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The Power of Persistence: How Katrina Ponce Enrile Built a Business Empire

Katrina Ponce Enrile’s earliest memory of her knowing she would go against the grain was when she was 10. Being the only daughter of esteemed statesman Juan Ponce Enrile and Cristina Castaner, she’d always known she had to fight a little bit harder than the boys to make herself heard. 

But there to nurture Katrina’s leadership potential were her parents, first and foremost. The businesswoman, mother, and wellness advocate navigates life with an abundance of quotable pieces of advice from her mom and dad, with one of her favorites being, “Treat everybody with respect — everybody. Because you don’t know what fate will bring you, or them. People that you meet when you are going up, you also meet when you are going down.” It’s why everything she does, in business and in her personal affairs, is carried out with careful consideration of how her actions affect others. 

But a close second comes to mind, Katrina shares in jest. “Also, my dad said, ‘Never throw the first punch. But if they throw the first punch, then…” she laughs. 

“My father always said, ‘I wish you were a boy.’ [And I would say], ‘Dad, I don’t have to be a boy to be what I am now… Girls can do it too.” she continues. 

It’s the kind of confidence that’s become a signature of Katrina’s. Her youthful stubbornness has matured into a steady self-assuredness, one that’s allowed her to accomplish so much as an entrepreneur and creative in spite of being underestimated and at times, flat out rejected. 

In the Philippines, the surname “Enrile” might be synonymous with a career in politics, but Katrina was intent on carving her own path outside of the inheritance that came with her name. 

In her twenties, she made her first big investment. While her peers were busy spending their time in socials, Katrina was flexing her risk-taking muscle and sharpening her foresight for the first time — pivotal experiences that would shape her business sense now admired by many. 

“When I was 26, I bought properties in Palawan. They were all laughing at me and saying, ‘Why did you buy there?’ she recalls. Today, this property has blossomed into a worthy asset, an easy pick for developers. 

It didn’t take long for Katrina to start extending her reach to more high-stakes ventures. 

Before her 30th birthday, her parents had entrusted the position of Group Treasurer of the family enterprise to her. The role required her to help oversee the dealings of the JAKA Group of Companies. The business was and remains to be an active player in anything from food manufacturing and product distribution to marketing and logistics, forest plantation management; safety match manufacturing, property management and development; as well as IT, security, and financial services — certainly no small feat for a fledgling businesswoman. 

With a desire to prove her capabilities, Katrina worked her way to the position of COO, and eventually, CEO. At a critical turn in the company’s history, she was both. It was at this time that she powered through one of her business career’s high points. “I was able to turn around the company, helping navigate it through the debilitating Asian Financial Crisis,” she cites. 

The company was then hit yet again in 2008 to 2009. During those times when the peso devalued, “we had [a] one dollar denominated loan which I had to quickly deal with. So I was able to restructure our company and keep it afloat,” she adds. 

The event proved to be catalytic, not only for her family’s standing in the business community, but for her, too.  

Katrina emphasizes that her work as the JAKA COO and CEO initially involved managing investments. JAKA’s business model was defined by investing in existing companies, but her success as one of its top executives ushered in a new era for her. Even in the flurry of a worldwide economic crisis and the pressure to survive it, Katrina had time to dream of bigger things.

These days, just about any Filipino recognizes the brand name Delimondo but only a select handful will appreciate its backstory as much as its ubiquitous canned goods, spreads, and aromatic oils and dips. 

“That was my own baby,” Katrina smiles. 

For the first time since her family’s foray into business in the ‘70s, the only daughter built them a venture that was purely theirs from the ground up. And in Delimondo’s earliest days, its marketing, sales, and R&D was a one-woman team. Katrina gave away cans of their initial recipes for free to promote the brand, and banked on memories of the foods she had sampled in her travels abroad as inspiration for many of Delimondo’s recipes. 

In time and with Katrina at the helm, JAKA shifted to investing in other companies to being the company that investors sought. On top of having its own plants that produce and package their own products, Delimondo currently also provides the same services to other businesses and is engaged in exporting activities as well. 

The ordinary Jane might stop here, take a look at what she’s accomplished, and pat herself on the back for a job well done. But if Katrina hasn’t already sent the message that she’s no ordinary woman, perhaps her other achievements might help spell that out.

As the Philippines Overseas Telecommunications Operations Director and CEO/President, she led the efforts to renew the company’s franchise that would allow it to provide the Philippines satellite services. 

Her exposure to the finer things in life had also catapulted her to fame for being the Director and President of the Montemar Resorts Development Corporation and Montemar Beach Club Inc. These are the names behind the world-class Bataan seaside resort frequented by Manila’s well-heeled and considered one of the standard-bearers of local luxury travel. 

Katrina also sits as the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority’s Administrator & CEO. In this role, she envisions making the province a model destination that easily rivals the country’s capital.  

As part of her vision, she plans to build a stronger point of economy with the available Freeport and expand its potential by constructing an airport. To attract investors, she plans to boost incentives to encourage more players to relocate. 

“We plan to make smart cities there. I plan to make it very green. I plan to protect the lush forests. And of course, because it’s really also known as the rice granary of the Philippines, I plan to push the transition from GMOs to non-GMOs. I know that that will be a hard task but I plan to do it. Because I want to give the Filipinos healthy food for the next generations to come,” the mother of XX states. 

Katrina’s plans for Cagayan are arguably her most ambitious to date. Bringing them to fruition may very well be her professional life’s crowning glory. 

Cagayan also happens to be where her father was born and lived out his youth as a poor member of the working class. Returning to the province bearing his name but with a completely different outlook and standing is going full circle at its finest.  

Katrina makes it all sound like getting from Point A to Point B was a breeze. She disputes this. “As with many experiences in the past, it’s not that I didn’t have any resistance. There was so much resistance just because plans are coming from a woman,” she says.

“They don’t include you. They bypass you. They take you for granted. Like Delimondo, if I listened to everybody who said ‘No,’ Delimondo wouldn’t be what it is now. But I was firm and I said, ‘No. We continue.’ I fought for it,” she adds. 

All in all, Katrina continues to defy expectations, proving that women should be heard and listened to, bringing more exciting energy to nation-building and economic planning with her innate creativity and strong foresight.  

Instead of her father still jokingly wishing Katrina were a boy, he’s likely more appreciative that she turned out to be the way she is today — strong-willed, passionate, forward-thinking, and thankfully, never held back by anyone.  


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