“I have found great pleasure in learning from some of the best.”
Alice Eduardo, the “Woman of Steel,” is not a stranger to change.
As the president and CEO of Sta. Elena Construction and Development Corporation, she has played an important role in shaping not only Metro Manila, but also key provincial cities and communities.
Aside from building power plants, ports, and highways, her company has given rise to monumental structures like SM Mall of Asia and several hotels and casinos within the Entertainment City in Parañaque.
She has also used her voice, platform, energy, and resources to spark positive change in the lives of others.
As a long-time partner for Go! Negosyo, Eduardo wholeheartedly shares her entrepreneurial journey and offers mentoring sessions to inspire and empower Filipino businesswomen.
And on top of all these, she is a generous philanthropist. She constantly supports organizations like Habitat for Humanity, the Philippine Red Cross, and Caritas Manila, to name a few.
Just last year, she led the restoration of an old nurses’ dormitory into a home for the medical frontliners and transient patients of the Philippine General Hospital (PGH).
Seven years prior, the president also funded the construction of PGH’s 320-square meter pediatric hematology and oncology isolation ward for terminally ill cancer patients.
Most importantly, Eduardo fulfills her professional duties and charitable endeavors while balancing a blissful family life with her three children, Jacqueline, Jameson, and Jessica; her siblings Small, Melba, and Joel; and parents Andres and Elisa.
She is passionate about doing her job right, sees her success as an avenue to actively help others, and always chooses family first. And through all these, the Woman of Steel exhibits grace under pressure, allowing her to overcome challenges with a clear mind and heart.
Laying the foundations
Eduardo has always credited her parents’ entrepreneurial savvy in shaping much of her own business acumen and steely resolve.
Growing up, she experienced working for her family’s rice milling and trading business, their garments export business. She even worked for a bowling center in Nueva Ecija.
Her parents have taught her at an early age many key skills and mindsets that make for a sound and steady entrepreneur. She learned how to spot opportunities, take care of client relationships, pair courage with research and preparation.
She became uncompromising in doing the job right, and she stayed ahead not only of the competition but of the technology curve.
“I have found great pleasure in learning from some of the best,” she adds.
Eduardo illustrates these key lessons in action through the origin story of Sta. Elena.
As she writes on her own website, it was in 1995 when Concrete Aggregates, one of their clients, “tapped Eduardo to supply steel to a building project in Malolos, Bulacan while she was delivering rice using an elf truck that she drove herself.”
Even without any experience in construction, she took on the job. She shares further that not only did she source the materials, but she even delivered them personally to the client.
This specific opportunity became Eduardo’s lightbulb moment, sparking that drive to get into the construction industry. Thus, Sta. Elena was born.
Things went to a good start for Eduardo’s young company, bagging major projects like the Bacnotan Steel Plant and the Santa Rita and San Lorenzo Plants, which were all located in Batangas.
However, just three years after, Sta. Elena would be struck by the 1998 Asian Financial Crisis, throwing Eduardo toward one of the most defining challenges in her professional life.
“[The crisis left] me with heavy equipment acquired through dollar loans. [They] remained unused because construction activity had almost ground to a halt,” she recounts.
Eduardo shared that at the time, no one expected the Philippine peso to hit 40 to the Dollar, much less exceed 50.
“Our company saw its loans to foreign lenders balloon like crazy overnight. Interest rates went through the roof,” she shares. “We had loans in USD and SGD. I had just purchased brand new high-end heavy machinery in anticipation of more work, and the exact opposite happened.”
As the Middle East enjoyed exponential growth while Asia was declining, Eduardo had the option of selling the heavy equipment to the thriving region, but at a steep discount. However, she stood her ground.
“I decided to stay steady, brace myself, get out of my comfort zone, make adjustments, and ultimately hang on to the equipment. I earnestly renegotiated those dollar loans that ballooned because of the drastic deterioration of the peso,” she shared.
It turned out to be a good call for the businesswoman. Years after the Asian Financial Crisis, only Sta. Elena was equipped enough to lead the construction of the foundations of one of the largest malls in the world: the SM Mall of Asia in Pasay.
“That kind of willingness to do what is difficult has rewarded the company. That taught me grit,” she adds.
Hence, it does not come as a surprise that even amid the pandemic, Eduardo was still able to navigate her company through tough times.
“[For us,] the lockdown was a window to recharge and more mindspace to imagine new undertakings. I am sure there will be practices that were necessary during lockdown that will now be smart choices to continue as we reopen the economy,” she notes, recommending more remote meetings when appropriate, and making more online transactions for ease of business.
“Overall, [our] transitioning [at Sta. Elena] has been manageable,” she notes.
Eduardo currently has to deal not only with the current economy’s gradual recovery, but also with the monumental changes this month that will define the future of the country.
However, she is confident with Sta. Elena’s steel-clad grit. “[Our] strength [within our] niche of doing foundation and substructure work continues to be an advantage. That allows us to bid competitively for more projects such as power plants, airports, ports and skyways.”
To cement their role in further shaping the nation’s progress in the coming years, Eduardo says that they will keep sticking to what they do best—constructing superb foundations for top development projects.
“Achieving high quality infrastructure development can positively impact economic output via higher construction activity and increased employment in the short term,” she notes.
The president is quick to add, however, that such development and change should not come at the cost of altering or eradicating structures and communities that carry cultural and historical significance.
“Every community holds valuable historic landmarks and structures of the past. These historic elements are responsible for keeping a community’s collective heritage part of its present. By saving historic buildings, you’ll help your community retain its uniqueness,” she notes.
Therefore, Eduardo encourages developers to be passionate about saving these historical structures. For instance, they may employ their resources and know-how for adaptive reuse—the repurposing of existing structures for renewed uses.
The businesswoman also looks at industries beyond her own to build the foundations for sustainable prosperity. “We need to take a hard look at agriculture and food security and beef up our industrial activity. There needs to be a balance.”
She also adds that Filipino ingenuity and creativity will continue to be the driving force for our growth and development.
“Filipinos are talented in a variety of pursuits. That needs to be harnessed and kept within our shores. Education should also evolve to become more relevant and [translatable into] marketable job skills,” she stresses.
Building the dream
In encouraging aspiring changemakers, entrepreneurs, and leaders, the president notes a few key lessons that she wishes to impart:
“Don’t ever be afraid to try. [This] is how you are going to learn things that make you smarter, wiser, and stronger. And don’t worry about failing. It’s not a failure if you learned something that can make you better as you move ahead.”
She also advises people to be mindful of controlling one’s efforts instead of outcomes.
“Focus on giving your best effort in everything you do. Trust that whatever outcome, even the ones that seem disastrous at the moment, is exactly the best [one] for you, because that will lead you to [where you are] meant to be—a place that’s far more glorious than anything [that you can imagine.]”
Moreover, in encouraging fellow Filipinas to thrive within their respective careers and vocations, Eduardo draws from her childhood memories and how she wanted to become successful, even at a young age.
“I’ve always believed that excellence knows no gender. Growing up, I stood constantly in awe of engineering wonders and often thought of them as larger than life. I always thought of how roads and bridges helped people improve their lives—how basic and important it was that buildings stood on solid foundations,” she shares.
The businesswoman was always driven by the thought that one day, if she were hardworking and determined enough, she could create a team that could build infrastructure in service of the people.
“It had nothing to do with being male or female. It had everything to do with the excitement to create lasting structures, of chasing a dream—the thrill of seeing them come true.”
As such, she calls on those with ambition and drive to dream big. “Be prepared for those bumps along the way. Stay focused and do not be discouraged by the naysayers. Instead, use [that] criticism or negativity from others as inspiration,” she advises.
Amid all her achievements and grand plans to develop further, Eduardo keeps herself grounded by ascribing a higher purpose to her work.
“I see my success as an avenue to actively help others. Every day, I count my blessings, and I try to make my blessings count. So that sense of contributing ingrained something in me and has become a part of me. With all the breaks that have come my way, there is also that instinctive desire to pay it forward,” she says.
The entrepreneur credits her mother for her charitable and caring spirit. “I observed my mother walk the talk of generosity even at an early age so it was the mindset I grew up with,” she adds.
Eduardo also assures that Santa Elena will continue to keep its ear on the ground for opportunities to help.
As such, it doesn’t come as a surprise that Eduardo’s definition of a meaningful life involves care and generosity.
“A meaningful life is one where you can positively impact people’s lives—even those [that] you’ve never met [before]. It’s a life where I have matched my blessings by being even more of a blessing to family, friends, and as many people as possible.”
Photography PAOLO PINEDA assisted by JOHN PAUL DIOQUINO & NOEL BEJERANO
Art Director MARC YELLOW
Sittings Editor DONG RONQUILLO
Videography EXCEL PANLAQUE
Makeup Artist JUAN SARTE assisted by MA. LEONORA ALCANTARA
Hairstylist NANTE ALINGASA
Stylist LIZ UY assisted by JOLO BARTOLO & JOY BERNARDO of Stylized Studio
Shoot Coordinator MAE TALAID & MJ ALMERO