Rossana Llenado has known early on that success is not about gender but about vision.
“Some women feel that womanhood is a disadvantage,” she said. But as far as she is concerned, “women can do what men can” and that was her very mindset when she founded Ahead Tutorial and Review Center in 1995.
The company soon became Ahead Learning Services, evolving from a pioneering tutorial service for college entrants to a center offering reviews and seminars for all kinds of learners, from preschoolers to managers.
Its exceptional growth has prompted the Confederation of Asia-Pacific Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Cacci) to take notice and ask Llenado to talk on issues still faced by women entrepreneurs on Sept. 19 in Malaysia.
Llenado told the Inquirer she would definitely talk about how success was not a man or woman thing.
She said she wondered why they chose her and “was so afraid, thinking I was very small compared to the other guests.”
The 28th Cacci conference will also feature Dr. Rebecca Fatima Sta. Maria, secretary general of the Malaysian Ministry of International Trade and Industry, and Maggie Hsu of the Taiwanese Ministry of Economic Affairs, among others.
Llenado eventually realized that her story rightfully belonged in the forum. The conditions in this country would allow her to speak about “SME development and women entrepreneurship.” (SME stands for small and medium enterprises.)
While men and women are not quite equal in other parts of the world, Llenado said that “in the Philippines, it’s common to see women in business.”
She said: “We are No. 5 in women equality worldwide and No. 1 in Asia. I’m thankful that I did not have to go through the challenges faced by women elsewhere.”
She said women employees at Ahead, whom she referred to as “superwomen,” were much better at her in some fields.
“In other countries, women are not even allowed to own property,” she pointed out.
The same spirit that led to Ahead also keeps her forward-thinking. Her mantra is, “Always think you are obsolete,” echoing Dr. Eduardo Morato Jr. of Asian Institute of Management.
“I like learning a lot,” she said. Every month, she attends two seminars, even those not about entrepreneurship or designed for her age group.
Her drive to keep herself and Ahead relevant propelled her company to add services to meet needs other than those of high school students reviewing for De La Salle University, Ateneo de Manila University and the University of the Philippines (UP), the first schools for which she and four UP honor graduates developed a courseware when the business began.
“[We base our services] on things that are needed. We respond to people’s needs,” she said.
Llenado said they looked at the evolving needs of reviewees. So when they needed crash courses as job seekers, for example, the company responded. When they got managerial positions, Ahead began offering related skills training.
Ahead was spotting trends. When formal standards were applied to English instruction, courses on the International English Language Testing System were offered.
When the business process outsourcing industry advanced in the early 21st century, Ahead developed training for call center agents. It offered courses on how to prevent a financial disaster after the global economic crisis.
Ahead Online, an online tutorial, test preparation and training service, was launched to tap the Web-based market. It conducts seminars for students and professionals worldwide through video conferences and has already penetrated the United States, Canada, Singapore, Saudi Arabia and Iraq markets.
The business had also launched a mobile review app, Llenado said.
Ahead also learned to assess people’s needs even before they were identified, Llenado added. When the education sector began mulling K to 12, Ahead held seminars to explain it to teachers and principals.
To introduce information technology, it also taught educators to use e-mail and digital marketing.
Llenado realized that principals were not getting enough seminars, so it became her advocacy.
“Principals’ training helps them run their schools efficiently and it always trickles down to teachers and students,” she said.
Last year, Ahead recognized three outstanding principals nationwide. Another search will be launched in January, Llenado said.
She said she was also trying to find a way to let principals attend Ahead seminars for free.
Saying her company, in keeping with its name, was “always ahead,” Llenado said Ahead had positioned itself for the Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) integration in 2015.
They are organizing a learning company, YuXin, with a company in Singapore and will open at least 200 YuXin centers in the Philippines in the next two years.
Llenado said Ahead would beef up its educational training programs, envisioning the country as the education capital in Asia because of its English literacy.
The Philippines, she said, had the raw material to be
No. 1 in education. “That’s very exciting.”
She said micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) were having a hard time at present, which she would talk about in Kuala Lumpur.
“It’s very hard [for some businesses] to get loans from banks …. And while the government is encouraging entrepreneurship, taxes are very high,” she said. Citing 2012 statistics from the Department of Trade and Industry, she said MSMEs accounted for more than 99 percent of business in the country.
Her dream is to make micro and small businesses tax-exempt until they become medium industries, which will need major policy changes.
Llenado said that “in running anything, even the Philippines, it’s about vision. It’s about forward-thinking.”