By Fred Yuson, VP Philippine Press Club Ontario (PPCO)

Scarborough, Ontario. October 7, 2022

The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails.

“John Maxwell”

Steve PagaoSteve Pagao is an active and hardworking leader of a vibrant group of Filipino-Canadian entrepreneurs in the Greater Toronto Area called Philippine Chamber of Commerce Toronto (PCCT). As of last count, the organization has 35 active individual members and 17 Corporate members. Steve is a licensed CPA of the Philippines, worked with a big pharmacy chain in Canada until his retirement in 2017, and currently owns a modest accounting and tax practice in the GTA.

Steve, how long have you been a PCCT president?
Seven years. I was initially, unanimously installed as PCCT’s president in 2015.  That was after PCCT suffered a big financial loss due to the failure of the last trade show that it organized called the “Filipinas Expo and Trade Show.”  Due to this issue, no one would dare to lead except me.  I took the risk and tried my best to settle the debts that I inherited to save the image of PCCT.  Luckily, the organization was able to weather the storm.

It is a prime example of baptism by fire. You inherited a difficult situation when you assumed the Presidency in 2015, and I like to believe that you repaired the image of PCCT by intention than by luck. What are the ups and downs of your term as President?
Thank you for the kind remarks. To regain public trust is hard. Members shied away from the organization and several members of the Board resigned. However, a handful of loyalists who stayed kept PCCT going.  We were able to initiate several community projects locally and in the Philippines.  A few of the major projects are:

***PCCT provided advice and support for the successful organization and launching of the B2BPreneur (Bata to Bata Preneur) which has the advocacy to develop and mentor kids to learn the intricacies of entrepreneurship.
***PCCT Spearheaded the creation of the “Tree to Life, Adopt-A-Makapuno Tree” project in collaboration with the Philippine Trade and Investment Centre of the PCG, where PCCT fund-raised $4,000 and donated to the development and plantation of the first 1-hectare of land (with 100 Makapuno trees) in Alabat, Quezon.
***PCCT provided support to establish ZDance Marathon, a Zumba dance activity geared initially as a physical fitness club for the community.  Said club eventually registered itself and now known as “ZDance Marathon Production Inc.”, which is run and operated by Yvette Yu (a PCCT incumbent director), who owns the project idea.
***The hosting of regular business networking and seminars for the members during the pre-pandemic.
***The hosting of several in-bound Trade Missions from the Philippines in collaboration with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, including hosting and participation in welcoming several government missions or delegations from the Philippines in partnership with the Philippine Trade and Investment of the PCG of Toronto.
***Also, PCCT initiated connections and develop business relation with other ethnic business groups like – The Turkish Canadian Chamber of Commerce, The Pakistan Chamber of Commerce, The Sri Lankan Business Council, and The Indian Chamber of Commerce.

***During the pre-pandemic years, PCCT organized one business exploration trip to Istanbul, Turkey and the Philippines, in collaboration with The Turkish Chamber of Commerce, and one Trade Mission Group to the Philippines visiting and meeting businesses in Manila, Davao City and attending the inaugural plantation of Makapuno Tree project in Alabat, Quezon.

Let’s talk about the pandemic. It has significantly slowed down organizations and face-to-face meetings become a risky business, what did you do?
During the first 2 years of the pandemic, PCCT organized several virtual conferences:

1)  Edition 1 on “Thriving in Tough Economic Times”, showcasing topic on “How to Rebuild your Business during the Pandemic” featuring RBC and BDC;

2)  Edition 2 on “Thriving in Tough Economic Times”, showcasing topic on “Helping Small Businesses Go Digital” featuring Digital Main St.

3)  Edition 3 on “Thriving in Tough Economic Times”, featuring Hon. Councillor Michael Thompson – Deputy Mayor of Toronto and Chair of the City Economic and Community Development Committee, discussing “City of Toronto: Covid-19 Economic Support & Recovery for Business.

4) In addition, PCCT assisted the owners of legitimate Fil-Can Restaurant in voicing out their concerns to the appropriate authorities, about the growing presence of underground businesses in the food industry, operating in their homes illegally, through on-line-ordering. With this action PCCT, was able to get the audiences, in-person and by virtual meetings with several MPPs and even with the NDP Ontario Leadership.

You are still the sitting President of your organization, are there things that you could have changed or improved earlier?
First, Right people. Having the right people for the job is important for us. PCCT’s directors and executive officers are better screened now than before, hopefully, we all learn from the past.
Second, Younger Generation. In the past, most of those elected members of the Board are from the older generation.  As a result, younger generation members shied away from involvement. This time, we put emphasis on taking into the Board the younger generation and give them a chance to lead. Having said that, we definitely, still need experienced people.
Third, Technology-driven Operation.  With the occurrence of the pandemic, new business environment was created.  The advent of digital technology has created vast opportunities. We don’t want PCCT to be left out.  Hence, digitalization is one of the suggested priorities for PCCT to tackle.

Congratulations, you were voted last week as one of the top 15 Board of Directors who will become officers for 2023-2024, what are your plans?
There is a limitation on the term of the President, so I could no longer run as PCCT’s president in the upcoming October 28 election. But I could be elected for other positions. If elected, I would prefer to serve as the Treasurer since nobody among the elected board members is an Accountant.  Otherwise, I will just remain as a Director.

Are you optimistic about the future of PCCT?
To lead an organization like the Chamber is a very challenging job.  Everything rests upon your shoulder as the leader.  Hopefully, with the new set of highly qualified and vibrant Board members, I expect a more active and sustainable participation in achieving the goals of PCCT.

Any advice to the incoming President?
To the incoming President of the Chamber, I wish him/her, best of luck and success in leading PCCT to the next highest level possible in advancing its advocacy, mission and vision.  As I mentioned earlier in our September 3, 2022 board meeting, the Chamber is obligated more than ever to work harder towards forwarding its mandate.  Hence, I recommended the following initiatives as part of the priorities of PCCT to handle:

  • Rebranding and revitalization of PCCT
  • Corporate realignment
  • Modernization
  • Continuation of PCCT’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) projects.
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