MANILA, PHILPPINES – Life sometimes has a way of telling you to switch lanes, whether in everyday situations or a career-alternating path altogether. This is something that Ms. Rosemarie Rafael, chairperson of logistics company Airspeed, a part of SM Investments Corporation’s portfolio investments, has learned over her 40-plus years of experience.
She fondly looks back on her early years as a passenger ticketing and reservations agent for an airline company. As dedicated as she was to that role, she also recalls facing many challenges along the way. For instance, there was that one time she went back to her desk in tears after being locked out from a meeting she was late to by ten minutes. Her phone call with a client for the company ran a bit longer than expected, and she found herself ‘not needed’ anymore in the meeting.
It’s as if spontaneously, the future founder of logistics company Airspeed will soon have one foot at the door into an industry she will lead one day when a phone call from a freight company presented an opportunity—she took it. Years later, she rose through the ranks.
Venturing beyond her comfort zone, Ms. Rafael felt right to set out on her own—but not without being at a crossroads once more. The Airspeed story was set when she consulted her then-boss about her idea, the fact of leaving the currently recognized number-one company by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) came to mind.
“Why be a small fish in a big pond?” her boss remarked. The answer to this was clear to Ms. Rafael, who said, “because it has so much room for growth.”
Within five years of her company’s founding, Airspeed eventually claimed the number one spot in the IATA ranking.
Ms. Rafael attributes this success to the relationships she built with her clients during the early stages that helped Airspeed thrive in the industry. From a meek startup with six employees and a single delivery van, the company now has over a thousand skilled personnel and a fleet of vehicles that can be swiftly mobilized at more than 300-strong.
Among of Ms. Rafael’s notable achievements is paving the way for women. Not only is she leading a successful business, but she has also established a formidable company in an industry that is commonly associated with the male demographic.
The proud mother of four has been defying the odds. She also notes the distinct group of people that sets Airspeed apart from other logistics providers. For one, key decisions in the company are being made by empowered women. This is evident in female leaders making up 70% of Airspeed’s top executives and 45% of their middle-tier managers. Ms. Rafael has empowered them to lead a company that highlights solutions-based decisions to drive further progress and innovation.
She discusses how the empowerment of women in the company allows their innate vision and nurturing qualities to permeate throughout the company transcending the work done in Airspeed as it crosses to a personal level of trust.
“Airspeed is known for the kind of people we have. We are a company of integrity and this is not to be compromised even in the hardest times,” Ms. Rafael said. “We prioritize our people and stakeholders. We believe that if we have happy people working for us, then we will have happy and satisfied customers.”
Ms. Rafael’s journey tells a story of vision, commitment, and persistence. Her first few jobs may not have been the best fit for her, but she was composed and did everything to the best of her abilities. When it was clear she wanted to change, she followed through with her dream, all the lessons in tow, and established her company Airspeed.