From embarking in the world of telecommunications, to her journey today as president and CEO of shared services company Asticom, Mharicar Castillo-Reyes stands out as a trailblazer.
Her foray into the corporate world began with her role as head of talent acquisition at Globe Telecom, a popular telecommunications company in the Philippines. With a background rooted in human resources and people management, she oversaw end-to-end recruitment processes across levels, from interns to senior executives.
A defining moment in Castillo-Reyes' career came in 2014 when she was one of the pioneers who spearheaded the establishment of Asticom, a Philippines-based shared services company. It was born out of a compelling business case that she personally presented.
This turning point reflected her own aspiration – that of providing people with decent job opportunities, improved benefits, and, most importantly, the right development programs to excel as frontline personnel for organizations such as Globe.
This commitment to enhancing productivity, work quality and employment opportunities set the stage for her journey towards Asticom's leadership, where her visionary approach continues to drive meaningful growth for businesses.
Here are excerpts from her exclusive interview with People Matters:
Take us through the journey which led to your leadership role today.
Let me rewind just a bit to the earlier days when we started setting up Asticom. It all started when I was previously with Globe Telecom, where I was the head of talent acquisition. Globe Telecom is a leading telecommunications company in the Philippines. I moved in within that period as the head of employee services.
My background really is in HR. Then came this opportunity given to me by Ernest Cu, Globe Group CEO, and Renato Jiao, Globe Group CHRO, to establish a company known today as Asticom. It was created for the purpose of addressing talent challenges in Globe and the Ayala Group.
I was the head of talent acquisition, handling recruitment end to end, from interns up to senior executives. One of the key challenges we had back then was creating a balance among people employed by third-party personnel who are then deployed to companies such as Globe and/or Ayala.
Our bigger goal at Asticom is to provide people with decent jobs, better benefits, and the right development programs for them to operate properly as the frontline personnel of companies.
In 2014, we created the business case that I presented myself to Ernest and Ato and 10 minutes in, they said, “Let's proceed. Let's set it up.” And the rest was history.
We officially opened our doors in March 2015, with five employees, including myself. I began my journey as a general manager and later on was promoted to become the president and CEO.
What inspired you to take on the challenge?
It’s about going back to that real purpose of why the company was created, which is to improve people's lives by providing them opportunities, decent jobs, better benefits, better development. The company was created not for revenue but really to help people.
I grew up in a simple family. My parents taught me the importance of thinking beyond myself and looking after other people, looking after family, looking after others. Those early lessons from my parents and my siblings became my foundation for the leadership role I have today, which is really about supporting, encouraging and inspiring people.
My focus remains on guiding and empowering individuals. That has been my leadership mantra.
I always believe that the role of the CEO is really to provide a clear vision and purpose for the company and empower the people. The rest would follow. I think that's where I would attribute the success of the company. Personally, I think, it's really about the people we work with – whether it's our mentors, or clients, partners and employees. We get to learn every single day.
It’s still a continuous journey for me, this leadership role. There's still so much to do. I've been running the company for eight years now.
There's this saying in the HR community that HR leaders make the best CEOs. What are your thoughts on that?
Business is all about people. Regardless whether it's a technology, manufacturing, or retail company. It all goes back to people. The biggest asset you can really have is not technology, not financials, but people.
Not everyone in HR is given an opportunity to lead a company like Asticom. The majority of CEOs today either have finance, sales or marketing backgrounds. Not very often would you see an HR person taking on a leadership or business role. I think it was just really my passion. I'm a people person. I'm an HR person; I love what I do. It is aligned to the business I’m running.
The success of it is not purely because I'm from HR, but because it goes back to what that real passion is. Any HR person can be a CEO, but it all goes back to one’s purpose.
Leading a company like Asticom requires adaptability and agility to keep pace with the times. As a leader, how do you keep agile and innovative in your own field?
As a leader, I ensure agility and innovation by first establishing a clear vision and purpose. I always believe that, as leaders of the company, regardless of whether it's the CEO or senior manager, having a clear vision and purpose is very important because that serves as the guiding principle for adapting new technologies in a new business landscape for the company.
That purpose should centre each and every single leader, manager or employee. And for Asticom, our purpose is really to improve people's lives and give our team a sense of direction that helps them align their efforts with their values. I always say to the group: “In everything that you do, whatever it is, whether you're in tech, or in sales and marketing, you always have to go back to that purpose. What does your role do to live the purpose of improving people's lives?”
Now, let’s go technical. We continuously monitor market trends, customer behaviours, even competition, to help us stay attuned to emerging opportunities and potential threats.
Artificial intelligence, for example, has been here for the longest time. But now, when generative AI came in, everyone's really shocked about what it could do.
That's why in Asticom, we also invest in research and development to make sure that we stay ahead in terms of tech services and solutions.
As a culture, we embrace disruptive business models. There are even discussions within our teams that it is better that we disrupt ourselves, rather than be disrupted by our customers and or by other companies. We always look at it as an opportunity to reinvent ourselves.
Finally, our strategies are always deeply rooted in our commitment to ensuring that our tech adoptions are not just for the sake of identifying new technology – but also for the sake of giving us a return on investment on our long-term goals. It’s not just for the company, but also, most especially, for our customers or shareholders.
What is the role of Asticom in the shared services industry of Southeast Asia?
Asticom is a tech-enabled shared services and outsourcing company under the Globe Group. We've grown – and accelerated our growth – since our inception in 2015. With a workforce of over 5,000 now, and revenue exceeding 3 billion Philippine pesos (approx. 53.62 million USD), we became a significant player in the shared services and outsourcing sector.
Our partnerships play a very crucial role in the overall ecosystem of the shared services and outsourcing business in Southeast Asia. We believe technology is key for us to deliver the right solutions for our customers.
We’re now opening our doors, offering services beyond the Philippines. We're now going to Southeast Asia where, through these partners as well, we meet new clients whom we support in terms of implementation and with [continuous] support.
Strategic partnerships enhance the technological capabilities of companies and help us in making sure that we create custom-built or tailor-made solutions for businesses.
Our market knowledge and cultural insight position us as an ideal partner.
You mentioned strategic partnerships. When you go into these partnerships, it somehow opens new doors for you. As you expand in the region, what gets you excited?
I think what gets us excited is really more of that potential, that opportunity to go beyond what we do today. I just had a recent trip to Singapore to meet a number of partners. And, really, what's exciting about this is you get to see new things every single time you talk to a partner.
Beyond technology, it's also their solutions and their ways of working; how they develop their people. There's really so much opportunity in the region.
One thing to highlight is the quality of talent we have in the Philippines where – in the BPO sector alone – there is a 96% literacy rate.
We have a target of 1.7 million new jobs in the BPO industry and 35 billion USD in revenue.
What excites me is really understanding other markets and selling the Philippines not only as a BPO hub but also as a technology hub and a solutions hub for the region.
How challenging is it to future-proof the shared services and outsourcing industry, and how are you going about it?
Regardless of whether it's domestic or regional, there will always be challenges. But those challenges, I always look at them as an opportunity. One of the biggest challenges we are all facing – and not just in the shared services and outsourcing industry or the Philippine market – is the rapidly changing technology landscape.
I always say this to my team: the goal of technology is to enhance the work that we do as a company or as humans. So, humans will never be replaced by technology.
It's really fast moving. We're at the stage where we're evaluating our solutions and disrupting ourselves. Or else, technology will do it for us. And the way we do it is we now try to identify roles and functions that are repetitive and transactional, and we are now shifting to automation or AI for those, so that we can also free up the talent and develop them and reskill them for high-value functions or roles. I think that is the way to go for us to future-proof the business, the industry, and the company.
Technology changes almost every single day, every single month. But the quality of people, the culture that you have within the company will never change. And as long as you have that clear vision and purpose, no matter how fast it changes, you will always go back to your roots. You will continuously evolve and innovate as an organisation.
With your background in talent, what role does talent development and upskilling play in ensuring the success of shared services and outsourcing initiatives?
I always believe that nurturing and developing talent – in this case, our employees – is vital to the business, particularly shared services and outsourcing. I always believe in the importance of empowering our workforce.
Now, we have what we call the three G's at Asticom: Gain, Grow and Give.
‘Gain’ is basically where we attract top talent because, whatever happens, our clients will continuously have demand for people and need new support, new competencies, and new capabilities. So, we will have to attract talent.
Then we have the ‘Grow’ strategy, which requires a little bit more investment in terms of time and effort because it requires us to develop the skill of our current employees. It will give you a longer-term impact. It can provide you with better results in the future because your people also grow with you and they develop themselves.
And the last strategy we have is called ‘Give’ referring to the concept of talent mobility, where we give potential talents and we receive potential talents coming from the Globe group, Ayala or Asticom. Those opportunities [to work across organisations] gives them a holistic view of talent development.
It's one thing to attract and hire talent. But they might get stagnant with where they are. In that case, you will also not retain talent.
I think, given that overall opportunity and holistic view, I will ‘give’ you [new assignments] as growth opportunities.
We also have what we call the ‘Best of Both Worlds’ culture as our employer value proposition. This is something we're very, very proud of. Here, we emphasise a balance between the ability of a corporate company like Asticom with that entrepreneurial spirit of a startup, where each one of us – even if we're operating in a corporate organisation – is given the opportunity to innovate, create, and develop new products and solutions. You will be supported.
If it fails, then we fail quickly. If it works, then we support you and grow your idea and make it a business.
I believe developing talent is not just about training. It’s about taking a holistic approach.