Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Connecting Makes All the Difference

Frank, talking with his hands
in my box-filled dining room.
Frank Mejia is the eldest of eleven children. Like many eldest children, he is an over-achiever. During his long career, he has worked in government, learned the garment business from the sewing machine up, done import-export, did a stint as an economics professor, developed software, made creative audio visual presentations, shot wedding videos and now, after his ostensible retirement, he’s making eLearning for some of the largest companies in the world. He’s an entrepreneur who just can’t quit.

I invited him to my very old farmhouse for dinner recently and we had a very lively conversation on how it all fits together.

Fresh out of a Jesuit university in the Philippines, Frank went into government service. During those years of the Marcos regime, there were a lot of possibilities. One of which was the chance to study for two years in London. After that, Frank owed the government four years and in total, he stayed for ten. At the age of 27, he had married and a family soon followed. He began to feel that as an honest man in government, the salary wasn’t enough for his growing family.

So, with the support of his wife, who had a good job, he left his government job. At that point, he says he didn’t know what he was going to do, he just knew it was right to get out of government at that time and he knew that whatever he ended up doing, he would be successful. His cousin was in the garment trade and wanted to grow her business significantly, so, using all he had learned studying economics in London, he did a feasibility study for her company.

To get truly into the business, he began on the shop floor, at the sewing machines, even learning how to sew a bra together himself. He learned how the machines worked and became adept at fixing them when they broke down. He learned about the supply chain and did some trouble shooting on various supply chain challenges that the business faced. And soon the business had grown from 200 to 600 machines. After 3-4 years, he moved out of the family business, again, not knowing precisely what was next, but just knowing it was the right move at the right time.

Listening to his intuition and following his heart have served Frank Mejia very well throughout his long career. An inner confidence in his own capabilities and a trust in his feeling that he was doing the right thing have carried him from success to success. He says, “everything starts from your family, your parents, from the way you are raised.” With his daughter in the eLearning business and his son in the video business, he has passed this family entrepreneurial spirit on to the next generation. It's through the eLearning business that I know Frank and his daughter Anna Beltran.

Frank left the family business, but kept the network he had established as he solved the supply chain issues for his cousin. One of those contacts has been a constant business partner for more than 30 years! Frank credits much of his success to personal connections - friendship first, business second - because trust and success follow naturally from those personal connections.

Frank’s network enabled him to enter the garment trade for himself, both in sourcing all of the straps, buckles and pieces that were needed to construct bras, but eventually also children’s wear. This was during the 80s and when computers came into the picture, Frank jumped into the software business to create an inventory accounting system for the children’s wear factory. This blossomed into a software business, making such systems for others in the industry.

When the garment industry left the Philippines for cheaper labor in China, Frank got out of the children’s wear business. He ostensibly retired in 2000, but began doing audio-visual presentations and other video-related production as a sideline interest, and to build something for his son. He laughingly admitted that it was also an excuse to acquire the latest gadgets and technology, which had always been an interest. The presentations turned into an offer to develop a large eLearning project for an Australian consultancy and that has become a fast-growing eLearning development business (which is what brought him here to Denmark, where I interviewed him).

Throughout our laughter-filled conversation, there were two recurring themes - connections and listening to what your heart tells you. Underlying it all is a strong belief in himself and that it would always work out. But Frank exudes a dynamic sort of energy as well that has certainly been quite literally the force carrying him from success to success. A big thank you to Frank for sharing his story with us.

If you'd like to see what Frank's latest venture is all about, visit Framedia.

~ julie