employs the severely disabled,” she explained. “Laura Espinosa, myself, Ron Ramero, and Nora Camacho—we started it because we have friends who are special education teachers, and they expressed there aren’t many resources for those with special needs. We now have 190 employees, and they work in custodial and food service. We really want to make a positive difference in their lives.”
She is equally passionate about developing her self and other people in the process. “As you mature you grow and find out more about yourself,” she said. “I set high expectations of myself and of my staff. I always want to drive excellence. If I could be someone’s inspiration to set higher expectations and achieve high standards, and if people know you expect excellence they will strive to deliver for you.”
Valencia has worked hard to make her way up the corporate ladder in industries not known for women leaders. Among those who helped along the way was her first boss at Mobil, Leo Campos. “He really helped mold and develop my leadership style,” she said.
She also acknowledged two very important women as inspirations: her mother Angelina Valencia Dayrit, who instilled discipline and a drive to succeed, and her late wife Nora Camacho, who was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2013. “Her approach to fighting the disease was inspiring to us all,” Valencia said. “She never wanted to know what stage of cancer she was in because she was determined to beat it.”
Valencia then showed a picture of Nora free-diving in Palau in 2014, despite her stricken lungs. “She was the only one among our group of friends to reach those giant clams,” she said. “That day, Nora showed us that there are no limits except those you place on yourself. It’s a powerful reminder and inspiration to set high expectations.” Nora passed away in January 2016.
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