Mother, cancer warrior, and innovator Pinky Pe Tobiano on transforming viewpoints, building her businesses, and sharing the gift of education.
This is an excerpt from Lifestyle Asia’s July 2023 Issue.
As a colorful subject, Pinky Tobiano has graced magazine covers and TV appearances and manages an Instagram account with more than 3.7 million followers at this writing.
A chemist by training, she is obsessed with changing the perception of the scientist in a lab coat, preparing solutions and conducting safety tests, into that of a successful entrepreneur, albeit a stylish one.“Chemists can change lives. Their role is to assure the quality of the food that we eat and the products that we use. We have been at the back end. Because of that mindset, nobody wants to take up chemistry,” she says.
Tobiano is rarely seen in a lab coat. In her IG posts, YouTube channel and newly-installed TikTok, she is smartly clad in designer clothes. At the interview in a hotel, she dons her signature black turtleneck shirt teamed with cream pants by Rajo Laurel, and accessorizes with a silver Tiffany & Co. HardWear ball pendant necklace and an orange Hermès Birkin bag. Looking younger than 53 years, she pampers herself with a French skincare brand and a non-invasive skin-tightening procedure, Thermage.
Her alpha female personality supersedes her work as the founder and CEO of Progressive Laboratories, one of the largest manufacturers of veterinary drugs and supplements. A spin-off, KPP Powers Commodities is a distribution company for imported health and wellness supplements and animal feeds. KPP form the initials of her and her daughters–Karrel, Pinky, and Pianne. Husband Juancho Robles serves as its managing director.
Bureau Veritas, the world’s leading certification company, became a major shareholder of Qualibet, her testing laboratory.
FIRE IN HER EYES
Being in a traditional Chinese household, where work was not separated from personal life, cultivated her entrepreneurship skills. Her parents, July and Tessie Tobiano, Chinese emigres who became naturalized citizens, sold livestock feed. As young as five years old, Pinky minded the store.
“I met all kinds—politicians, cockfight betters, backyard farmers with a couple of pigs, and tricycle drivers. I asked what they liked in the medicines for their animals. Many wanted their gamecocks to win,” she recalls.
The winners gave her balato, goodwill money earned from the bet. Among the cockfight enthusiasts, the late solon Ramon Mitra Jr. was the most generous to her.
Her parents weren’t in favor of her pursuit of chemistry at the University of Sto. Tomas. Nonetheless, she proved them wrong by graduating cum laude. When she taught high school chemistry at the Immaculate Concepcion Academy (ICA), she made it fun by involving humanities and imagery.
“I get a high when I balance an equation. At ICA, my teaching was practical. Instead of memorizing the Periodic Table, the students sang it,” she says.
Her first marriage in 1993 was a typical set-up among Chinese family friends. Though her in-laws’ family owned a big hardware store, the strong-willed Pinky preferred to have her own business. For her dowry, her father gave her a property in Quezon City. Putting her chemistry savvy into use, she built Progressive Laboratories on that site and initially sold poultry feeds. Over time, she and her team of scientists developed drugs to cure diseases for swine and poultry and a supplement that would help animals grow faster. It has since evolved into toll manufacturing, a third-party producer of supplements for horses, gamecocks, dogs, and for public consumption. Its clientele includes major conglomerates.
In 1997, while flying business class from Switzerland, Pinky noticed that her seatmate was fidgety and then struck a conversation. The passenger, a CEO of a European pharmaceutical company, explained that its partner, the biggest animal healthcare unit in Europe, had gone on strike. Since his dilemma was up her alley, she offered to help and gave her a calling card.
When the CEO came to the Philippines to thoroughly examine and audit Progressive Laboratories, he noted that Pinky lacked business credentials and state-of-the-art facilities. In 2000, Pinky took a loan from her father to upgrade her factory and applied for the Owner/President Management (OPM) program at the Harvard Business School.
Although she didn’t have the required 10-year work experience in a company, she wrote to the school explaining that she had a right to a good education. Harvard accepted her essay. The European multinational then finalized the deal. “The principals saw the fire in my eyes. They gave me the contract, trusting that I would finish the OPM in Harvard,” she says. “It was my biggest purchase order then.”
Meanwhile, she had given birth to her second daughter Karrel in 2000. In the next three years, she shuttled between the US and the Philippines taking up OPM units and running her factory.
A turning point came in 2004 when she and her mother were diagnosed with cancer– thyroid and breast respectively. Both spent chemotherapies together. Determined to get to the bottom of cancer, Pinky put up Qualibet to test the safety of food, water, cosmetics, and other products.
Qualibet won several awards including Laboratory of the Year from the Bureau of Animal Industry. To cater to the global market, it has been certified by the International Organization for Standardization. “The French company, Bureau Veritas, approached me. They have infused more capital so I can bring in more advanced equipment,” she says.
Asked what problem her business is solving, Pinky cites that the animal epidemic poses a threat to food security. According to studies, some five million hogs have died of African swine flu virus (AFS) since its first outbreak in the Philippines in 2019. Early this year, several provinces in the Visayas and Mindanao reported high pig mortality wrought by AFS.
KPP Powers Commodities, Inc. and a Vietnamese company held trials on a vaccine to abate the deadly AFS virus. Upon the vaccine’s approval from the government authorities, plans are afoot to launch a big campaign on the country’s first anti-AFSV vaccine.
Her day starts at 5 A.M. as she runs down her to-do list and sends text messages to her managers and sales team about their objectives and her expectations. While the make-up artist prims her up, Pinky’s two assistants run through her email and make her schedule. By 8 A.M., she is on her desk.
Pinky has formulated her precept for productivity: Be SMART- an acronym for accomplishing something that is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timebound. Although her loved ones are involved in the businesses, Pinky enlisted the Ateneo Family Business Development Center to draft a family constitution. This will establish the governance structure among them.
“We have to professionalize the family set-up. The constitution will cover the shares equity, the number of leaves in a year, which trips would be paid by Mommy or the company. A family constitution will define succession in business,” she says.
Read the full cover story by purchasing a copy of the Lifestyle Asia July 2023 magazine via SariSari.shopping or select newsstands in National Bookstore and Fully Booked. Subscribe to the E-Magazine via Readly, Magzter, and Press Reader.
Text by MARGE C. ENRIQUEZ
Photos by ALEXIS DAVE CO
Sittings Editor CANDY DIZON
Creative Director MARC YELLOW
Stylist ROKO ARCEO
Hair and Makeup by KYLIE BANGUEL
Videographer KIERAN PUNAY OF KLIQ, INC
Venue Styling and Floral Arrangements by MICHAEL RUIZ
Shoot Coordination MAE TALAID & MJ ALMERO
Shot on location at HIGHLAND BALI LAKE IN PANTABANGAN, NUEVA ECIJA