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How this Filipina entrepreneur is shattering gender and cultural stereotypes

Alvin Cabral /Dubai
alvin@khaleejtimes.com Filed on September 9, 2021
Mariben Eustaquio

Strict, crazy, nosy and chill... all rolled into one, Filipina entrepreneur Mariben Eustaquio on balancing relationships and work while tackling cultural stereotypes

If she would have it her way, Mariben Christine Eustaquio would “meddle” with everything. Not that she’s one nosy, perfectionist type of person — that’s just the way she rolls when it comes to dealing with clients and, more importantly, life. But, of course, she’s fully aware that with anything comes limits; oh, the irony of wanting more despite doing less.

“All or nothing,” she quips. “If you want me to do something, I’ll either do it well or not do it at all.”

The Filipina entrepreneur, who is the managing director of a business setup consultancy Ezone in Dubai, comes armed with your typical up-the-ladder story — plus, the added bonus of being so wacky at times you wouldn’t think she owns and leads a no-nonsense business.

That leadership, she says, was borne out of necessity — “self-imposed”, as she describes it, since she’s the typical hands-on person who doesn’t speak that much.

Her own way

Having arrived in the UAE in 2010 and after leaving a major business setup firm in Dubai in 2017, Eustaquio would embark on a journey that not only tested her abilities, but her own limits as well. And that’s not surprising: forget that helping people starting their firms is challenging; doing it all — from accompanying them to process medical tests and applying for Emirates IDs to applying for visas on their behalf — was the cherry on the cake.

“It indeed came to the point that I couldn’t do it alone anymore,” she says. She flew solo until only four months ago when she formally established Ezone, that’s almost four years of going at it alone.

And true to her character, she only has five full-time employees, including herself, in the company. The reason behind this is that it’s easier to keep a leash on less egos, not to mention hiring those who fit her style and are willing to roll along with it.

Of course, the are-you-overwhelmed question pops up, to which Eustaquio says it does come to that at times. Doesn’t matter, it’s part of the thrill of business.

“I was exposed to various types of strategies in the past, and somehow I’ve been able to pluck those experiences and apply them to any situation I’ve faced,” she says.

And of all the compliments she’s received, one that has stood out is that when she was told — numerous times — that she had a good eye for people. That explains her long drawn-out process of hiring her staff — and how she uses that eye to peer into her colleagues.

“One of my strategies is I’d just throw work at you,” says Eustaquio. “Randomly, maybe, but that’s how I try to find out how you’d do your part.”

And, interestingly, she doesn’t expect one to actually do that assigned job. Sounds weird, but she has a deeper agenda.

Tricks of the trade

“Sometimes my purpose isn’t even to get the job done; I want you to come back to me and see your level of understanding, thought process and common sense,” she points out.

That, in turn, helps her identify one’s style of work, which she would happily integrate into her own and the company itself.

So it’s no surprise that the one thing she hates the most is when someone returns to her and tells her a flat “it can’t be done”.

“Figure it out — or at least give me your opinion on how we could get around it,” she says. “You’re here for a reason.”

Complacency also has no place for Eustaquio. She doesn’t even mind overconfidence, as long as you at least try. “That’s fine. At least if you’re confident about something, you have some sort of aspiration.”

The business of friendship

Now with everything that’s been said, it may sound like she’s a strict boss. Well, yes and no: there’s a job to be done, no questions asked. But most of the time she’s just the “chill” type of person — an attribute that she espouses to those seeking her help, since she considers her clients as friends, too.

“You can be friends and partners at the same time, but you should be able to separate business from friendship,” she says.

“In the heat of certain moments, emotions will definitely come into play. Sure, be affected in those moments, but when the dust has settled, continue being friends.”

Eustaquio’s husband is also an entrepreneur and her business partner. And as with all relationships, there are times they do clash — but it ends there, since both understand what it takes to run a business and deal with clients.

“Do we argue? Yes, of course,” she says with a laugh. “But that’s part of any relationship… and we make sure it’s constructive.”

“You may have the same goals but have a different approach in trying to achieve it, which would lead to conflict. But in the end, you need to have each other’s back to succeed.”

“My vision for my company is entrepreneurship for all. For budding entrepreneurs, create a plan, but more than anything, believe in what you want to sell,” says Eustaquio.

Of course, she’s come across some of the craziest ideas entrepreneurs have pitched. And even before her company started assisting them, she already sees fulfilment in these out-of-this world ideas.

“Some of them quit big jobs to start something small, but indeed I saw their own vision and the belief they have in their product. For me, that’s the most important thing — to believe in yourself.”

The ‘struggle’

One other thing she finds amusing is stereotyping, which, sadly, is still prevalent today. At times, she finds being a woman on top surreal, but in the end, she believes that really doesn’t factor in since women have proven time and again they’re just as capable as their male counterparts.

“There are times I feel that I’m a woman in a man’s world; at business meetings, for example, I’m the only woman, so I think to myself, ‘Am I in the right place?’,” she says. “But the great thing about being a stand-out is that they remember you more.”

That being said, getting outnumbered can sometimes be good. But if there’s one thing about numbers that she finds a “struggle”, it’s the surprise stemming from seeing her, a Filipina, having her own company in this part of the world. True, we’re used to seeing a finite set of nationalities controlling businesses here, which is why she’s happy to shake up the status quo a bit.

“I’ve been asked several times ‘Where’s your boss?’,” she says with a smile. “They couldn’t believe that I am the boss. But that’s fine with me — it isn’t a surprise to me anymore, and I actually find it funny.”

Dealings like these have led Eustaquio to face life and career with an unparalleled gusto, one that makes her tick yet also knowing when it’s time to explode. And no, we’re not talking about the kind that spreads out shrapnel everywhere — it’s what inspires her to share the wealth of knowledge she has with budding entrepreneurs, friends and family.

She attributes her acquired qualities to her former boss, whom she describes as a “highly-intelligent” person, one who never misses a beat in their organisation. Having been trusted with overseeing a big chunk of their operations, she did find certain people taking exception to her role. And having been in this spot for several years, she knows this is all part of the game. Plus, taking it personally won’t get you anywhere.

“That’s my job, to make sure you’re doing yours,” she says. “I may or may not show it in ways certain people would like me to, but I’m just that passionate — in work, life… you name it. I’ll always be competitive, but always a good sport.”

alvin@khaleejtimes.com

Alvin Cabral





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