Upon Reflection with Gemma Alcantara
In our latest series, Upon Reflection, as part of our personal growth and transformation here at Hyper Island, we catch-up with alumni out of Asia Pacific to discuss their personal journey of growth and highlight our most valuable takeaways to support lifelong learners of the future. In this edition, we speak to Gemma Alcantara of Crew 8 and Chief Innovations Officer at Hakuhodo International Philippines.
Hey there! Give us the lowdown on who you are and what your current role is in the world of work?
Hi! This is Gemma Alcantara from Hyper Island’s Asia Pacific Crew 8!
As Managing Director of the Hakuhodo-BCI Group of Companies, I oversee the management of two brand agencies, a digital team and an events company.
Over the last year, our teams initiated their transformation journey to discover their “new place” in our uncertain future. My current role is to facilitate this transformation and I am honoured to be doing so.
As a result of my interest in innovations over the last 12 months, I have recently been tasked (and challenged) with the role of Chief Innovations Officer for Hakuhodo International Philippines.
What triggered your adventure with Hyper Island? Why did you choose us?
In 2018, our organisation had just been acquired by Hakuhodo - a huge advertising network from Japan - and I felt it was a turning point in our team’s life cycle. We were grateful for the trust as well as excited to move forward.
We wanted to contribute to taking our current business to a higher level even as our new principals were contributing themselves. Choosing Hyper Island as a way to learn about transformation was easy, as we had consulted Peachy Pacquing (Master’s Programme Director for Hyper Island Asia Pacific) in search of the light we needed to see our work and the world in a different way.
As we belong to the creative industry, I knew that a regular MBA wasn’t going to do the trick. We knew that a fusion of creativity and business leadership was key to innovative transformation which is exactly what Hyper Island provided.
I am happy to say that I wasn’t disappointed at all.
How did Hyper Island support your transformation?
It was crazy coincidental and a wonderful blessing that the modules of the Master’s fit the exact needs that our own team journey was embarking on.
As I returned to work with the powers of ‘Design Thinking’ and ‘Digital Technologies’, our team gained confidence to ideate non-traditional solutions beyond communications that we presented as initiatives to an account that has become one of our biggest today.
‘Business Transformation’ came exactly during our business planning for the following fiscal year and it gave me the lens by which to balance my aim between impact and shareholder value. The electives were perfect experiences to show us how to apply what we are learning to the real world.
‘Exploring Innovations’ came right when Manila was placed under a hard lockdown because of the pandemic. Our team took experimentation to town by coming up with its own innovative products, some of which have become alternative revenue streams for us today.
What experiences from Hyper Island do you find most valuable and hope to take with you into working life?
More than experiences or the tools, it is the culture, the mindset, the new lenses, the new ways of working and the ability to see the world differently --- that we have all adopted.
We have all been thrust into a new work-life environment that demands an infinite innovation mindset --- one where we are comfortable with chaos and failure as necessary steps to success, while discovering relevant ways to make life better.
The advertising business performance is only as good as the business performance of its clients, given that we are typically at the bottom of the food chain. The impact on individual companies has been on extreme ends of the spectrum.
How has your industry been affected by the pandemic and where does it go from here?
Overall, however, apart from companies who serve essential consumer and technology brands, our creative and events industry did take quite a big hit, unfortunately.
The industry as a whole needs to return to basics to understand how it can best partner with its clients in rebuilding brands through innovative solutions.
We need to support our clients in offering experiences that consumers want, instead of forcing consumers to want their products. This enables the industry to give more value to clients and hopefully regain its footing enough to leap into a more relevant role in business.
Any advice for other people thinking about studying at Hyper Island?
Go for it! Hyper Island is for everyone with an open mind and desire to explore new ways of living life and thrive in business and their careers. The ways of learning enable us to both adapt and lead in this changing world.
More than simply transforming oneself, that implies a finite destination, Hyper Island breeds transformative leaders. Hyper Island delivers a journey that cares about the emotive and creative aspects of life, while providing the confidence to work with technology and deliver market and business impact – a combination that is highly demanded today.
What is the one achievement you are most proud of?
Our team’s survival through the pandemic. We are still pretty much in the throes of figuring it out, but facilitating our team’s innovation projects and giving our team the mindset to create solutions, rather than mere communications, has been key in building a transformative team.
What is the one piece of advice that you live by?
I got this advice when I was a confused 12-year old trying to find my place in the world. I was fortunate to learn to stop measuring myself against the achievements of others and find happiness on my own, early in life.
In Hyper Island, I learned to define what that “best” means in today’s world. It means being authentic to who you really are and your best will come naturally. It means happiness in the achievement of one’s goals will come naturally, too. Always asking myself if this is the best that I can give helps me be more self-aware and honest with myself.
As a leader, it also reminds me to consider my teammates' efforts from their own perspectives first, rather than impose my direction upon them unconditionally. It is not always possible to give in to everyone, of course, but thinking of their needs first anchors our decisions to be the best that THEY can be and the best that the TEAM can be.
What is the one thing you wish you had learned earlier in your career?
Critical thinking. How to ask the right questions that challenge the status quo.
Over the years, looking inwards and finding my own happiness can lead to a very one-sided view of life. What Master’s-Level (or M-Level) thinking taught me was to channel some of that effort to opening my worldview wider and see how I may contribute to it better.
What is the one thing about which you most often say: “Well, maybe one day?”
Coaching. I believe so much in the value of empowering people with the ability to improve their own lives while cognizant of how their actions contribute to the world around them. Imagine an entire world of humanity-centered self-aware leaders. I would like to be part of making that happen.
What is the one thing that people would be most surprised to learn about you?
Not much, I think. I wish I had more layers to my personality, but I’m pretty much a “what-you-see-is-what-you-get” kinda gal.
Who is the one person you call in a crisis?
I am blessed with many friends who are very generous with their advice and time. My husband and I are part of a tight group of college friends who can talk about anything and can make any crisis easier to bear. Everyone should have life-long friendships like what we have.
I also share a fierce friendship with my biz partner, Michelle (also HI APAC Crew 9) for over 25 years. We have always been there for each other.
I have a friend who somehow became my instant life coach about eight years ago. His spirituality and practical wisdom just puts me back on track whenever I feel lost.
And of course, there is Peachy! My everyday life is just a string of mini-crises that includes dilemmas at work or thoughts that drag me down. She is such an unselfish listener and talking to her gives me refreshing perspectives.
So many friends to be grateful for!
What’s the one age you would be again?
The time of my life in college that had nothing to do with studying - where time was best spent with the friends who remain the best and most authentic ones I have now - discovering new things together and with whom I still have the most fun with!
What is the one trait you consider essential to your success?
Grit. We can’t expect to get anywhere without leaning into the work. Part of grit is also being conscious of the values of teamwork and transformation.
Learning these values from Hyper Island was so helpful. However, knowing them and practicing them are two different things! I find that it’s not enough that we work hard at the actual work. We also need to work hard at the WAYS that the work is done; and the consequences that they have in the world and the future.