Gretchen Choa of The Camden Trading Group on Taking Charge
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Gretchen Choa of The Camden Trading Group on Taking Charge

Gretchen Choa of The Camden Trading Group on Taking Charge

Fashion | May 16, 2022
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As the Vice President of The Camden Trading Group, Gretchen Choa has big shoes to fill. Learn her secret to success and advocacies in this exclusive interview with the woman herself.

Juggling many responsibilities—both in business and at home—is an amazing feat that not a lot of people can manage. But 40-year-old businesswoman Gretchen Choa takes pride in being able to do all this effortlessly—and with grace and poise, too.

Mom of boys, entrepreneur, and foodie. These are just some of the many roles that Gretchen takes on. A multi-hyphenated individual with both impressive credentials and impeccable style, she primarily takes the reins as The Camden Trading Group’s Vice President—a title she earned, not by connections, but by merit alone.

Just like her, the family business is diverse—first offering cosmetic, personal care, pharmaceutical, coatings, semiconductors, and confectionery industry in its humble beginnings in 1988 before entering into the feed industry in 1991, and eventually, venturing into the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) market in 2013. To date, the company has organized all its offerings into neat divisions: Camden Agriculture for better yields, Camden Food Chemistry for specialty foodstuff ingredients, and Camden Chemistry for industrial needs—with goals of expanding over and beyond.

Just how does she do all this, while taking care of her family and looking not a day older? I’ve had the pleasure of talking to this superwoman of a business figure, where she proudly tells all.

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Being such a young businesswoman, how did you get into the business, and who was your mentor?

The Camden Trading Group is a leader in global sourcing and nationwide distribution of raw materials in the agriculture, food manufacturing, and chemical industries, which was started by my father 34 years ago.

I first “presented” myself to my dad after graduating [from] university, as it seemed—back then—a logical progression to join the family business. To my shock, my dad rejected my offer and told me to find my own job. I took that in stride and found my own way in the corporate world. In hindsight, that was my first official (and humbling) lesson from my Dad, who is not only my mentor but also my best friend and confidante. 

After several years in corporate life, I talked to my Dad and this time, [I] asked if I could join the family business because I wanted to learn and help him. I didn’t care where I would be assigned—I just knew [that] I wanted to be of help and service to the company. This time, I was hired. 

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What are your areas of responsibility in said businesses?

As Vice President, I oversee internal operations, help direct strategy and lead in the development of new products. As my dad’s right-hand woman, we discuss various issues and reflect on our business on a regular schedule. I am fortunate that my dad not only gave me a seat at the table but [also] allowed me to have my own voice. 

What do you find challenging in your line of work?

Since we import 90% of our products, ensuring a smooth flow in inventory and supply is highly crucial. A good balance of prudence and calculated risk is [also] necessary. The current pandemic-induced supply chain disruption—to say the least—makes things extra difficult, yet also exciting. 

How do you see yourself 10 years from now?

It is my dream to someday have a foundation involving assistance and support for our Filipino farmers. [Also] improving their yield and further developing the current local food supply chain. 

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If you weren’t in this kind of business, what kind of career do you want to be in? 

I would probably go full-time teaching. I was invited to teach again for a semester (after more than a decade!) at my former university—the University of Asia & the Pacific—back in August 2020, in the middle of the pandemic. Teaching satisfies my curious nature and I loved connecting with my students. I think teaching helps keep me young, too. Haha!

In your bucket list, what are your top three?

First, to go on a cruise with my two boys around Europe or a road trip to the South of France. Second, my best friend and I made a pact long ago to travel to San Sebastián when we both turn 40. We hope to get to do these soon, now that travel is opening up. Lastly, I want to get another master’s degree—this time in business. 

What else do you need to do to make your company bigger than what it is now?

I’m glad you asked this question because, since the pandemic, the opportunity to expand and improve internal communications [have] played a crucial role. We have multiple salesmen and warehouse hubs nationwide, and so, to have both alignment and clarity of the job at hand for everyone involved makes a huge difference.

As we go along, mobile communications and internet connectivity hopefully improve, too, especially in the provincial areas where we still experience difficulty. Having said that, I think as we continue to evolve our work set up in a post-pandemic world, it pays to always invest in our internal social capital. No amount of external investment would make sense if your people don’t feel they are also being cared for. Humanity remains at the center of any successful business.

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You’ve recently launched a fundraising effort to help the victims of Typhoon Odette in Cebu. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?

Courage Cebu really started in late March 2020 during [the] lockdown among us 8 friends. [The goal was] to raise funds to help provide medical frontliners and essential workers with PPEs, food, and other necessities.

When Typhoon Odette hit us, my friend Divine and I talked about reviving Courage Cebu. Though we all had our own problems and property damages to deal with, we just couldn’t stand not doing anything for others who were helpless. However, there was a challenge of spotty to no internet, [as] mobile networks were still down in some areas of Cebu.

Thankfully one of our friends, Chari was staying in Manila at that time, so she managed the Instagram posts, inquiries, and messages for us, while the sourcing, receiving, accounting, and distribution were left to the rest of us in Cebu. We [also] had so much help from Red Cross, Gothong Shipping, volunteers, friends, and family.

Having collected a total of PHP 3.83 Million and donations in kind, we were able to distribute [these goods] from house-to-house in Cebu City—as well various provinces of Cebu, including Madridejos, which is about 140 km away. We were also able to extend our distribution to Siargao, Bohol, and Southern Leyte.

Seeing the happy and hopeful smiles, especially from the young children is a humbling experience, one that is life-changing—one that I am especially grateful for. 

How do you balance your work and family life, like raising two young boys during the pandemic? How were you able to make them cope with the struggles of having to stay home for a long time?

The past two years allowed my two boys to witness both my work life and home life, where prior to the pandemic, they knew my mommy mode well and only a general concept of my work. Children observe us more than we think they do. Having seen how my work [for The Camden Trading Group] actually goes on a daily basis, I believe, [has] deepened their understanding.

They hear my Zoom meetings [and] I share my project updates, where they comment and even give their suggestions. It is actually fascinating what they come up with! [A] few times, I adapted their comment to my projects and thanked them for the input. They smile with pride.

I also love cooking and baking, so I ask my boys to help me in the kitchen. Sometimes, they see viral cooking videos and we try them out together. Our cooking is usually fun but has also become competitive in terms of our plating and decorating skills. Sometimes, [it’s] even funny—like when we tried making our own pasta… without a pasta machine! All of these make for great bonding moments, and of course, eating together always remains a pleasure.

Text CANDY DIZON

Photography ED SIMON

Makeup MAYESA DELOS SANTOS

Jewelry PAUL SYJUCO

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