Rosemarie Rafael is the Chair and CEO of Airspeed Group of Companies, providing end-to-end logistics service to business-to-business clients. She is also President of the Women Business Council of the Philippines (WomenBizPh). In this interview, she shares about resiliency and how she has turned crisis into opportunities.
Q1: You started your career in sales. Can you share with us some tough experiences you will never forget and how it has benefited you through the years?
A1: I did not want to be in sales when I started my career but realized that for me to be able to get to where I want to be, I needed to go through a sales career. It was tough in the beginning as I had to do a lot of adjustment and mindset change but I was able to do it by thinking that I am not there to sell anything to anyone but to just continue to help clients with their problems and be a solution provider. Being on the ground and having a feel of what is needed helped me a lot to care genuinely. It became a habit and part of my DNA. Discipline is an important factor. I had to push myself in the beginning but once it is ingrained in you, it just becomes part of you.
Q2: Please share your interesting story about how you were serendipitously “led” to be part of the logistics industry.
A2: I was in the airline industry as a passenger sales agent right after college. I took it to heart and learned the ins and outs of the travel industry. One morning, I was on the phone with a client who sends overseas workers to the middle east when my boss motioned me to go inside the sales room for our weekly sales meeting. I said that I will follow and finish the transaction on the phone. It took me another 10 minutes to finish the call and I knocked at the door as it was locked. Another sales person opened the door and my boss said you are not needed in the room and I can leave. That really broke me as I thought I was working hard and that I asked for permission to allow me to finish my call. I went back to my desk crying and the phone rang. The person on the other line asked me if I was interested to be interviewed with the largest airfreight company in the Philippines at that time as a sales person. Of course I said yes as the caller caught me at my most vulnerable moment. I went for interview and was accepted as sales executive and was later on promoted as sales manager after a year.
I was in my comfort zone and I was pushed to get out of it due to circumstances that were not expected but I believe that God brings you to a position where you are being prepared to do more.
Q3: You opened your business in the same year Ninoy Aquino was assassinated. That was a time that the foreign exchange depreciated continuously, and there was much economic instability. What made you decide it was the right time to open your air freight business then?
A3: There is really no good or bad time but more of God’s divine timing and appointment. I was in a good place but felt like the values that I have are no longer align with what is happening where I was . I talked to my British boss then and said that I would like to leave and set up my small company. He commented that why would I like to be a small fish in a big pond. I responded that I would rather be a small fish in a big pond as it has so much room for me to grow in. The company I was working in that time was the number #1 IATA agent in ranking for many years but 5 years after I left they became #2 because the company i set up Airspeed became the #1 IATA agent that year !
Q4: You have a degree in international studies. How has that background worked for you in your business?
A4: Having a degree in international studies was not enough for me to run and manage the business. I took this course as it was one of the courses without numbers as that was something I was not comfortable with. But taking this course gave me the discipline and the basic work ethics that I used all through out my career.
I took up short courses to help me in areas that will strengthen my ability to manage a business such as finance, management courses. I took up Management development program (MDP) in AIM where I attended as one of the top ten percent in class. This is where I learned finance and accounting that help me better understand my business. I read a lot and I like to learn things that I am not familiar with . Sometimes we stay away from topics or issues that we are not comfortable with but i learned how to embrace it and it gives me a broader perspective. I don’t have to be an expert there but I focus on our core which is logistics and distribution. There are areas that can affect our core and that is something that I also work on to help me get the big picture.
Q5: How is Airspeed differentiated from other logistics providers today?
A5: Airspeed is known for the kind of people we have. We are a company of integrity and this is not to be compromised even in the hardest times. We prioritize our people and stakeholders and we believe that if we have happy people we will have happy and satisfied customers. We are committed to our blue promise of making it happen and make ways to work out a situation for our client.
I believe that working with our clients is not just base on transaction alone but on trust and it takes time to do this. We are one of the few service providers that has end to end and complete supply chain solutions from international import and export forwarding to customs clearance both air and sea to warehousing to cross dock to domestic nationwide distribution by air sea and land to E fulfillment solutions, cross border clearance and last mile delivery . We have establish different business units to handle each one and recently came up with APDEC (Amazing Philippines Digital Economy Corporation ) which has platforms such as Speedgifts for our overseas Filipinos who would like to give gifts to their loved ones and friends in the Philippines during occasions and other important dates such as christmas birthdays and anniversaries.
The other platform is KH-PH.com which showcases the products of the Philippines per region in coordination with different institutions (both private and government) that will help MSMEs access to market through our logistics platform Pinaspeed.com. This is a project that I am taking on to help our economy and our country in whatever way we can. I believe that logistics is an important component especially in our country when the challenge is delivering last mile in 7100 islands. Last mile delivery can be considered as the most difficult and expensive part of the supply chain. Bringing in the products to the main stream to have access to market is one item that we are working on.
Q6: You have been laser focused in the business-to-business marketing area, expanding from your core to its adjacencies. What led you to enter the business-to-consumer category as well?
A6: I believe that to be able to future proof our business, we need to be in the B2C or even C2C space as well. We saw the need and we acted on it. The approach is modified as we do not have retail stores. This has been proven during the start of pandemic when our core clients who are the retailers closed for many months or even more than a year. We had to adopt to what was relevant at that time. We had to be agile and make decisions fast enough to adjust. We were able to reach out to companies who are into essentials and shipped out more of pharma and other health related products.
There were more individual customers who wanted to ship out items nationwide and international who did not know where to go as most retail outlets then were closed. We were able to reach out to them by being visible. One example was my village where viber groups where created and questions asked on shipping which I responded to. My house became like a drop off center in the village where neighbors where dropping off their items for shipping.
We came up with PUDO ( pick up and drop off ) where kiosks where established in some locations where customers can pick up or drop off items. We came up with an arrangement with MHLhuillier and SM markets for this type of service since they have many locations nationwide that will make Airspeed more visible without having to set up retail stores. This is a need that we saw and we are fulfilling it through modified solutions.
Rosemarie Rafael was one of the esteemed lineup of CEOs and COO who spoke at the 6th Entrep Summit last February 21, 2023. The summit provided a valuable platform for engaging discussions on pivotal subjects including leadership, entrepreneurship, the successful transition from family-led enterprises to professional management, and the implementation of effective strategies for nurturing the next generation of leaders. This event was hosted by www.day8.org.
If you have missed this summit, the replay can be accessed at the following link: https://bit.ly/6th-entrep-summit-replay.
Josiah Go is Chairman and Chief Innovation Strategist of Mansmith and Fielders Inc. Among others, he is co-author of the bestselling book “Entrepreneurship: Starting an Enterprise. Having an Innovation Mindset”
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