By Kris P. Bayos
Photos by Adrian T. Elumba

EITHER you are good at numbers but bad at letters or good at letters but bad at numbers, so they say. But Thomasian marketing icon Maria Regina “Gina” Bautista-Navarrete is clearly an exception, for she was an accomplished campus journalist during her college days and a respected  engineer who’s now into helping managed the country’s biggest fast-food conglomerate. 
Bautista-Navarette was the Varsitarian as editor in chief in 1984. She said the experience helped her in her work today as manager of some of the country’s top companies.
“UST and Varsi taught me how to manage time, set priorities, plan ahead, and respect deadlines,” she said. “Just as when one is at the corporate world, one has to be multi-tasking.”
From being an assistant product manager of Unilever Philippines in 1987, an Asia-Pacific business development director for Johnson & Johnson in 1996, marketing vice-president for Jollibee Foods Corporation in 2002, and general manager of Greenwich Pizza Corporation in 2006, the 42-year-old Navarette is now the president and general manager of Red Ribbon Bakeshop in the Philippines and concurrent president of the company’s franchise in the United States.

The 10th of the 12 children of the late Malacanang press undersecretary and former Varsitarian publications director Felix Bautista and of Catholic Author laureate and UST professor Lourdes Syquia, Navarette said she has always been proud to belong to a family of writers.
“Belonging to a family of writers made it easier for me to start my career in the written arts,” she said.
Inspired by her family who were all graduates of UST except her eldest brother,  pursued her tertiary education in the University. But despite her inclination to writing, Navarette, also the former editor in chief of UST High School’s (USTHS) The Aquinian, pursued a rather distant field: mathematics.
“I wanted to major in Math,” she said. “My two sisters advised me to pursue it at La Salle. But I wanted to join the Varsitarian so I stayed in UST. I pursued Engineering because it had the most math subjects.”
Graduating valedictorian from USTHS, Navarette pursued a degree in Industrial Engineering at the University while writing news for the Varsitarian in 1981.
“The Varsitarian helped me in my social life and made me gain confidence from having to interview a lot of people in the past,” she said.
Navarette also had other extra-curricular involvements apart from the Varsitarian. She was a member of the quiz contest team of the Industrial Engineering Department and a player for the Faculty of Engineering in intercollegiate volleyball tournaments. Still, she managed to graduate cum laude.

Success comes in numbers
Unlike ordinary fresh graduates having difficulty landing a job, Navarette had much ahead of her.
In 1985, Navarette was recruited as a marketing management trainee at Unilever Philippines, then known as the Philippine Refining Company. Her admission to the company proved to be a rare occasion since she was the first trainee who had attended college outside the University of the Philippines, De La Salle University, and Ateneo de Manila University.
“It was an honor for me to somehow represent UST in the company since majority of its employees were from the three universities,” she said. “I really had to prove to them a Thomasian’s worth during my stay.”
True enough, Navarette was promoted to assistant product manager after 21 months of rigorous training.
In 1988, Navarette joined Johnson & Johnson Philippines as product manager and gained an early promotion as the company’s franchise manager for baby products in 1990. She became the marketing manager for sanitary protection in 1993.
Navarette was briefly assigned to the United States as Johnson & Johnson’s worldwide product manager for sanitary protection, in acknowledgment of her contributions to the company’s marketing management, advertising, and market research.
“For 18 months I was working with the marketing departments of all Johnson & Johnson affiliates worldwide while being trained at Duke University in North Carolina for management courses,” she said.
Navarette returned to the Philippines to assume the post of associate director for Johnson & Johnson’s sanitary protection projects in 1996. In the same year, she was promoted as business development director for Baby Care for Asia Pacific.
“This assignment allowed me to visit most of the countries in Asia, including Japan, Korea, Pakistan, China, Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Hong Kong,” she said. “Together with the marketing heads of various Johnson & Johnson companies in Asia Pacific, I spearheaded the launching of several new Johnson’s baby products.”
Despite working for an international company, Navarette resigned in 1996 to join Jollibee Foods Corporation, as its marketing vice-president.
“At Jollibee, I was responsible for bringing back the brand’s focus on children through the launch of ‘Kaya Mo Kid!’” she said. “I wanted to develop an advertising television program that would focus on values formation among children, so I spearheaded this project to nurture the values of patriotism, parental respect, good manners, perseverance, and hard work.”
With Navarette’s superb management and the audience’s positive feedback, the “Kaya Mo Kid!” project received awards from several government and private institutions for its strong positive influence among the children.
Navarette also managed Jollibee’s subsidiary, Greenwich Pizza Corporation, from 2002 to 2006 before assuming her new post as president and general manager of the Red Ribbon Bakeshop, which Jollibee had acquired. She also takes care of the Red Ribbon franchise in the United States.
With all her achievements, Navarette stressed that it was her college training that prepared her to endure and survive the challenges of the corporate world.
“In the corporate world, they don’t only look at what you can technically do but how you are as a person, a leader, and a team player. It’s something I really learned from school,” she said. “We always say that success is because of our parents, but the school has a lot to do with it.”
Once she retires from the corporate world, Navarette said she would like to teach Marketing and Management back at her beloved alma mater to “engineer” future professionals.
“I want to teach at UST to give honor to the institution that molded a different breed of professionals in almost four centuries. After all, it’s the Thomasian’s adherence to values, deep faith in the Lord, and willingness to sacrifice that make us unique among others.”