By Claire Dela Gana
Much has been written about one of the most accomplished female entrepreneur in the Philippines today, Rebecca Bustamante-Mills. Her rags-to-riches story is all over the web. She worked as a domestic helper in Singapore and at the same time studied and finished an Accounting program. To earn more for her family, she moved to Canada and worked as a nanny. Again, studied while working pursuing her graduate studies in Accounting and Marketing at Ryerson University. She met and got married to Richard Mills and their marriage is blessed with two boys, Alex and Chris. They decided to stay in the Philippines after spending Christmas in 2000.
Currently, she is the President and Co-Founder of Asia CEO Awards, the largest business awards event in the Philippines and Asia CEO Forum, the largest business event. She also oversees major events across the country that includes the Asia Digital Transformation Summit, Asia Women’s Summit, Asia HR Summit, Asia BPM Summit, Asia Young Leaders Summit, Asia Real Estate Summit, Asia Logistics Summit and Asia Health Summit. Rebecca is also an active professional development speaker across the ASEAN region – Philippines, Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia. Her achievements have been featured in various media outlets, both on TV and on print. And she hosts her own regular TV program, Self-Made, featuring many of the most successful people in Asia.
As a mom, a wife and CEO of her own firm, to say that her plate is full is an understatement. Juggling all these things in her life, it makes me wonder if she has the time to focus on things that matters most.
Rebecca’s day starts at 5:00 in the morning. She begins by cleaning up the house then proceeds to check her emails. She prepares breakfast for the family then goes right back to work after the boys had left for school. After attending to all her emails, Rebecca gets ready for her meetings at her downtown Makati office. She tries to get all her work done for the day by 5:00pm. She drives back home, cooks dinner and the family catches up with the day’s activities over their evening meal. It’s lights out in the Mills residence at 10:00PM. And yes, there are no maids to do all the household chores. “I want to live like our life in Canada, whatever the lifestyle is in Canada.”
On weekends, Richard and Rebecca maximizes their time with the kids. Although there are times that they have to attend to urgent emails & calls, as much as possible they want to be there for the boys when needed. With teenagers in the house, sometimes they have their own plans for the weekend so Richard and Rebecca takes the opportunity to ponder on other family matters – family plans, their future and work. As business partners, “Working together is our life,” she adds. They are both working towards the same goals of raising a family and running a business.
Free time for hobbies? Rebecca shares, “I make the time if I want to do things. Spending time with my family is my hobby. I really value my time.” So she tries to spend each and every moment meaningfully.
Health is Wealth
For most CEO’s, being fit isn’t just about health or vanity – it’s considered part of their job. It may be perceived as an ineffectiveness both in performance and interpersonal relationships. According to Rebecca, she needs to be an example for her people to follow. Staying healthy with a busy lifestyle is a challenge. She cannot afford to spend hours going to and from the gym. So she has her own gym, sauna and pool right in the comfort of her home. She may not have a regular workout schedule but she considers cleaning the house part of her habit to get not just physically fit but mentally and psychologically fit as well. How is that possible? Her playlist does not include the latest hits but motivational and learning audios. So while all the mothers out there are singing their hearts out using a broom as their microphone, Rebecca gets her energy to sweep her humble abode to the sounds of Jim Rohn and Tony Robbins.
When asked if her mother had any inkling that she will be great someday? Rebecca replies, “She always knew I’m a nice girl (daughter).” A daughter who would put the welfare of the other members of the family first before herself. “After high school, I worked in a factory and saved my money. Instead of buying my own clothes, I buy stuff for the house, for my brothers and sisters. I carry so much stuff for all but none for me.” Her mother would always remind her that she is turning into a woman so she needs to look after herself too. But she would lovingly reply back, “I don’t need it. I want to do this for our home, for my brothers and sisters. That is what makes me happy.”
She considers her mother her best friend. They share everything – what hurts them, what gives them joy and their dreams and aspirations for the family. Perhaps that is the reason why at her mother’s death bed, she expressed her utmost desire for Rebecca’s brothers and sisters to have a good life, for them to finish their education. Somehow, she knew that Rebecca will overcome poverty. A promise was made and that promise was fulfilled.
“There is no point complaining. Just do it” Easier said than done but Rebecca faced and overcame all the challenges life threw at her. “Challenges? So many, so many. But I always say that challenges make you strong. Challenges make you better. And I know God put me in this (challenge) because He wants me to be a better person. That’s how I see things. I never rethink that I will not be able to overcome those challenges. I always think that this is normal, this is life. And once I overcome this it will be better.”
In 2005, Rebecca was diagnosed with brain tumor and given only 6 months to live. “When I was diagnosed with brain tumor, I was happy, I was ready to go. I‘m happy that I have done so much for my family, for our community. But I was wishing to spend more time with my family to see the children grow. If God will continue to give me longer life then I can do more for our country.” She didn’t give up because she knew that there is a higher purpose, a reason to have a second lease on life. She came back to Canada to get the medical help she needed and she was completely healed. “Let’s sing our music while we can because when we die we cannot sing our music anymore.”
Advice from the Heart
There is no doubt about the inner strength and determination of this woman. Rebecca exudes it and it’s contagious. No wonder she has become one of the most influential Filipina today. Where does she get it? Aside from overcoming poverty and winning over life’s trials, she looks up to a few powerful women in our society today – Oprah Winfrey, Hillary Clinton, to name a few. “I love Oprah Winfrey. She’s black and so many people put her down. Look where she is now. She’s the most powerful woman in the world. She inspires me. I follow her steps. I can never be Oprah Winfrey. I can never be Hillary Clinton. But I can be the best Rebecca Bustamante.”
One last piece of advice from Rebecca, “Know your purpose, take action and never give up.” There will be a lot of hurdles to get to where you want to be. People will put you down. But remain focus on where you’re going. And in your journey, don’t leave it behind but take with you the things that matter most in your life.