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Risk-taker

‘Balikbayan’ boss seeks to energize wellness trade

We all know about the serpentine twists and turns and various curve balls that life can throw a person’s way. Martin Pascual, the 44-year-old CEO of the newly minted Pascual Total Health Group (PTHG), has experienced a rich variety of detours before claiming the position he holds today.

His journey, which involved criss-crossing continents, living in societies of heartbreaking need, ascending the corporate ladder in a land of plenty and building a loving family unit, has ultimately led back to his roots and a 72-year-old legacy that syncs perfectly with a desire to help others live in health and wellness.

Leaps of idealism

Pascual is the grandson of Isosceles and Leonora Pascual, chemists who established Pascual Laboratories–an industry leader in the manufacturing and marketing of pharmaceuticals–from their Tondo garage following the devastation of World War II. The couple’s children, made up of Pascual’s mother and her siblings, took the business further, creating the corporation that has since undergone various reorganizations and staged the setting for PTHG to emerge.


Despite emigrating to Pasadena, California, at age five and experiencing the quintessential American lifestyle, Pascual was acutely aware of the family heritage. He recalls: “My grandparents would go to Europe and the US to visit their licensing partners, and they’d stop over to see us bringing a big box of pasalubong [presents from home].

“My relatives would also come every summer and everyone would always talk about the business.”

But joining the clan’s concern was still low on the young man’s totem pole of career choices. He wandered through what he describes as “an adventurous job trajectory,” kicked off by enrolling at Harvard in pre-med, along with comparative religions courses. A hiccup occurred, and he realized that “I initially wanted to be an emergency room and trauma doctor, but found that organic chemistry didn’t suit me.”

In an idealistic leap, he took a year off to volunteer at Mother Teresa’s “Home for the Dying (Nirmal Hriday),” in Calcutta, encouraged by a friend who had helped out there previously. “That was a defining moment for me,” Pascual declares. “Then, gloves were not required, and we cared and tended to people.”

After the experience, he returned to school, focusing on a thesis paper comparing the Romanian nun’s work with that of Hindu monks. Again, he spent time in India for the research, which helped him graduate.

In another burst of philanthropy, Pascual joined the US Peace Corps, promoting small enterprise development in Benin, West Africa, for two years.

A short stint in New York’s Tribeca district as a waiter in a stylish restaurant reaffirmed his joy of interacting with people. Frequented by honeymooners and date night couples because of its romantic ambiance and pretty cherry trees, this oasis in the big city provided Pascual a respite before plunging into the maw of earning a master’s degree in Development Economics in London, followed by law school at George Washington University, inspired by the thought of becoming a human rights lawyer. His mother, a physician, specializing in stress and pain management, was undoubtedly relieved when he chose to go back to school. “But being a doctor who had been idealistic as well, she kind of understood what was happening,” he explains.

Rethinking direction

On his second year in law school, he met his wife Maya White at a party. They talked for four hours straight that night, finding so much in common such as music, books and life views. It was at one point, while listening together to jazz great Nina Simone, that Pascual realized Maya was someone really special “since she was someone who could get me not to work for a couple of hours.” Remember, he was in the thick of getting that law degree. After gifting her with “the most affordable ring from Tiffany I could buy,” Pascual wed Maya after nine months. They had the first of their four children – a daughter – when he graduated.

Landing a job in a litigation firm in Texas, Pascual uprooted his young family. Landing an apartment across from work kept him close to Maya and their growing brood of now three daughters, easily joining them for lunch and dinner.

But as Pascual grew in stature in his profession, so did the burden of work, which saw him put in between 80 and 100 hours a week. He remembers: “There were times when I would leave home and it was still dark outside, and I would come home and it was also dark outside. I barely had time to see my wife and my daughters, who were [then]6, 4 and 2.

The running joke in the office was that Sunday was ‘casual day.’’’

“My wife and I had to figure out whether this was something we wanted to go on long term, or did we want to do something different? We wanted to do something different.

“That’s when I decided that I wanted to change my life and set down roots somewhere else. In the US, it seems the importance of your career is emphasized more than the importance of your family. I did not want my children to grow up with those values. I also did not want to work at a job just for the money.”

Fortunately, Pascual had been making frequent trips to Asia, particularly China and Taiwan, on business, and he always made it a point to stop by Manila to catch up on family activities. Encouraged by cousins to come home and join the prospect of a refreshed Pascual entity, he – in characteristic spirit – took on a new challenge, a new chapter, eager to make a difference. “I did not hesitate,” he says. Maya, who had never visited her husband’s birthplace, gamely subscribed to his dreams.

Sunrise industry

The birth of Pascual’s “baby,” Pascual Total Health Group (PTHG), is expected to extend his grandparents’ bequest of continuing health to Filipinos the length and breadth of their archipelago, offering not only essential medicines but also vitamins, supplements and personal care or “vanity” products. According to him, the industry is increasing by around six to seven percent, both in medicine and supplements, which is consistent with the overall economic growth.

PTHG, which acquired ADP Pharma Corporation and Seville Pharmaceuticals Inc., while divesting from Pascual Pharma Corporation, intends to bolster its operational and product arsenal even more in the months ahead. Through ADP Pharma, it boasts bestsellers such as Propan, a children’s appetite stimulant and multivitamin, Diamaxin for diabetes sufferers and naFlora feminine wash. In January, it bought and brought into the fold, Nuvo Hair, a popular hair tonic. They are looking into adding more supplements and herbal products as well as companies with the right synergies, says Pascual. Ultimately, they want to see their brands become “things that people can’t live without.”

Growing his team will not be without its challenges, Pascual is well aware. His plantilla is a combination of new hires and executives whom he knew from the old Pascual group. Explaining his management style, he says: “I believe in giving people a chance, especially when I see someone sincerely making an effort. At the same time, I have high expectations of people, but I also recognize that it takes time to find the right roles for them – to put them in places where they can do well.

“I also encourage people to take risks. I let people experiment and take chances because I believe innovations come from thinking differently. When people enjoy coming to work and have fun experimenting, they’re more productive. This is how we cultivate the entrepreneurial mindset.”

How have Pascual and his loved ones adjusted to local living?

The family, that now includes a small boy of two, remains tight knit, despite having to see the oldest of the children go away to ballet boarding school in the US to pursue her desire to be a dance professional. “We never considered boarding school, but she wanted it,” says Pacual a tad wistfully. “It’s like seeing your child go off to college but four years earlier!

“The other kids miss her, of course, since she was always the one who dictated how ‘they would play.” When it’s Maya’s turn to visit their girl overseas, Pascual thinks up bonding experiences with the younger ones like the recent roadtrip they did to Sagada, Mountain Province, where they explored caves. His daughters are products of homeschooling, conducted by a dedicated teacher, their mom, who’s currently taking a breather from the method. The daily 6:15 a.m. breakfasts together are sacrosanct and if his schedule permits, he escorts the kids to school.

Eternal mentor

Not a fan of pill-popping, Pascual maintains a fine physique through “healthy eating and staying active.” He participates in ultramarathons twice a year in exotic locales such as Chile.

Pascual’s mother, 77, offspring of the chemist couple Isosceles and Leonora Pascual, remains one of his most enduring mentors, as are his grandfolks. “I learned how to work and treat people from my grandparents.

“From my mother, I learned to be conscientious in business. I still consult her because she knows the spirit and the legacy of the company. From my father, an engineer, I learned to be adaptable.”

The young fellow, who let his heart lead him to adventures and parts unknown, is still very much around. Except now, he wants to take others with him on the road to self-improvement and wellness and health.

* * *

During bad times and good times

A spin-off from the 72-year-old Pascual Laboratories, Pascual Total Health Group hopes to equal, improve on its parent’s longevity. To achieve this, Martin Pascual knows he needs the right people.

• While HR (Human Resources) and the departments interview the candidate for technical skills, which are basic, I really want to look at character and fit.

• I don’t go for people who say: “I can do this, but I won’t do that because it’s not in my job description.’ I want people, who are willing to do anything to get something done. That’s called “work ethic.”

• I need people, who can go through the hard times – and there will always be hard times. People you can rely on and be with you during the winters and fallow periods. I’m lucky I have executives like those with me today in Pascual Total Healthcare Group.

• I’m still trying to understand the millennials, that group. But they do bring energy to a company, and I want to encourage that as well as the entrepreneurial mindset.

PHOTOS BY HARVEY TAPAN

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