Opportunity reveals itself to those who are ready, and fearless.
Carmelita Tapia was both. It was the early 90’s and she had just left the Philippines for Canada, echoing the desire (and lamentation) of many parents: a better future for their children, better than what they would have at home.
Serious doubts started to set in during the first 2 years as she found herself mowing the lawn while washing the clothes, cooking her family’s dinner while cleaning the house, and in her sole care very young, feisty children. What was she thinking? What could be better than having a driver, and maids at your beck and call, and the comfort of everything familiar?
Not so fast
“We arrived in Canada in December 1988. We landed in Calgary which is -27 degrees from a +33 in Manila,” she said. It will not do, so Carmelita decided they should move to Vancouver. “The first day of January 1989, we are in Vancouver,” she chuckles.
She was ready and she knew what to do.
An accountant by profession, her ability to assess situations was uncanny and precise, and she put it to work in her new home. “When we landed here, I knew that we had to do something about our resumes. We had to lower down our accomplishments. Otherwise, they will see that we are more than them and they will not even accept us for the job,” she said. True enough, not too long after their resumes were sent out, her husband landed a job at an engineering company, while Carmelita became an executive assistant to the president of a fabrication company in Richmond.
It was there that she saw the opportunity that proved Canada was a good decision.
“We were importing [pollution control] filter bags from the East—from Toronto and Montreal. I saw that it had possibilities and we decided to put up Odessa Manufacturing.” But it was finance that proved to be the biggest challenge. She relates, “When we started this, we were able to scrape some cash.” However, it was not enough. ” It was my mother-in-law who helped me. So those who have mother-in-laws, love them,” she said, in jest (or not). “Now I’m very proud to say that we are the only one doing this filter bag business in Western Canada. Everybody is doing it in the East. So in the East, if it’s just for 200-300 bags and they need my help, I can make it for them.”
Since then, Odessa Manufacturing has been the bread and butter of the Tapias.
Odessa Manufacturing has been in business for 23 years and is getting close to the million dollar mark. However, it was not without any challenges. In 2012, a fire gutted the building where Odessa Manufacturing had its office and factory. “We had to temporarily move out of our location. We really lost a lot in that fire. We moved to a very small facility, we can’t even do full production. Finally we were able to come back this year on April 1,” she said.
As president of the Southeast Asia Canada Business Council and former president of the Philippines Canada Trade Council, and with a business that proves that Filipino businessmen can make it in Canada, Carmelita is the natural go-to person for those wanting to do business in Canada. She, however, reserves a soft spot for new Filipino immigrants who are entrepreneurs.
Her message to them is one of optimism, fierceness, tenacity: “I want to tell all those ambitious entrepreneurs from the Philippines, the new immigrants, if they are dreaming, they can dream big but [they have to] work for it. It will happen. They just they have to be patient and they just have to be diligent. They should not be scared of the whites, of the Caucasians. When we put up Odessa Manufacturing, I’m not tall but I’m talking with these plant managers who are 6 feet tall. I’m not scared of them. They understand business and they are not as corrupt.” She then proceeds to tell the story of a time when she wanted to reward the person who gave her a very big project. This person said she can keep the gift, because he is not used to it. “From then on, I realized, they are into business and they are not into any hanky panky.”
That experience further cemented her relationship with Canada, which she has since then called home.
And then some
Carmelita and opportunities recognize each other as old friends do, and it was that Carmelita ventured into several other businesses including soap manufacturing, a Philippine counterpart of Odessa Manufacturing in Candelaria, Quezon called Kananaskis Manufacturing, and an import export company which brings Virgin coconut oil to Canada. Herself a purveyor of opportunity, she recently set her sights on welding as a way to help her countrymen.
“I know that we have so many good skilled workers in the Philippines. I know how they are suffering there because for skilled work in the Philippines they are paying very, very low, whereas here in Canada, they pay very high for skilled work. So I found a good friend who’s a top level (Level 3) welding inspector. He said [he can help me] help our kababayans. So we formed a company. Fortunately, the Canadian Welding Bureau approached us to do the certification for those welders and to do the accreditation of the test centers. We are not only in the Philippines right now. We are being sent to Korea, to the United States, and to China to do the certification and accreditation processes,” she says.
She clarifies and emphasizes, however, that she cannot bring people to Canada. “I am not an immigration consultant. But we can train those Filipinos so they can meet the Canadian standards so the immigration consultants and the Canadian employers can bring them here. ”
As if those businesses were not enough, she took on an ambitious project in the middle of last year and no less than the Queen Elizabeth Theatre was witness to her successful Historama, a history of the Philippines in song and dances. It was a word that she coined herself.
“I am passionate about my Historama. We’ve been planning that since 2004, but I was so fortunate that we have a Consul General who believed in me. And when I told him that I can make Historama, he said go for it. He gave us the courage to work on it and finally everybody helped, including Atty. Bernie Julve who researched on the facts. And we were able to put up a good show on June 2, 2012,” she said.
Two additional runs followed on October 20, 2012 and January 23, 2013, and another in Victoria in June 2013. Negotiations are underway to have Historama shown in Nanaimo and Seattle. The Filipinos in Yukon, at Whitehorse are also clamoring for a show, but they might have to wait a long while as the production is big and the cost is hefty.
Carmelita is both adventurous and fearsome. When she was approached by Vancouver Police Department to take a short course at Citizens Police Academy, she immediately took the challenge. She is now a member of Vancouver Police Department Diversity Advisory Committee which led to her being appointed by the Provincial Government to be a member of New Westminster Police Board, the highest authority which provides oversight to the New Westminster Police Department.
With the steady partnership between opportunity and Carmelita, more is sure to come from this Palanca awardee and diminutive-romantic-with-a-big-soul as she stays on her course and remain to be both the fire and the inspiration to the Filipino community in Vancouver.
Parties who are interested in the certification and accreditation of welding schools and establishments can email Carmelita directly via email@example.com
The Philippine Canadian Inquirer turns its focus on Filipino-Canadian entrepreneurs, top honchos, connectors, community leaders and movers and shakers who are willing to mentor fellow Filipinos in a series of entrepreneurship workshops to culminate in “The Philippine Canadian Inquirer” Appreciation and Awards Night and Gala. If you have someone in mind who fits the bill, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org