IN the business community, she is known for her extensive experience in taxation and organizational management. Ma. Victoria Españo, the new president of the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (FINEX), however, admits that her journey to her current leadership role has been unexpected and unplanned, much like a “butterfly effect.”
“I have always been searching for something new to learn,” confesses Españo. “My mother would chide me for being a ‘butterfly’—always moving from one job to another. She was worried I’d be left with measly retirement benefits as I was too restless to stay in one job.”
This restless spirit, the constant hunger to make things better, learn new skills and competencies, are the very tools she uses in her current role in Punongbayan & Araullo (P&A Grant Thornton), one of the Philippines’ top 5 auditing firms. As its chairperson and chief executive officer, Españo is known for her management style that enforces strict discipline, as well as inspires people to achieve unexpected but remarkable results, ultimately developing followers into leaders.
Hard lessons from a long career in taxation saw the young and restless Españo toughen up into a lady boss.
After graduating as a Department of Science and Technology scholar of the BS Math for Teachers program at Philippine Normal University, she became a legislative liaison specialist at the National Tax Research Center (NTRC) of the Department of Finance (DoF). She got actively involved in the formulation of significant tax legislations such as the expanded value-added tax and the comprehensive tax reform program in the late 1980s.
She thrived in interesting yet ‘taxing’ times: the country was under a debt moratorium, inflation and interest rates were skyrocketing, and government assets were being sold to avert a fiscal crisis. “To a big extent, the work was very much highly politicized, as may be expected. We would talk to legislators to push for certain tax reforms,” said the former bureaucrat, who counts the late NTRC Executive Director Angel Yoingco and former DoF Undersecretary Milwida Guevara as her mentors.
Españo found herself juggling her work at the DoF, completing her master’s degree in accountancy, passing the CPA Board exam, and building a young family. Still, her restlessness drove her to shift careers. She quit her DoF post for an auditing firm, but then returned after two weeks, convinced that her role in tax policy formulation is important. Soon after, she again left for Atlantic, Gulf & Pacific Company (AG&P), then the country’s leading construction company. She even briefly dabbled in entrepreneurship, selling goods in a tiangge (bazaar) just to know what she really wanted to do.
After experiencing several work roles in six organizations over a span of 12 years, Españo finally found a home in P&A Grant Thornton in 1997. “I fell in love with tax practice! I found the challenging work that I was searching for in P&A, as there was so much room for me to grow and continuously improve. Our founders, Ben Punongbayan and Jose Araullo, have created an environment where people can thrive and flourish,” she shares. “Dealing with clients that share the same growth mindset is also inspiring.”
Rebuilding for success
Españo joined P&A Grant Thornton as a tax manager more than 20 years ago at the height of the Asian financial crisis. It was a challenging time but also a good one for audit and business advisory. Companies were scrambling to restructure debts and clean up their books to survive.
She became a partner in P&A in 1999, and later headed its tax advisory and compliance division, from 2002 to 2005. After a decade, she became managing partner and chief operating officer (COO), and was named as CEO after only two years, eventually succeeding P&A founder Benjamin Punongbayan as chairperson. “The demands of the role are huge, but I am blessed to have a very supportive husband and three patient and appreciative children,” Españo emphasized.
P&A vastly transformed since its partnership with Grant Thornton in 2003 and amid rapid technological changes. “As we started the new affiliation in 2003, we knew we had to strengthen our strategy and business development activities and produce thought leadership initiatives. We did successfully, with the strong commitment of the partners of the firm and its people, and the support of our clients,” said Españo. Today, P&A Grant Thornton has more than 900 employees and 21 partners in audit and assurance, tax advisory and compliance, advisory services, and business process solutions (outsourcing). At the helm of the auditing firm, she continues to lead the organization to prepare its people for the future.
Transforming financial leaders of the future
Españo said her transformational leadership experience in P&A comes in handy in wearing her new hat as the new president of FINEX, the country’s premiere organization of finance professionals and business leaders advocating financial expertise and good corporate governance.
She also leans on her vast experience in a number of professional memberships, including being elected to the global Board of Governors of Grant Thornton International Ltd. in 2015 (where she is still a member), and a member of highly influential organizations such as the Management Association of the Philippines, Women’s Business Council (WBC), Shareholders’ Association of the Philippines (SharePhil), Makati Business Club, and the Association of CPAs in Public Practice. She is also a fellow of the Institute of Corporate Directors and a member of the Board of Directors of the Philippine Institute of Certified Public Accountants (PICPA), where she is serving a three-year term until June 2020, and will be the chair of the PICPA Metro Manila Council by July 2018.
Businesses are transforming and preparing for the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution. Españo shares: “I have seen how FINEX, as the leading national organization of finance professionals and practitioners, contributes to the advancement of financial knowledge and expertise. Through the able leadership of our past presidents and the multitude of members who have actively participated and supported its different initiatives over the past 50 years, the institute has made significant achievement in supporting the development of finance executives, strengthening our government institutions and building a stronger Philippine economy.”
She sees FINEX’s significant role in the transformation. “It’s necessary to encourage a growth mindset in our professionals, especially the new blood, no matter what level they are in. Let’s develop them, not just technically but holistically: think critically and creatively, collaborate and support initiatives outside of their job description,” the new FINEX president said.
For the young and the restless who will map out the workplace of the future, the new FINEX head has this piece of advice: “Look at every opportunity as a chance to grow rather than merely something you need to do because it’s work. Get going and make things happen. Transform things, now.”
As published in The Manila Times, dated 19 January 2018