Kate Bellosillo: From Mother of 8 to CEO, How I Found My Purpose
By Sujany Baleswaran
Learning her first business lesson from her mother at just 10 years old, Kate Bellosillo rose with grit and grace, from mother of 8 to CEO of Kyani Philippines. Her motherly nurturing spirit, listening heart, boldness and business acumen has led her to become the leader she is today. Building her business from the ground up, Kate has led her company to become one of the top 10 performing markets out of 60 markets worldwide. Not only is she a business mastermind, but she has spearheaded numerous charitable causes, dedicating her time to her belief that ‘service is love made visible in the world.’
How do you remember your childhood, and how has it shaped who you are today?
Who I am today, the woman I have become was profoundly influenced by my mother. She passed away last May after being bedridden for 14 years due to Parkinson’s disease. Though she could hardly speak in the last few years of her life, her gentle presence at home was enough to assure me that all is well and all will be well. At the time of her death, I came across a quote that touched me very deeply. Rumi, a great Persian mystic and poet, said: “When the light returns to its source, it takes nothing of what it has illuminated.”
My mother was that light.
Of Chinese descent, she was not very expressive of her emotions. I never heard her tell me she loved me. Her love language was working very hard, so she could provide for all our needs – food on the table, quality education, nice clothes and shoes, etc. But when it came to herself, she was very frugal.
My mom owned a bookstore in downtown Manila. Like many typical Filipino-Chinese families, we lived upstairs. A single parent, she was in the store from the time it opened to the time it closed. I marvelled at how she memorized all the titles of the books, and where they can be found in the store! She knew them all. On the side, she accepted typing jobs from students who needed to have their thesis or term papers typed. She charged 25 centavos per page. When I was around 10 years old, I witnessed her being berated by an irate student. Apparently, there were a few typo errors in the term paper. The angry college student kept shouting at how incompetent my mom’s typing was and how these errors were going to delay the submission of her report. Through it all, my mom remained calm and after the storm passed, she just said: “I am very sorry for all the trouble these errors have caused you. Please rest assured we will correct them immediately so you can come back for your term paper within an hour.”
I turned to my mother and asked her: “Why mom? Why did you allow her to speak to you in such a disrespectful manner?” My mom gazed at me tenderly and said: “Child when you are in business, you have to do whatever it takes to make sure your customer is happy. When they are upset, just listen. Be humble enough to accept all that they are saying, even if the words hurt you. Remember, the customer is always right. Even if the customer is wrong, go back to the first lesson: the customer is always right.”
Later on, I came to realize that she was teaching me my first life lesson in humility and sound business practice.
You set up your business from the ground up, and Kyani Philippines has experienced success after success. Can you share some insights on what it takes to drive repeated success?
We bring to the workplace who we are. Our purpose, our soul print, which includes the values and dreams we hold dear. Authenticity is crucial for leadership. As a leader, the foundation to success is knowing yourself and knowing your WHY?
During one of our general managers’ meetings, our KYANI founder Kirk Hansen posed this question: What wakes you up every day excited about life? His question caught all of us off guard. As a young boy, he and his brother Jim would help out in the gas station, their family business. One day, his father had a visitor, and Kirk overheard this man offering to buy out their gas station because he had 10 at that time, while Kirk’s family only had one. But Kirk’s father refused. He said this gas station business is my legacy for my children. Hearing this, Kirk promised himself he would work very hard to help his father grow their business. This resolve stayed in his mind and heart, like a fire that woke him up every single day. Fifteen years later, that same man came back to the Hansens and offered Kirk’s father to buy the few remaining gas stations he had left. By then, the Hansens had grown their business to a successful gas station chain, their small petroleum company had turned it into one of the largest independent distributorships in the US.
When I accepted the position of country manager of KYANI Philippines, I knew it was more than just a corporate job. It was answering the call to make Filipino lives better with its leading-edge nutritional supplements and a unique business opportunity that allows ordinary people to live the life of their dreams.
To be truly successful, we do not stop at knowing WHY. We have to make sure what we do adds value to the lives of others. I always say, “Every dollar you make in this business means you have helped a life become better. The more money you make simply means you have blessed many more lives.”
What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced in your journey to business success?
The Coronavirus pandemic that turned the world upside down was one of the biggest challenges we faced in Kyani Philippines. These were the questions our staff and business partners were asking: ‘What’s going on? What’s going to happen next? How will it affect us?’
The first lesson I learned in times of crisis is this: We must not allow FEAR to paralyze us. Rather, let’s use the fear to move us to make a positive decision. As GM, I took charge and acted quickly. I focused on priorities that involved safety and security.
Simon Sinek said: “Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge.” I also felt the need to be present, visible and available. We made sure everyone knew that we were doing everything possible to continue service in their areas. We explained what we could and could not do. As leaders, we need to understand that information is the oil that greases an organization and keeps it running smoothly.
- Be truthful: Transparency is key. We made an effort to give everyone a clear picture of what’s happening on the ground.
- Do it frequently: We made an effort to communicate with our people regularly, and more if necessary.
In a time of crisis, we also have to manage our personal energy, take care of ourselves, eat well, sleep well and exercise. As leaders, we need to stay positive because our energy permeates the energy of our team. If you are a leader who likes to complain, blame, find excuses, then that will be the quality of members you will have. If you want positive team members, you have to be positive first, yourself. A positive person is someone who finds joy in everything, even when life is not easy. A positive person is always part of the solution and not part of the problem.
In Kyani Philippines, we turned that crisis into an opportunity to reach new heights of success. 2020 was our banner year as we achieved the highest sales in our history.
You have guided your staff and business partners and created leadership training. What is your philosophy when it comes to leadership and people management?
I love what John Maxwell said: “Leadership is influence.” And you can only influence people when they respect you for who you are and what you represent. Authenticity is crucial for true leadership. I have come to see that as a leader, what we think, what we do, what we say, must be one. It helps that I am a mother because I bring a listening heart and nurturing spirit to the workplace. My team knows that I am concerned about them as human beings, not just their outputs or results.
As a leader, it’s important to surround yourself with people who love you and will fan the fire of passion in your heart, so you can do great things together. Just like a chef that is able to bring forth a symphony of divine flavours, I encourage a healthy sharing of ideas. I help them find their roots and strengths, take wings and fly. When everything goes well, I pass on the credit to them. When things go south, the buck stops with me.
Another KYANI founder Carl Taylor said, “When things go wrong, I put a band-aid on it and get back to work.”
Finally, as a leader, I have come to see that in the busyness of corporate life, we must draw strength from the sacred space within. The practice of going into silence and solitude nourishes our innermost beings and allows us to listen to the voice of our souls, where creativity and inspiration flow.
Your chapter, ‘Rising with Grit and Grace: From Mother of 8 to CEO’ is part of the Global Woman book “Women in the Modern Business World”, now an Amazon bestseller. What inspired you to write this chapter?
I know that someone out there needs to hear my story. I wanted people to know that when we go through situations of intense darkness and despair, the practice of entering into the silence within gives us the ability to call forth grace, to surrender to Someone who loves us totally and completely. Surrender does not mean giving up. It simply means trusting that He will take care of us. And even if we do not understand why our hearts will know His love will carry us through. Light will soon find its way into the wounds of our hearts, and magically, fragments of pain can be gathered into a loving wholeness.
You have 8 children who have all become successful, giving back to the world through their life work. How did you create that work-life balance and ensure that you were present in your children’s lives?
When I was starting my corporate career, I had a heart-to-heart talk with my eight children to make them understand that mom had to work to put food on the table, pay the rent and send them to school. Children have such amazing, listening hearts! Let’s not discount their capacity to endure the hard times with us. Looking back, it actually strengthened their character.
I made sure that I had time to go on “dates” with each of them, whether it’s watching a movie or just chatting the night away in the bedroom. Up to now, I still make sure that Sunday lunch is a time to gather everyone over a home-cooked meal so we can catch up with the latest in each other’s lives. These moments are always filled with endless story-telling and laughter. My delicious crispy chicken and baked spaghetti remain all-time hits.
When you step away from ‘the businesswoman’ lifestyle, what does your life become? How do you spend your free time and unwind?
I discovered a new craft – painting with numbers. I put on some mood music and paint the hours away. I find this mindful practice very calming to the soul. I also watch Korean movies. I am fascinated by the uniqueness of their storylines and the delicate acting. At other times, I curl up in my bed to read a book. Right now, there’s “The Buddha and the Badass” by Vishen Lakhiani, “The Infinite Game” by Simon Sinek, and my son’s recommendation – The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene.
Not only are you a business mogul, but you also spearhead the Caring Hand activities that include food-sharing programs for medical front liners, malnourished children and the homeless. Can you tell us more about this and how important is this to you?
Our founder Kirk Hansen would always say: “Kyani Caring Hands is only part of what we do. But it’s all of who we are.” Like him, I believe that the true measure of success is not based on how much you have, but what you do for others.
When my sons were kidnapped for ransom, I began to see that there was so much brokenness in the hearts of men that cause them to hurt others. This gave me the resolve to do what I can to bring healing where there is pain, joy where there is sadness, light where there is darkness. If I could just feed one hungry child or reassure someone that she is not alone, I know I have helped make this world a better place to be.
With your successful business, nurturing heart and having won numerous awards, including an award for Outstanding ASEAN Woman Entrepreneur Award, you are clearly an inspiration to women all over the world. What has given you the most fulfilment in your life?
The other day, I found out my daughter’s best friend had gone into a deep depression and even thought of killing herself. She was reeling from a sudden breakup with her boyfriend and their family business had to close down due to the pandemic. She said, my daughter, Marga had a way of “accompanying” her in those moments when she felt so lost and alone. Then she said, “What also kept me going was watching your mom’s video over and over again.” That was when I spoke at the ASIA CEO Women’s forum on my journey as a mother of 8 to CEO of Kyani Philippines. I had forgotten all about that! What can be more fulfilling than knowing that I had raised a child who has the most loving and kindest of hearts? Plus, knowing that my story has brought healing and strength to a wounded heart!
What can be more fulfilling than receiving this message of gratitude, so tenderly expressed by my son, just before he got married: “For being mother and friend, for listening to our deepest hurts and wildest dreams, while keeping us safe and assuring us that all will be well, thank you.”
What do you want to achieve in life, and what does the future hold for you in both your personal life and business life?
I have this crazy dream to be the Oprah Winfrey of Asia. I am planning to create a podcast where I can bring onstage empowered women and successful corporate leaders to talk about topics like: “How to Raise Positive Children in a Negative World,” “Spirituality in Leadership,” “The Power of You,” etc. I hope to assure women out there that they have companions in their journey, a safe place where they can open their hearts, turn their wounds into wisdom, nurture their souls, become financially strong, be the best that they can be, so together we can transform the world. I also plan to write my own book, soon!
Finally, do you have any advice for women who are entering the world of business?
- Start with WHY. Why are you doing that business?
- The WHY is your North Star. This is what will give meaning and direction to your business and your life.
- Next, what pain point will your business solve?
- Will it provide better health to someone who is physically challenged?
- Will it provide someone with stronger finances or a more secure future?
- Will it give that person a chance to give back to the world?
- Third, what do you sell that money cannot buy? This is the secret sauce that will set you apart from the competition.
- Fourth, who are the 5 key people who can make your dream business happen?
- Fifth, create a one-page business plan. It’s ok to start small and grow big.
Then, just do it!
Our Kyani founder Kirk Hansen said: “We do not win by hoping and wishing, or planning and preparing. We win by doing. Begin creating your legacy today, and stay with it the rest of your life. Go, just do it.”