By Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat
An unassuming but seasoned accountant tentatively stepped into a leadership role thinking she was not fit to become the top boss.
Now, Ma. Paz V. Malubay is the decisive president of P&A Grant Thornton Outsourcing Inc., one of the fastest if not the fastest-growing wholly-owned entity of P&A Grant Thornton.
Outsourcing in P&A started 30 years ago, long before the term outsourcing became a buzzword in the now BPO (business process outsourcing), the country’s second top dollar-earning sector.
This P&A entity provides accounting, bookkeeping and payroll services to its clients, of which more than 90 percent are local operations of multinational corporations.
According to Paz, accounting, payroll and bookkeeping functions have always been outsourced by companies to a third party, but it evolved into a burgeoning domestic industry because it is more cost efficient to get a third party to do these non-core corporate functions.
“Instead of having its own team to do the payroll and accomplish all the government requirements which companies don’t have expertise, they would rather put their efforts in operations rather than in support services,” says Paz, a seasoned accounting practitioner with over 30 years of experience in accounting and payroll services.
P&A has always been known for tax advisory, auditing and accounting, but little has been known about its equally important outsourcing business. Little did we know that this outsourcing entity of P&A has become so popular that from a mere unit sharing a space with the finance department is now occupying an entire floor of their office.
They provide solid first-rate support so a company can focus on its core competencies, enabling it to concentrate on what really important for its business. These services include accounting, staff augmentation, offshoring and payroll processing.
With this expanding business, P&A established its wholly-owned P&A entity in 2011. This is also to give prominence to its growing revenue contributor.
Now, the P&A Grant Thornton Outsourcing Inc. has grown to a total of 240 employees doing bookkeeping, payroll, accounting and staff augmentation for clients in need of staff.
The entity continuously trains their regular employees, improves their benefits, provides fatter pay envelops and bonuses.
“We pay for everything, all benefits and in-house training on top of the continuing professional development training,” says Paz.
Their employees also gained wider experiences and disciplines because they are assigned to different clients from different industries. Because of their competence, some of the staff have been absorbed by clients.
Their staff can also demand higher salary because they know their competence and ethics. These are the values that serve as basis that add premium to P&A employees.
Clients also tripled overtime and local firms are also starting to realize cost efficiencies by outsourcing the bookkeeping and payroll functions. Another advantage is they insulate employees from prying into each other’s pay scales.
Paz started with P&A in the finance division that’s why she felt inadequate to head the outsourcing subsidiary. It was almost like breaking a tradition to take someone from the support unit with no selling skills as partners normally originate from operations.
But Mr. Punongbayan was persistent telling her, “I think you can handle more.”
So, despite her deficiency in the selling aspect and business development, she was made a partner of P&A for business process outsourcing in July 2007.
Becoming a partner, which is by invitation only, means more responsibilities. It was also different because partners do not receive regular salaries although they are allowed advances or drawings that are deducted from their share at the end of each year.
“Partners have bigger risks,” says Paz. For instance, if a company cannot pay the supplier it can actually run after the partners.
This deepened her admiration of the P&A partners even more because she knew of the fat take home envelops of the partners of other accounting firms compared to their conservative rates.
“Our founders Mr. Punongbayan and Mr. Araullo work very hard, very passionate and really made sacrifices and yet they were only getting little financial rewards,” adds Paz, who knew Mr. Punongbayan during her first job at SGV as the no-nonsense boss.
“I know Mr. Punongbayan from SGV and he is known for his leadership as super demanding and super stretch,” says Paz.
A BPO company specializing in bookkeeping and payroll normally hires BS Math, business and accounting and computer science graduates.
Paz said it is difficult nowadays to hire CPAs with two to three-year experience because the shared services companies offer them salaries and benefits that are difficult to pass up. This has resulted in poaching and pirating of their trained workforce.
“We’ve become the training ground,” says Paz. But Paz has been able to keep all her managers for more than 10 years already. Some are even returnee bookkeepers and payroll specialists.
The salary rate may be good at the shared services companies but employees’ exposure is limited to one company alone thereby stifling their social opportunities. Worse, they will have to work on night shift.
At P&A, their staff have the opportunities to experience different kinds of companies from various sectors and they don’t work at night.
P&A is not only a training ground for the upstarts as Paz would like to claim she trained there, too, when she accepted the position as president for the outsourcing entity.
To make up for her lack of experience, Paz has learned a lot about management and honed her social skills. She then realized that she was in fact an extrovert contrary to what she previously thought of herself.
“I realize I really love going out because opportunities presented themselves. So, you need to go out and do what you believe you cannot do,” says Paz.
Good thing, her predecessor Esther, the sister of Mr. Punongbayan, who laid the foundation of the outsourcing business, was very supportive of her. In July 2017, she embraced all the outsourcing business of the firm.
“This business is very demanding. Had I not managed myself well, I would have been swallowed,” says Paz, who also confided that her husband, an agriculturist and IT guy, is one reason she is able to pull herself together.
“He is my sounding board, he absorbs all my stress,” she adds. In fact, Paz says, “I cannot sleep if he is not around so he is just being there for me.”
With all things working in her favor, Paz has developed to be the leader determined to grow the outsourcing company and even looking forward to expanding it to other services like offshoring, which has a bigger global prospect.
From the current staff of 240, Paz sees a total manpower complement of 300 by next fiscal year. They are targeting 15 percent growth in revenues this year over last year. The future looks even brighter.
Paz, who has been with P&A for the past 24 years, has proven her loyalty and this was also amply reciprocated by the firm.
For instance, P&A really took care of her when she underwent an open-heart operation. “I realize that P&A is really my family as I received overwhelming support from financial aspect down to their bloodletting,” recalls Paz. Mr. Punongbayan even demanded they get only the best heart surgeon for her.
“There is no big or small employee for the firm’s founders as they disdain hierarchy except on responsibility, but other than that they are very approachable,” says Paz.
Paz earnestly shares in the vision of the founders to make the business grow and benefit the future generation.
“That is a legacy you will live to these people because they are the next in line as owners and it is very fulfilling to be able to contribute,” says Paz, who sees her retirement in the next few years.
That is why, she is just as equally passionate as the founders in taking care of the firm’s reputation knowing that once it becomes tainted it will not only affect the present generation but the future as well. This also makes them very picky when it comes to clients that they conduct rigid due diligence before accepting one because integrity is a value the company holds dear.
“We gently and politely turn them down especially those linked with corruption issues,” she adds. There were also instances when they asked companies to rectify or comply with certain standards first and come back once these are done.
Paz stressed that even if their work is a pure outsource function, they want to put things in order. “If they do not pay the right taxes we politely tell them we cannot associate with them because our concern is not just now, but the future because a tarnished name will destroy the firm and its long-term prospect,” she emphasizes.
The current 21 partners of P&A are very clear and committed to this value.
The good accountant
During her younger years, Paz was the perfectionist leader but has loosened up a bit, becoming more patient as she matures.
She has become more people-oriented because deep inside she only wants the best in others. While it pisses her off if she knows a staff can do it, but chose not to, she always makes it a point that her staff know the importance of learning from their mistakes.
“Most of the time I am praying to be able to bring out the best in people. I want them to be better than me. I told them I am the happiest if they become better than me,” says Paz, who seeks to uplift the morale of those she thinks have low self-esteem.
Because she means well, staff and colleagues call to confide and consult her. Her staff would even discuss outside job offers with her and she sincerely give them advice to be able to land a better deal.
“If you work hard, if you are diligent, and keep your integrity, you don’t look for promotion, they will really run after you,” says Paz. In her case, it never occurred to her that she was ready going to be promoted. She was surprised to learn that her promotion had taken effect already.
“I believe that whatever you sow you shall reap and I put that in my heart. And if you can be entrusted with small things, definitely you will be entrusted with bigger things. All that someone has to bear in mind is having the right motives and integrity to work heartily. Walk with integrity and trust God fully,” says Paz.
A Born Again Christian, Paz makes it a point to read the Proverbs every morning. She also caps the long day by reading the Bible again before going to bed. She has established personal relationship with God stressing that whatever happens He is in control.
Paz also stressed that with all of the world’s trappings, one must keep his or her values on the ground because humility and fear of the Lord is the greatest honor because if you have that fear in him you will have no problem about riches, honor and life.
This could be why even with her position and achievements, Paz has remained grounded.
In addition, she always strives to keep things in perspective. Going to the gym every morning is a big help as this relaxes her before going to the office. She said it is not wise for a boss to be stressed otherwise all her subordinates become stressed also. She believes that making herself fit and healthy is not just for herself but for her people as well.
Paz comes from humble beginnings. As a young girl, Paz did not like accounting but she dreamed of becoming an engineer because she was really good in math. But she gave up the ambition because they were poor and they were 10 siblings to a farmer and a housekeeper. She was the 8th child.
She even had to stop for a year because her older sisters have a hard time supporting her. So, she ended up wrapping candies in a neighbor’s backyard candy factory. Her older sister managed to convince her to enroll in accounting at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines where tuition was very minimal. There she finished accounting magna cum laude and passed the CPA hoping to become a teacher.
She may not be a teacher, but she hopes that one day she could teach at a Bible school after retirement.
The reluctant head of the outsourcing entity and partner of P&A has bloomed to become the decisive leader that she is today. Paz steadily steers her boat not just in the race for maximum profit margins, but in safeguarding its integrity.
As published in Manila Bulletin, dated 14 November 2018