Through my own training as an actuary and actor, I learned long ago that success doesn’t always come from clear, numeric formulas, but rather by harnessing some invisible energy within yourself.
That’s true for Martha Sazon, President and CEO of the Philippines’ leading Finance app, GCash. She leaped from one male-dominated sector to the next – and accepted fresh roles more often than some buy new suits – by developing her own self-acceptance, doing the hard work, and anchoring herself to a purpose when things got tough.
Accepting herself and pushing ahead
“Back in school, I was castigated for being the girl who asked so many questions,” muses Martha, when I inquired how she gained the confidence to take on new positions every three or five years in distinct industries. “I was often judged based on my personality, because I wasn’t modest or restrained as they expected. But I came to accept myself, rather than changing to match others’ expectations.”
With determination, Martha energetically embraced diverse professional roles: “I pushed myself to see how far I could go, but it wasn’t always a bed of roses. Many times, I was the only one in a dress in a sea of black suits, and yet, I was invisible to the men. Or, they would be polite, but not value my opinion. I noticed how men were allowed to have strong personalities, whereas decisive women were labelled ‘aggressive,’ or strategic-minded women were called ‘calculating.’
Despite this sometimes-unwelcoming environment, Martha charged ahead, emphasizing that, “One of my principles is ‘substance is more important than form,’ so I did my homework to gain the right knowledge. There is no shortcut to success, so you have to put in the hard work.”
Martha does admit that, behind her ‘speak-my-mind’ demeanor, she felt doubts: “I was not immune to the fear of failure, so I had to build my self-awareness and accept my own strengths and vulnerabilities. Then, I could turn off the ‘noise’ of others’ opinions that can divert us from where we want to go. This made me confident in my own skin, so I could get over any disappointments.”
She also decided that, in hyper competitive, every-shifting business landscapes like telecom and fintech, you sometimes need to find a grounding purpose beyond short-term results. “I remember managing a challenging broadband internet project, with thousands of employees working on it. I asked myself, ‘How can I inspire people when we are not winning?’ I realized we needed to remind everyone that, ultimately, what we were doing is connecting people with opportunity, and the internet we were building is a great equalizer for our developing nation.”
Martha again focused on a clear purpose when she assumed leadership of GCash in the midst of COVID-19 lockdowns, managing a team she had never met face to face. “It’s a bit of a mind game, but I put aside the fears and uncertainty by focusing on how we could help others,” she recounts. “We rooted ourselves on something deeper, and my team rallied around the purpose of helping people impacted by the pandemic to access critical funds, buy essentials, or donate to others in need. We knew what we could be, and we made it happen.”
Showing girls all they can be
While thriving in her profession, Martha also honors a personal purpose to help the next generation of women succeed in any field. “The technology sector is still predominantly men, so I believe that women like myself must set an example, so girls get visual cues of what they can accomplish. Today there are more girls studying technology, but we need to normalize success for women so they say, ‘That could be me.’”
And Martha’s eager to help other women gain the inner self-confidence to venture into any new frontier, including the fintech sector: “My advice to women is that, ‘You are what you dream, and you are only limited by the bounds of what you can imagine’. I’ve proved that, since I’m not a tech person but I lead one of the largest tech companies in the Philippines. There will always be those who are critical of your gender, background, or skill, but if you believe in your own abilities, then half the work is already done.”
More about Martha Sazon: Martha Sazon is President and CEO of Myne, a fintech micropayment service which operates GCash in the Philippines. With 20-plus years’ experience in general management, marketing and sales in different industries, Martha assumed her role at GCash in 2020 after serving 11 years with Globe Telecom. She attained increasingly senior roles at this major Philippines telecommunications provider, most recently, Senior Vice President, Broadband Business. Previously, Martha was Marketing Director and Category Leader for Asia with GLAXOSMITHKLINE Philippines and earlier, Senior Product Manager with Del Monte Philippines. A Certified Public Accountant, Martha earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Accountancy from the University of the Philippines with executive certifications from the International Institute for Management Development (IMD).