Women in shipping – Doris Magsaysay Ho, President and CEO, Magsaysay Group

Doris Magsaysay Ho. Credit: UKHO
Doris Magsaysay Ho. Credit: UKHO

Doris Magsaysay Ho is the president and CEO of the Magsaysay Group, one of the largest conglomerates in the Philippines.

The Magsaysay Group has its origins in shipping, when Ho’s father and maternal uncle, Robert Ho and Miguel Magsaysay, founded A Magsaysay Inc in 1948. Today, the company is also involved in logistics, human resource, marine travel, and tourism.

Despite her success as one of the most well-known female entrepreneurs today, Ho’s first brush with gender discrimination came as a rude shock.

Having lived abroad for most of her childhood, she only became aware of gender discrimination after returning to the Philippines to run the family business when she was 29.

“Not once did I ever think that I was not the same as a man until I came to the Philippines,” she said in a 2015 interview with the Financial Times.

Growing up, Ho was groomed to take over the family business from young. From the time she was 15, her father sent her overseas for work luncheons and she hosted business dinners in his absence.

But as CEO, Ho was discouraged to find that being female could disadvantage one when engaging clients. She suggested her father rope in her brother, but was relieved to hear his advice, “Don’t be what you’re not because you will fail. Just be what you are and that’s it.”

Ho has advocated inclusive growth as a platform to offer opportunities to all. As the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Business Advisory Council chair in 2015, Ho pushed for inclusive business to be part of the APEC agenda.

Each year, one of the 21 APEC member economies plays host to APEC meetings and serves as the APEC chair. The Business Advisory Council chair comes from the host country, and the Philippines was the host economy in 2015.

“I have learnt after all these years that there is always somebody bigger and somebody smaller than oneself.”

One could trace this sense of empathy to Ho’s mother, the Filipino painter Anita Magsaysay-Ho. When Magsaysay-Ho passed away in 2012 at the age of 97, Ho said this of her mother, “Humility was the best lesson she taught us. She never measured her success in material things.”

Ho made the case for viewing inclusive business as a mindset, expanding the view of corporate social responsibility as simply a business helping the poor.

“If I may suggest, inclusive business is actually a mindset of a larger company reaching out to a smaller one. To build their ability to share their values, their knowledge, and to bring them up into their own global value chain as a real partner in their ecosystem of suppliers.”

She believed that this could also be applicable to small companies helping someone even smaller than them, and could ultimately change the way people approach the corporate world.

“If all sizes of business – even the poor helping somebody even smaller than themselves – can also feel that they apply this whole inclusive business mindset, I think this creates a new way of thinking which I like to call enlightened self-interest. Something that could create a sustainable way we can systemically change the way business is done.”