Author: Rossana Llenado
I discovered and developed my entrepreneurial and marketing skills at an early age. It began as just a childish game: Whenever I won at street games, I would sell my winnings—tex (play) cards, marbles, and rubber bands—to my playmates.
When I was 5 years old, my friends and I went on a caroling spree during the Christmas season. Without really knowing why, as the group leader I convinced my friends to wear nice clothes, bring musical instruments, practice our songs, and knock first before singing. That strategy led to something good, as we earned more than what the other caroling teams did!
That was just the beginning. In third grade, I made and sold polvoron with the help of my classmates, paying my young assistants polvoron for their services.
At that time, my family lived in Los Banos, a small town in Laguna. We were a typical Filipino family, with no wealth, no connections, no advantages. But I was rich with dreams and had the willingness to work hard to achieve them.
That same year, we lost everything when our house was razed by fire. To help my family, I started selling mangoes on the streets with my mother. Later on, I ventured into selling stickers to my classmates. Whatever business I went into prospered largely because I plowed back whatever I earned into the venture.
In college, my enterprising ways continued. In my first year, I sold a variety of goods such as school supplies, colognes, jeans, and hand fans. Before graduating, I was able to rent a place that I then subdivided and sublet. I also tried my hand in catering.
My typical college schedule went like this: From 7 a.m. to 12 p.m., I would go to my classes at the University of the Philippines Los Banos, and from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., I would be doing part-time work as a student assistant.
From 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., I would be immersed in my work for student organizations, including as two-term president of both the UPLB Writers Club and the UPLB Public Relations Society of the Philippines Student Chapter. Aside from this, I was a member of the UPLB Ladies Football Varsity and part of the official student paper.
After finishing all my extracurricular activities, I would rush home to wash dishes and clean the house. On weekends and summer breaks, I focused on housework, as I was tasked to do the family washing and ironing, as well as the budgeting, marketing, and cooking.
From the start, I’ve always loved seeing my inventory grow and making my customers happy. I didn’t mind working long, hard hours. I worked because I loved working and overcoming the challenges that business brings. Until now, I like making people happy and keeping my customers satisfied, and I I credit this attitude for making me an effective leader of my company.
The Birth of AHEAD
When I was 18, I was asked to write a speech for a political candidate on the importance of education in nation building. This ignited my dream to make a contribution to the cause of education.
I knew, however, that I was not destined to become a teacher. For me, teachers are role models with hardly any discernible flaws. Acknowledging my many imperfections, I knew I couldn’t live up to that standard.
Instead of forcing myself to be what I am not, I made it my mission to find great teachers instead.
And this I have been doing for the past 23 years. I started the company just after giving birth to twin boys. Because I didn’t want to be away from them, I decided to go into a business that would allow me to work from home and still be able to make a difference in other people’s lives.
I started AHEAD at 25. And while many people encounter difficulties with putting up a company at such a young age, I never did. Perhaps it’s because I have trained myself to face and overcome challenges all my life. To this day, I credit the experiences and learnings I acquired while still studying for my values—and those of my company.
I believe I helped start an industry with AHEAD. AHEAD revolutionized the classic tutorials—from having teachers come to the homes of their students to conduct lessons to being the systematic, marketed, and expanded form of service it is at present.
The values AHEAD and I share are responsibility, leadership, and excellence.
We take responsibility for taking the challenge of education seriously, and for ensuring that our students, their parents, our employees, and the society benefit from our efforts.
We take the lead. We pioneered many services in the industry, such as printing the first ever UP College Admission Test (UPCAT) book, offering diagnostic and simulated exams, and training school principals, teachers, parents, and students.
We were the first center to offer Singapore math, speed reading, and review for law entrance exam, national medical admission test, the UPCAT, Ateneo College Entrance Test, De La Salle Admission Test, and the Philippine Science admission exam.
We were the first to open in malls, offer a franchise, and make online applications.
We are the only center to offer mind mapping. Our review programs are test-based and our lecturers are the best in the country.
For AHEAD, excellence is the overarching goal. Our team untiringly attends seminars, workshops, and conferences to keep up with the latest paradigm shifts and industry trends.
At AHEAD, I get to work with hundreds of excellent young teachers. Our lecturers, who handle our college entrance test review programs, have professions other than teaching. They are engineers, doctors, and lawyers who fulfill their need to share their knowledge with others. We give them the opportunity to teach without sacrificing their respective professions.
Together with these amazing teachers, we have helped thousands of students get into the schools of their choice. Since I established AHEAD in 1995, we have maintained the highest passing percentage in the entrance tests of Ateneo, De La Salle, and UP.
AHEAD has also expanded into AHEADPro, AHEAD Books and Things, AHEAD Online, and YuXin.
AHEADPro offers training for graduates such as international English exams, English proficiency training, and corporate training. When the St. Luke’s medical group was building their hospital in Global City, Taguig, they sent their managers to the Asian Institute of Management for management training and to AHEAD for communications training. We have also trained the employees of such corporations as FedEx, MSI, and Dusit Thani Hotel, as well as those of many schools all over the country.
AHEAD Books and Things published the first UPCAT Book in the Philippines, and prints all our materials. It is also the franchising arm of AHEAD Tutorial and Review Center and YuXin.
YuXin is where parents bring their children to become exceptional students, learning Singapore math, speed reading, mind mapping, and reading comprehension, among others.
AHEAD Online, meanwhile, is the virtual version of all these. Students from all over the world and in some parts of the Philippines where internet connectivity is sufficient to handle video conferencing can access this online service for convenient distance learning.
The best part of being an entrepreneur in the field of education is that you get to contribute to your country’s development. At AHEAD, we guide and assist students to realize their potentials and become the best that they can be, so that they will someday become productive citizens and leaders of society.
In this field, we get to help thousands of students, give hundreds of teachers and staff a source of livelihood, and make a positive impact on the course of people’s lives.
Because of AHEAD’s accomplishments, I feel honored to have been given several opportunities to share my entrepreneurial knowledge and skills through speaking engagements, as well as TV, radio and print exposures here and abroad.
I’ve also been privileged to receive awards from different organizations. AHEAD and I have received several citations such as the Go Negosyo Inspiring Filipina Award, Outstanding Alumna of UP Los Baños College of Arts and Sciences, Agora Award from PMA, Aurelio Periquet Jr. Business Leadership Award from the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Working Mom of the Year Balance Award from Working Mom Magazine, and first Entrepreneur 10 Award from Entrepreneur Magazine.
In addition, I was recognized by Summit Media as one of the 100 Most Amazing Filipinas in the World, and by Entrepreneur Magazine as one of the 75 Most Admired Entrepreneurs. We also received the Gold Quill award from the International Association of Business Communicators.
These recognitions signify the approval and the affirmation that we are on the right path and inspire us to do better all the time.
For those who want to go into marketing, my advice is to work only with companies whose products and services provide the best benefits to mankind. For those who want to be an entrepreneur, think of a need or an advocacy that is close to your heart and offer a solution or a service that will address that concern.
I truly believe that like me, you too can accomplish all your dreams and aspirations. The key is to make responsibility, leadership, and excellence your own values as well. And above all, don’t forget to pray to God, and He will do the rest.