This lady executive is laser-focused to take her ‘babies’ MG and Chevrolet to the top

Tessa R. Salazar

In the automotive world, the ultimate woman power template belongs, perhaps, to Mary T. Barra, who at 61 is the chair and CEO of American auto giant General Motors. The first woman to lead any major automaker, Barra was elected chair of the GM board early in 2016 after being its CEO since January 2014.

Barra started her career with GM in 1980 as a GM Institute (Kettering University) co-op student at the Pontiac Motor Division. Barra has held various positions in GM. Prior to becoming CEO, she served as the company’s executive vice president for Global Product Development.

Just like Barra, many other female executives in the auto industry all over the world continue to rise from the ranks, holding their own alongside their male counterparts.

The Philippines isn’t left behind when it comes to the sheer number of women making it on their own in the various industries and sectors. In my experience as a motoring scribe over the decades, I have met, interviewed, and interacted with so many women playing pivotal roles as company executives, event organizers, technical, design, and engineering experts, media relations officers, and thought leaders.

One of the first “power women” I met when I was just starting out in this beat in the late 1990s was a tall and comely Lyn Manalansang-Buena, who, along with lawyer Albert Arcilla (now Volvo Philippines’ CEO and The Covenant Car Company Inc president and CEO), personally handed me the keys to a Volvo V70 test drive unit at the Volvo offices in Makati City.

Lyn was then a Volvo customer relations officer, and she was truly hard to ignore: At 5’-7”, with that celebrity aura befitting her Spanish-Chinese mestiza looks, she looked larger than life—and primed for bigger roles with the Scandinavian brand.

Those bigger roles did roll in her direction, as she became Volvo’s vice president and marketing head in 2001. Now, at 48, Lyn is the executive vice president and director of the marketing communications services of TCCCI—Chevrolet Philippines and MG Philippines.

You’d think that Lyn’s road to the top was as straight and clear-cut. You’d be surprised to know that the motoring world was the furthest from her mind when she graduated with a degree in Bachelor of Science in nursing. In the same year, she even earned her license to practice.

Well, we can say that, along the way, she was “pirated” by the industry “Vikings.”

“I started in the automotive industry straight out of college. I was then reviewing for the nursing board exam when I received the invitation to apply for a post in Viking Cars Inc-Volvo Philippines. What I thought was just a transitory phase became a career, and it has been 28 years since,” quipped Lyn.

In 2009, Lyn “nursed to life” a corporate entity when she became part of the team that established TCCCI. It took in the Chevrolet brand as the official distributor, and she served as the brand’s senior vice president and marketing director. In 2018, the team brought the MG brand into its fold, with Lyn as its executive vice president and marketing director.

Maintaining work-life balance

Despite handling multiple responsibilities with TCCCI, Lyn makes it a point to spend quality time with her family.

“I have an enormous amount of passion for what I do, so I make sure that I devote enough focus and time towards my career. Since I’m a mother and a wife, I try to maintain balance and keep my life’s goals in check and my day-to-day priorities realistic. My weekends are for my family, and I’ve learned to allot portions of every day for quality time with my kids, and for my self-care.”

Lyn, a Malabon native, has two kids—daughter Sobe is a student-athlete taking up Communications in Ateneo de Manila University, while Milo is a grade 10 student at Manila Waldorf. Her husband Erick Buena III worked in the automotive industry for several years. He’s now managing the family business. Lyn’s sister Jane Mercado is also involved in an automotive-related company, working in its human resources department.

Drawing out talents

“I love how this industry enabled me to work with so many talented individuals. I’d like to think that as a leader, I have been able to draw out and mobilize talents to come to the fore as needed. And so, I am happiest when I know that I’ve become instrumental in the recognition and success of a team member and that I’ve played a small part in improving their quality of life,” Lyn shared.

How does she regard the challenges faced by women in a supposedly man’s world?

Lyn answered, “For me, being a woman doesn’t make a difference when it comes to work and output in this industry. I think it takes the same amount of dedication, competence and hard work to achieve business goals.”

She added: “In my 28-year career, I have learned many things, received many great opportunities and experienced pivotal moments that shaped who I am today. Building brands and maintaining the health of brands through effective communications is a daunting task, but I’m particularly grateful for the opportunity to have led the marketing teams responsible for the brand resurgence and market affinity of Volvo, Chevrolet, and MG in the Philippines.”

Grateful to mentors

Lyn continued: “When these challenges were presented, we were primed and ready because I was lucky to have the support of great leaders and mentors like our president and CEO Atty. Albert Arcilla, and our executive director Selene L. Yu.”

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For tomorrow’s new challenges, Lyn stressed that being open to learn new things would be key. “We are in a hyper connected world where business trends and landscapes are constantly changing. For one’s personal and professional growth, we need to adopt a learning mindset and be ready to embrace new experiences.”

Steering iconic brands in PH

Managing three iconic brands—Volvo, Chevrolet, and MG—has also taught Lyn valuable industry insights. “Each one prepared me for the next, and each change created experiences and opportunities that I cherish and will always be grateful for.”

Lyn’s daily car is a Chevrolet Trailblazer, while she occasionally drives an MG ZST or MG HS SUV. She has also owned a Volvo S40 and a Chevrolet Trax.

What’s her advice to women finding their own way in the automotive industry?

“Aim to always deliver outstanding work. Continuously evolve and learn to understand people—their motivations, dreams, and passions. This will help you deliver more meaningful results and gain the ability to motivate, inspire, and facilitate, which are necessary traits of a good leader,” she stressed.

Lyn sees the future of motoring and mobility as focused more on sustainability and safety.

“I look forward to the future with immense hope. I think it will be a much better place because of the great strides that so many automotive manufacturers are making today. I hope to be part of an all-electric future with zero emissions, zero crashes, and zero traffic congestion,” she said.

“We have very discerning consumers, and, in the future, they will further pivot to products and services that will maximize impact, utility, convenience with the least possible environmental impact.”