In my role as Group Vice President, NA Applications Alliances & Channels at Oracle, a key aspect of my job is focused on building and maintaining relationships. I’d like to share my personal story and how this has shaped my approach to my professional relationships.
While my life today might be considered ordinary and mundane, some may characterize my childhood and early adulthood as unconventional. I do know I was fortunate to have at least one shining star in my life that helped shape the relationships in my life and career.
February 1962. My father was stationed in the US Army in France, and I was five months old. My brother Michael (a year older) was riding in a car with our parents. While driving along a two-lane country road, the car hit a truck coming in the other direction head-on. I was not in the car—I was with neighbors at the time.
Both my parents were killed instantly while my brother–despite suffering two broken arms, two broken legs, and a concussion – miraculously survived. Our paternal grandmother, Estela Romualdez Sulit, became our legal guardian.
To say my grandmother was ahead of her time would be a massive understatement. She was an absolute force of nature! One of the first female lawyers in the Philippines, she came from a long line of Filipino politicians:
At the time of the accident, she was serving as Consul General in Chicago. My brother and I lived with her in Chicago for a few years until she was appointed to the same role in Seattle.
We lived in Seattle until 1966 when she was named the Philippine Ambassador to Portugal, so off we went to Lisbon. After she retired in 1969, we moved back to Seattle, where she passed away at 70 in January 1972. I was 10 years old.
In my short life with my grandmother, we were always on the go, meeting all kinds of people. I would learn much later what she endured as a female professional from the 1930s through the late 1960s, working in the Philippines, the US, and abroad. What I experienced living with her was her unending patience and how well she listened to Filipinos who needed her help. She treated everyone with kindness and respect, and this is what I strive for in every interaction I have – both personally and professionally.
Me with my grandmother, Estela Romualdez Sulit, receiving my teacher, Miss West at home in Lisbon, Portugal, 1967
My grandmother had the biggest impact on my life through leading by example. She had a strong work ethic and spent her professional life serving the Filipino community, while always making time for me and my brother. Her example helped me create my own principles to establish a professional relationship:
The impact of my personal relationships has driven me to commit to building strong professional relationships.
Losing my parents, seeing my older brother nearly die, living with my grandmother in Chicago, Seattle, AND Portugal, then losing her at 10 - little did I know there would be more change to come.
September 1978. My brother and I were fired up to start our respective collegiate careers–his at the University of California, San Diego, and mine at the University of California, Davis. He and I started the 9-hour trek from Del Mar, California to the UC Davis campus.
We left our house in Del Mar early Friday afternoon, expecting to arrive later that same night. The plan was for Mike to sleep a few hours, and then drive the car back to San Diego the next day, Saturday, which would have given him a day to get ready before his first day at UCSD the following Monday.
Our 1972 Ford Pinto station wagon had other plans, however. After multiple breakdowns and subsequent repairs, we did not make it to the campus until Sunday around 11 PM. We were completely exhausted.
We made the decision that instead of driving the 9-hours back to UC San Diego, Mike would book a flight to San Diego. There were two options available. A flight from Oakland that would arrive before Mike’s first class on Monday morning, or a Pacific Southwest Airlines flight that left from Sacramento that would arrive in San Diego at 9 AM, causing him to miss his very first college class.
Disappointed about starting his college career off this way, he ultimately chose the latter option since Sacramento was closer than Oakland.
The next morning, I drove him to the airport and waited at the curb to make sure he was able to get on the flight. Remember, this was 1978 — no Internet or mobile apps! Mike excitedly came out of the terminal proclaiming “I got the last seat on the plane!”
And we waved goodbye.
That would be the last time I would ever see my brother.
At approximately 8:59 AM local time on Monday, September 25, 1978, Mike’s plane, PSA 182, collided with a small Cessna in the sky over San Diego. My brother and 143 others were killed.
The impact of this loss was paralyzing. While it took some time to recover from such a devastating loss, I was determined to recommit to having a positive mindset, which gave me the resilience and strength to make every interaction a meaningful one.
After I graduated from college in 1982, I went to the Philippines to spend time with my family. My first job was working for Imelda Marcos, who was not only the First Lady of the Philippines but also the Minister of Human Settlements. Her public persona was very different from her private one.
Me with Imelda Marcos, Malacanang Palace, Manila 1982
At home, she was charismatic, generous, and caring; in public, she wielded extraordinary power. I had a front-row seat watching and experiencing her mastery of persuasion—this was a crash course in relationship management! There is a lot more political drama that unfolded that I won’t get into here, but I’d be happy to share those experiences over coffee on Zoom!
I would go on to have several different roles at various companies, including 3 separate tours at Oracle–where I currently serve as Group Vice President of Oracle North America Applications, Alliances & Channels.
Along my career journey, I have established a few principles when it comes to professional relationships. I define the word “relationship” in the context of the professional world along a spectrum. I read a few articles to ground my thoughts. I would like to share one of them which best describes how I see professional relationships. It’s titled 3 Traits of a Strong Professional Relationship via Harvard Business Review.
Borrowing from it liberally, the most complex relationship is the furthest along the spectrum called “transformational relationships”.
“Transformational relationships are characterized by the level of influence, mutuality, and vulnerability that is allowed and nurtured. In these relationships, we need to be sufficiently curious and open to the other’s point of view, and to the possibility that their beliefs will directly impact our own.
It’s important to remember that no one type of relationship is better or more important than another. The key is to become adept at identifying and developing the type of relationship that best fits a given circumstance.”
After establishing a relationship, it’s important to continue nurturing it.
With this relatively new focus on Diversity and Inclusion, I had never really thought about it as an area a company should invest in… until now. It was always ingrained in me that your work and accomplishments speak for itself. I recently found a speech my grandmother gave to the Filipino community in Seattle in 1966 when she left her post as Consul General before she was appointed Ambassador to Portugal. I realized after reading this, my grandmother encountered discrimination throughout her own life, but always found a way to overcome it.
Here is an excerpt:
"March 27, 1966
Three years ago, when I was first offered the post in Seattle, I must confess that I commenced the discharge of my new responsibilities with some misgivings. Conversely, the people in Seattle had their apprehensions about a woman Consul General. But soon they realized with me, that only one man in a thousand is a leader of men. The other 999 are followers of women.”
What I realize now is how important it is to actively engage in hiring people with diverse backgrounds to enrich our team’s experience, to hear new voices, to build stronger relationships in the workplace, and improve morale. It’s also important to recognize that every individual’s background is unique and understanding this results in higher productivity, new ideas, and employee satisfaction, as we recognize the importance of relating to this issue with our customers as well.
I am now the age my grandmother was when she adopted me. I hope I’ve made her proud, and I hope to continue sharing her wisdom and compassion in the garden of my own personal and professional relationships for many years to come.
Featured Image: Me with the Oracle NA Alliances team, Redwood Shores, California 2019, pre-COVID-19
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