CAROLINA S. Osteria and Antonette P. de Guzman had challenging, fulfilling and financially-rewarding careers in the high stakes world of corporate finance abroad and were the envy of many of their colleagues.
Thus not a few seriously questioned their decision to turn their back on their powerful positions and venture into the uncharted territory of entrepreneurship in the Philippines, a leap of faith triggered by the Edsa revolution of 1986.
I missed the whole Martial Law period in the Philippines so I did not really know what was happening here, but the 1986 revolution was all over the news in the Americas and my colleagues kept on congratulating me, telling me that my country was free, says Osteria, 67, who used to be a senior executive at Chemical Bank covering the US, European and Asian markets.
I became really emotional and that was when I thought that perhaps it was time to go back home, she says.
Coincidentally, De Guzman, with whom Osteria transacted when she was assigned to Hong Kong, was feeling the same pull from the Philippines.
Inevitably, during our discussions, we would start talking about the Philippines and we said, we were missing history, the Philippines is picking up. The action is there, says de Guzman, 65, who held senior executive positions in the Elders Finance Group in Singapore and Hong Kong and was involved in project finance and investment banking.
They thus decided to go back to the Philippines and put up their own business together, using their savings as capital.
It took them some time to decide where exactly they would put their money, with the finance experts exploring different possibilities, from selling bottled water to trading and cutflower production.
Eventually, they focused on housing, a decision spurred by their mutual desire to go into a business with a big social impact and where they can make the greatest contribution.
Thus in July 1992, ACM Property Development Co. was established by Osteria, de Guzman and another colleague, Mia G. Gentugaya.
Their first projects were ACM Homes and ACM Sherwood Homes, providing 598 low-cost housing units on six hectares in Imus, Cavite, which used to be owned by Osteria’s family.
I told my mom then to give our business a try. If we fail, then we’ll call it a day. Fortunately, we earned on our investment, says Osteria, adding that the project sold quickly because of the superior value for money that it provided.
Unlike other mass housing developments, ACM provided more than the basic requirements. The houses were not too densely packed and the roads were wide.
From the first project we have this basic philosophy of going beyond minimum compliance. The development has to be really livable, explains de Guzman, Excellence was the name of the game.
That focus on excellence has served the company well as 22 years later, ACM Landholdings has become a formidable presence in the low and medium cost segments of the housing market, with demand for its projects remaining high.
To date, ACM has developed 20 projects with more than 12,000 housing units, most of which are owned by end-users and first-time home buyers.
ACM did not get to this point in its corporate history easily.
On the contrary, there were times when they questioned the wisdom of their decision to give up their comfortable lives abroad, especially from 1997 to 2006 when they had to overcome enormous financial difficulties brought on by the Asian financial crisis.
We were ready at some point to throw in the towel, says Osteria.
In the end, de Guzman says it was their combined background and experience in corporate finance that pulled the company back from the abyss.
They restructured their obligations with banks and major suppliers, reduced the staff, revised their housing development projects and also forged an alliance with Philippine Transmarine Carriers Inc., one of the country’s biggest crewing management companies.
That gave birth to ACM’s concept of conscious capitalism, which means focusing resources on underserved markets such as the seafarers and their families and giving them more than what they expect from the housing units they are putting their hard-earned money into.
We got better at it and we have never deviated from that concept of conscious capitalism, says Osteria.
Conscious capitalism is a business model that makes money out of doing good. Doing good is foremost in ACM Homes’ Passion statement: ‘We believe that to do well, we must first do good,’ says de Guzman.
We will think, say and do good because we are in business not just to seek a return on investment, but also a return on life, she adds.
The satisfaction that comes from turning over a house to the buyers, who in turn transform them into homes for their families, is a feeling that keeps ACM Homes going strong.
It is also something that the two women never felt all those years closing multimillion-dollar deals.
Thus despite the struggles, sleepless nights and anxiety that went into growing their company, they have no regrets about their decision over 25 years ago to go back and tie their fate with the Philippines.