MANILA, Philippines — Auditors are seen to be boring people,” says Mailene “Mai” Sigue-Bisnar. “They are always busy with work. They have no time for anything else. They don’t sleep, especially during tax season.”
But this is a misconception. “Don’t believe what they say,” Mai says, “because it really depends on how you manage your time. People tend to put what they do in boxes — work, work, work in one box, and the other things in separate boxes. But I say you have to integrate.”
She calls it “work-life integration.”
Sigue-Bisnar is a partner in the Audit & Assurance Division of P&A (Punong Bayan and Araullo), the Philippine member firm of Grant Thornton International. She heads the firm’s Markets Group, which handles public and press relations, external communications, and business development. A certified public accountant, Mai has been in public accounting since she started her professional career in 1991. In her fifth year in P & A in 1996, she was seconded in the firm in New York where she worked for a year and a half. She specialized in the audit of major real estate companies in the US.
When she returned to the Philippines in 1998, she married her then boyfriend Ed Bisnar, also a CPA whom she met at P&A before she left for New York. They now have five children: four daughters aged 18, 15, nine and seven, and an only son, 11 years old. Her husband has since joined his family business, which is in pharmaceutical distribution.
“People ask me, how do you manage with five children and you still have time to work?” Mae shares. This is where she applies her work-life integration. She rides with her kids in the car when they are brought to school in the morning. “It’s about 45 minutes to an hour’s ride from our house in Pasig to their school in Makati. That’s our bonding time. Without my asking, they feel free to tell stories about what is going on in school.” She is active in the PTA and manages to slip out from the office during breaks to attend school activities.
At home, her kids can leave “remind mom” notes in their study room for her to see when she gets home late from the office and they are already fast asleep. She in turn uses Post-it notes around the house to serve as reminders such as “switch off the light” or “don’t forget the keys.” It also helps that she can ask her mom to stay in her house when she has to be out of town.
“When they were very young, I used to bring them with me to work,” Mai recalls. “There was a small room at the office where we’d put up a tent so they could sleep while I worked overnight.”
She has since acquired a condominium unit near the office where her younger children stay after school and she can check on them midday. “You have to know how to switch on and off. It cannot be separated,” she says. “If your child needs you, you cannot make it wait, because you cannot concentrate on your work, anyway.”
“I am very fortunate that I work in a firm that is supportive and understanding,” Mai remarks. “The corporate values and my values are the same. They value family, and if there is something you need for your family, they will help you.”
Her eldest child was only two years and eight months old when she was diagnosed with leukemia. Mai was able to divide her time between attending to the chemo sessions of her daughter and a client, whose office happened to be near the hospital. Her daughter is now 18 and just entered Ateneo University, taking up Management Economics.
Originally from Gasan in Marinduque, Mai is the eldest of three children. Her father was a fisherman. She graduated valedictorian in high school, and went on a scholarship to the University of the East, where she obtained her bachelor’s degree in accountancy, cum laude. She completed the Management Development program with a superior performance at AIM, as well as the Strategic Marketing Management program at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Since her father was always out at sea, it was her grandfather, a World War II veteran, who was the disciplinarian. He always advised her to never settle for just being mediocre: “Habang maiksi ang kumot, magtiis kang mamaluktot.” She remembers when she graduated cum laude from UE and did not have enough money, so she and her friends settled for isaw bought from the vendor outside the school to celebrate. She often wonders where that vendor might be now. “Anything now that is beyond what I had when I was young is actually more,” she says.
She serves as a lector at the Greenbelt chapel three times a week and on Sundays in their parish church. “I need it,” she says. ”I pray for patience, with my children and at the office. My husband says my standards are too high.”
Part of her work at P&A is to raise the brand profile. “We are not just auditors and tax practitioners,” she explains, “we are also business advisors. We help our clients grow their business. We do a lot of thought leadership activities. We hold business forums where we gather CEOs and executives of companies to discuss topics that are important to them.”
Now in her 26th year with the firm, “I can’t imagine,” she says, “but if you like what you’re doing, time passes so fast. It’s a personal satisfaction. I want to inspire and empower women that they can have both a career and family.”
After she retires (she turned 47 on Sept. 2), she plans to put up a preschool in her hometown, where her sister is a teacher and principal, “because I believe education is key.” She is currently supporting some students in high school and college as her personal scholars.
Mailene still finds time for herself. She goes to the gym that is attached to her children’s school. She goes mountain biking with her husband. “All my kids have their own bikes, too,” she says. Everything she does is somehow connected to her family. She remembers her grandfather’s words: “Always remember what is important to you and hold on to that.”
As published in Philippine Star, dated 04 September 2017