Some women are like broken glass. They’re the kind who harbour some deep resentment inside – the French call it ressentiment. The trappings of success leave them unfulfilled and unhappy. Mailyn (“Mai”) Pereña Borillo is the complete opposite. She’s cheerful and self-assured. What woman in her shoes wouldn’t be? Mai was deputy general manager of Maersk-Filipinas Crewing at the age of 31, subsequently heading the company when she was 38. Now only 40, she’s the president of TORM Shipping Philippines Inc (TSP), part of the Copenhagen-based TORM group.

It’s been a long and hard road, nonetheless. Mai joined the Maersk group in 1994 when she was 22 years old. Starting out as a vessel coordinator and cost controller, she climbed up the corporate ladder until she was appointed general manager of Maersk’s Philippine crewing unit in 2009. Shortly before that, she spent two years at the head office in Denmark as a financial manager. In August 2011 she left Maersk to join TSP as chief executive. “I learned so much from Maersk,” Mai says of her 17-year stint with the Danish company. The most important was “to keep your values” – including, she says, being straightforward, fairness and delicadeza (tact or consideration).

Those values underpin her management style. She insists that her staff call her by her nickname. She puts a great deal of importance on teamwork, devoting every Tuesday to management team meetings. She finds no use for authoritarianism. “I don’t need authority,” she says. On the other hand, she expects all employees to act professionally and be honest.

Her people-oriented approach to leadership isn’t surprising. Before entering the world of shipping, she was active in the Citizens Alliance for Consumer Protection, a non-governmental organisation co-founded by the activist nun, Sr. Mary John Mananzan. Now and then, she would join street protests. “I am not a leftist,’ she is quick to point out – even though the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, where she took up IT, has a long tradition of student radicalism.

Mai considers her job at TSP especially fulfilling for two reasons. The company has about a thousand Filipino crew, 40% of them officers. Of TORM’s present fleet of 44 ships (all chemical tankers save for two bulk carriers), 24 are fully manned by Filipinos. This, says Mai, provides an opportunity for real crew management whilst leaving her enough time to perform “mommy duty” to her only child, a 14-year-old girl.

TORM is also one company that takes CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) seriously via the TORM Educational Foundation. Mai says they accept 25 scholars annually from around the country, 15 from poor communities and 10 from the families of TSP seafarers and employees. It’s a source of great satisfaction for her that the foundation closely monitors the progress of its scholars and even conducts seminars for them on self-development. TORM has benefitted from the services of Filipino seafarers, says Mai, and “it is bringing it back to the community”.

Unlike men, who have a constant need to validate themselves, Mai doesn’t have to prove a point. She’s achieved plenty but has no airs. She has found her place in her corner of the universe. She has what many men and women, inside and outside the maritime sphere, strive for: a sense of self-fulfillment. ~Barista Uno

NOTE: This is an ongoing series focusing on women in the maritime world, which is still very much dominated by men. It is hoped that other women will draw inspiration from their dreams, struggles and achievements. Please search our archives for  more portraits of maritime women.

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