Alice Eduardo Talks About Living Life To The Fullest Amidst The Demands Of Profession
Hardhats look great on Alice Eduardo. So do elegant couture gowns and dazzling diamonds. One could say—and forgive the pun—that it’s in the construction; after all, Alice is as comfortable in a dusty construction site as she is at a glittering event in a luxurious hotel. But as any builder will tell you, it’s really all about the foundation. Beneath the hardhat and the glamorous lifestyle is a woman whose foundations are solid, unwavering, and authentic.
Alice Eduardo is a driven mother of three and the dynamo who founded and runs Sta Elena Construction and Development Corporation, a highly successful construction and engineering company. Sta Elena has grown into a serious player in the market: an AAA and Large B firm, which means it qualifies to bid for any billion-peso project.
She’s been dubbed “Woman of Steel” by many, a reference to both the nature of her business and the strength and resilience that has allowed her to reap today’s rewards.
In work as in life, she conducts herself with grace, intelligence, and compassion; not to mention grit and determination.
She has always been fascinated by bridges, tunnels, and subways. In fact, she wanted to take up engineering in college, but was persuaded by her parents to pursue management instead. While still in school, she helped with the family businesses in Nueva Ecija and Bulacan, which included a bowling centre, rice milling and trading, and their Manila-based garment exports.
“My first break came when our family’s rice mill was supplying rice to the office of Concrete Aggregates [CA] in the ’90s. I had developed a good rapport with the CA team and they encouraged me to supply other items to them, in particular steel splices. It’s a construction material specific to concrete piles that are, in turn, used for building structural foundations. It was at that moment that I decided, ‘Well, no guts no glory.’ That was also the day pile driving became part of my daily vocabulary. I gave an enthusiastic ‘yes’ for an answer, and figured I would learn what I needed to learn and do what I needed to do to make it happen. Richard Branson said it very well: ‘If someone offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes—then learn how to do it later!’ It was then after having delivered steel splices to the jobsites of CA that I learnt about the business of foundations and pilingworks and the rest is history.”
She’s been dubbed ’ Woman of Steel’ by many’ a reference to both the nature of her business and the strength and resilience that has allowed her to reap today’s rewards
The notion of “foundation”—in the sense of establishment as well as anchor or grounding—is reflected in the name Alice chose for her company. “Sta Elena” is derived from Saint Helena, the Roman empress who was an architect and builder and was said to have discovered Christ’s cross in Jerusalem. Helena’s own life was not easy; her husband, the Emperor Constantius, renounced her for political reasons. She is credited with influencing her son, who became Constantine the Great, to embrace Christianity and declare it the official religion of the Roman Empire. In effect, Helena’s conversion to the Christian faith changed the course of history and became the bedrock of Catholicism.
For Alice, her own grounding is based on family, friendships, faith, and philanthropy. “My relationships with family and friends are my own living structural foundations. The emotional and moral support I am blessed to receive from them gives me the strength to go the extra mile in all that I do. It also gives me a soft pillow to sleep on when challenges are great.”
Her close-knit family starts with her three children: Jacqueline (23), who graduated at Ateneo de Manila, is focusing on Sta Elena’s administration and human resources department; Jameson (21), who is homeschooled; and Jessica (19), who is currently studying at the Ateneo de Manila. “Each of my children possesses unique qualities that all combine to make them my true partners in life.”
She adds, “My passion to succeed was certainly fueled by my wanting to be an example to my children and to give them the best in life. The challenge has always been work-life balance and there are things that I try to keep sacred, like regular breakfasts, dinners, and praying together at home—with my children as well as my parents. And, of course, travelling with them as often as I can.”
When her kids were younger, this single mother would make sure she left for work only after they’d gone off to school and was with them after a day’s worth of work, taking them out to dinners, or even tagging them along to meetings and project site visits. It was important for her to be fully present in their lives, especially during their formative years. “Rather than being a hindrance, my being single gave me extra push to work even harder.”
She is fiercely proud of how her children have turned out. “One of my greatest blessings,” she declares. “They are extremely understanding, and far from high maintenance. They are my greatest source of pride and fulfillment, as well as support and inspiration.”
Family is everything to Alice, and her closeness to her parents Andres (84) and Elisa (80), and siblings (sisters Small and Melba and brother Joel) is more than emotional. Physically, they all live in close proximity to each other; her parents, in fact, live in the house next door to her.
"My passion to succeed was certainly fueled by my wanting to be an example to my children and to give them the best in life"
Of her parents, she says, “My father has always been a man of few words, whose often unspoken influence on me has been profound. My mother is much more vocal and has been both my greatest champion and critic. She calls a spade a spade, and having as many truth-tellers in one’s life can spell the difference between a life of authenticity and the exact opposite.”
She laughs when asked which of her siblings is her favourite. She loves all of them dearly, but points out that their personalities are quite different. “Joel, of course, is my favourite brother! Of my sisters, Small is the more outgoing and vivacious one, and is always happy to accompany me. ‘Ate, I’ll go with you,’ she often says without hesitation. Melba is more of a homebody, but she’s a very loving and caring sister!”
Known for her generous and openhearted nature, Alice is beloved and admired by her many friends, who she considers family. “I cherish them dearly. I’m happy when I see them tr uly happy and feel so complete in cases where I may have had a part in their happiness.”
It is not difficult to see why Alice is a popular figure on the social circuit, or why her friends love her so dearly. In her youthful, smiling face, one senses kindness and peace; her aura radiates happiness and positivity. While it may seem that she now lives a fairy tale existence, she has had her fair share o challenges, and has worked hard for the comforts and blessings she enjoys today.
Daring to carve out a career in a male-dominated world of construction and engineering raised more than a few eyebrows in the beginning. Nevertheless, she persisted.
While it may seem that she now lives a fairy tale existence, she has had her fair share of challenges, and she has worked hard for the comforts and blessings she enjoys today
“In the earlier days,” she recounts, “the challenge was to be taken seriously, not only as a woman, but one who had no formal education in engineering. A possible scenario then was that some in the industry would try and leverage their so-called male-dominated culture during meetings. Thankfully, there were more of the kinder, more sincere types who truly believed in my abilities and resolve. These persons have my gratitude and respect.”
Gender these days is hardly an issue; in fact being female has come to be an asset. Her team’s involvement in the building of substructures or what is called the foundations of buildings was what led her to one of Sta Elena’s landmark projects, SM’s Mall of Asia Complex, the foundation of whose actual mall was built by Sta Elena. Other projects in the MOA complex followed—like the E-com series of office buildings, the Arena, and SMDC’s cluster of condominiums (the Sea, Shell, Shore, and Sail Residences). The work in the Macapagal area expanded to the Entertainment City where Sta Elena built the foundation for the City of Dreams, Solaire Resort & Casino, Okada Manila, and Resorts World Hotel and Casino (Bayshore City), not to mention national infrastructure projects like the Sarrat Bridge in Ilocos Norte, Pantal Bridge in Pangasinan, as well as the NLEX and SCTEX. With projects mentioned above, her reputation for on-time delivery, high-quality work and ethical business standards is as solid as the foundations she builds.
To date, Sta Elena has built US$1.5 billion worth of energy infrastructure. The company first went into power plant construction in 1996, with the 1000MW combined cycle natural gas-fired Sta Rita plant in Batangas. Then came the San Lorenzo plant, and recently, the San Gabriel plant using similar technology. These three have the combined installed capacity of the power plants built by the Sta Elena to just under 2000MW.
Women “are supposed to be more detailoriented and approach situations with more heart and empathy,” she relates. “The world has changed and I make sure that the world of business I operate in knows that gender is not a factor in delivering a job well done. Everyday I try to learn from my team of engineers. Sometimes, my practical approach to design issues is something that makes sense to the team as well. Either way, it was always my determination to learn, observe, and seek persons with greater knowledge in the field that somehow made up for the lack of an actual engineering degree.”
The empowerment of women remains important to Alice. She is proud that a significant number of women engineers and non-engineers also make up the workforce. While she believes gender is not an issue in her line of work, she is aware that women may face certain challenges, and their safety in the workplace must be guaranteed. “In our power plant project in Batangas, I make sure that all the employees, specially the female staff, stay in nearby housing that we provide for them. Our married women employees finish their workday in time to go home and be with their families.”
She can never emphasise enough the importance of family. Her guiding principles are classic and simple: “Family first. Be the nicer person in the room. Dream big. Do your work well and the rewards will follow. Good values make good business sense. Pay it forward. As a work philosophy, I believe construction and development is as much about precision and heavy duty as it is about passion and heart. It matters to me that I make a personal connection with each project I choose to pursue. This mindset allows me to embrace every project with the same inspiration as the first. I try and avoid falling into thinking that my work is merely a list of contracts. Each must have unique vision, purpose and personal meaning. I cherish every project as the team’s part in nation building, and also as fulfillment in my own journey as a builder and leader. It has been said that excellence is not an event but a habit. That is how I view my craft.”
Alice’s projects are not just confined to business. She builds relationships and communities. She talks excitedly about a plan to develop a township to be modeled after place in Westlake in Los Angeles, which, when completed will encompass parks, commercial centres, residential buildings, a hospital, a school, and a church.
"The world has changed and I make sure that the world of business I operate in knows that gender is not a factor in delivering a job well done"
As with her children and siblings, Alice is hard put to name her favourite charity, but there are a couple of causes dear to her heart. There are, for instance, young scholars whose education she subsidises. When it comes to her philanthropy work—which has involved building homes for displaced victims of Yolanda as well as homes for Habitat for Humanity, a parish church and hall in her hometown, not to mention helping soldiers affected by the war in Marawi rebuild their lives—she sees it as more than just “giving back.” Other charity organisations she supports are Child Protection Network, Red Cross Charity, Go Negosyo for young and aspiring entrepreneurs, Asian Cultural Council for Young Artist, Young Musician Development Organisation, Philippine Cancer Society, Caritas Manila, and other foundations.
She quotes Winston Churchill, who said, “We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give,” as influencing her ideas of philanthropy and service. “They say justice delayed is justice denied. In the same way charity delayed is help that might be too little, too late.” At the Philippine General Hospital, she recalls, “I saw cancer-stricken children and asked about their chances. I learnt that the simple move of isolating them would boost their chances of survival significantly. It made sense to build a pediatric isolation ward to keep their young compromised immune systems away from communicable diseases. Later, I heard that the patients’ relatives had no place to stay while watching over their loved ones who were confined, so it was urgent to build a facility that could house them comfortably.”
She works closely with Fr Rocky Evangelista who established Tuloy Foundation as a home for the homeless, specifically street children. To this hardworking priest, one less child on the street means one less potential for crime. “I fully support that mission,” she adds. “He took that thinking further and worked on providing the children with not only material needs, but more essentially, activities that would fuel their dignity and productive participation in society. Now, Tuloy turns out highly-paid mechanics abroad, highly skilled chefs in celebrated global restaurants, and internationally renowned ballet dancers, some of whom are scholars at prestigious international ballet schools and have competed in the Prix de Lausanne, considered the Olympics of ballet.”
It would seem that Alice has everything a person could possibly want wealth health happiness a stellar reputation and an abundance of love
Indeed, it would seem, that Alice has everything a person could possibly want—wealth, health, happiness, a stellar reputation, and an abundance of love. “I am so blessed,” she says, her tone simultaneously echoing gratitude, humility, and some measure of disbelief in her wonderfully good fortune. She is often asked if a romantic partner might be the missing link in her life, she fleetingly considers the prospect before answering, with a smile, that her life is “happy, full, and complete.”
Hers is a life that is full of love and laughter and travel. A favourite family destination is Los Angeles, where Alice has a house. “It’s our second home,” she says of her stately California residence whose lush garden is drenched in flowers all year long.
It has become a family tradition to spend Christmas in LA every year, with everyone in tow—children, parents, siblings, in-laws, nephews, and nieces. “We started coming to LA when the kids were little, since they enjoyed the theme parks and museums. For my parents, I believe LA is a place with lots of entertainment and dining options, and where it is easy to drive around, too. The weather is also very pleasant.”
Alice Eduardo continues in all aspects of her life to build foundations fortified by love, strengthened by humility and nourished by generosity. In her, many have found their home.
- Photography Eric Michael Roy
- Art Direction Anton San Diego
- Location Los Angeles, California