Bernadette N. Valencia: 2018 Executive of the Year
By Maureen N. Maratita
It’s been quite a year for Matson Navigation Co. in Micronesia.
And while the shipping giant has had a number of positive milestones in the past 12 months, it has also seen some tumultuous events that weren’t on its radar.
These included a high profile legal tussle, and the call to ship multiple loads of goods to the Northern Mariana Islands in the wake of Super Typhoon Yutu in October.
Bernadette N. “Bernie” Valencia, vice president and general manager of Matson Navigation for Micronesia and Okinawa has risen to those challenges with the same calmness and can-do attitude that she exhibits at community events, in personal visits to clients around the Micronesia region and at non-profit board meetings.
In recent months she has also overseen the shipment of multiple goods to the NMI as they recover from Super Typhoon Yutu, which hit Saipan and Tinian particularly hard.
Carlotta A. Leon Guerrero, executive director of the Ayuda Foundation has worked with Valencia in getting aid to the islands for needs such as typhoon recovery.
Leon Guerrero says, “Bernie Valencia has done more to improve the quality of life for Pacific Islanders than many people are aware of. … She has moved countless Matson containers filled with humanitarian cargo to relieve the suffering caused when a high tide has salted the water wells and ruined the taro crops. She has moved Matson containers that we have filled up with textbooks, or medical supplies and equipment. When it comes to easing human suffering and providing for the greater good of an island community Bernie has led her company by saying, ‘Yes, we will do what we can.’”
In addition, Leon Guerrero describes Valencia as a leader in the Pacific “because of her business and humanitarian connections,” who knows a lot of people at all levels. When cargo gets stuck, Leon Guerrero says Valencia “makes a few calls to this port guy in Kosrae or that agent in Majuro and she makes it happen.”
Valencia was promoted to vice president in October 2017. The promotion was perhaps all the sweeter because she said at the time that the recognition came out of the blue. “I wasn’t expecting it,” she said.
There is an element of the bigger picture in her promotion, she says.
“I feel that it was a great accomplishment to expand the leadership role in Guam and be promoted to vice president with Matson. Not only am I pleased to be the first female vice president and general manager for Matson in Guam, I am more proud that a large publically traded company such as Matson trusts, recognizes and promotes the locals like myself to run the organization.”
The promotion came after the successful construction and grand opening of Matson’s 10,000 square foot new office in Anigua in September 2017. The significant six-figure investment is Matson’s first self-owned building in the region — to include Hawaii.
Additionally, she says, “The promotion increased my [area of responsibility] to include Japan and Korea, with our recent market entry into Okinawa.”
Valencia joined Matson in 2008 as regional manager for sales and customer service in Guam, Micronesia and Asia. At the same time she managed the Matson team that focused on the buildup and related construction activity.
Leonard K. Kaae Sr., senior vice president and general manager of Black Construction Corp., says, “Bernie Valencia has certainly set new standards by her leadership and business acumen for Matson Navigation. Some of her attributes are her meticulous attention to detail, her willingness to go beyond what is required and her drive and energy.”
Valencia became general manager in July 2013, tasked with overseeing strategic projects to solidify Matson’s long term plans in the Asia-Pacific region.
That elevation added additional responsibilities, such as market entry into Okinawa and the planning and construction management of the Guam office building. Valencia also strategically increased the brand awareness and brand presence in the region through celebrations of corporate milestones, events and community sponsorships.
She has shepherded through accomplishments that benefit the region.
Matson introduced a direct route to the Marshall Islands from Hawaii in 2018. The islands of Kwajalein, Ebeye and Majuro were previously serviced through Guam, but direct service shaves a week off delivery since shipments no longer transit Guam. The containership, named Kamokuiki, or “small island or vessel” in the Hawaiian language, is equipped with two 45-ton cranes suited for heavy cargo lifting.
In September 2016 Matson named a vessel after Micronesian grand master navigator Pius “Mau” Piailug, also known in the Pacific navigation community as “Papa Mau.” The ceremony, with the Piailug family and the Yapese community in attendance, was part of Matson’s 20th anniversary celebration in Guam and Micronesia and took place at the Port Authority of Guam.
That same month, the Port Authority of Guam board of directors approved the award of a four-year contract of up to $490,000 for technical support of the port gantry cranes to Matson.
Leonard P. Isotoff, vice president of Hawaii sales for Matson, worked with Valencia during his time in Guam as general manager and before his own career took him out of Micronesia.
He says she has done and is doing a “fantastic” job at Matson,
“She’s expanded her area of responsibility by including Okinawa under her umbrella. She continues to provide solid leadership for the team and Matson [in Guam] and everybody sees her community service efforts and her wanting to continue to help in the community, whether it’s on Guam, Saipan or the rest of the region in Micronesia.”
As to her future with Matson, Isotoff says, “She can go wherever she wants to go in this company. She’s proven it already. … She’s driven; she’s a good leader so I think there’s a lot of potential. As the company’s evolved she’s evolved with it.”
Valencia says, “I live by the words, ‘Show no signs of weakness.’”
But that credo was severely tested in 2016 with the passing of her longtime partner. At the same time, she says, “During this most difficult time in my personal life, I had to continue to work on Matson’s strategic plans for the region.”
Aside from relying on the inner strengths and determination that serve her well, on that occasion and regularly Valencia turns to familiar figures in her social life.
“When I need to take a break from the pressure, I surround myself with good people — like friends, family and even customers and coworkers who have helped me get through my most difficult times,” she says.
Kaae says, “I’ve known Bernie for over 20 years. She is a very dear friend to my family and me. She’s a caring, sensitive individual and will go that extra mile for you. We’re blessed to have her in our lives.”
Leon Guerrero says that she and Valencia share two nieces and a nephew.
“After she is done un-sticking my stuck cargo, we talk about the kids and how they are doing. She is full of fun and is one of the best-est friends ever to her close friends.”
Isotoff says, “She’s fun to work with; she’s a fun person to be around. She likes her sports, she likes her basketball. We played in a couple of leagues together — co-ed teams — and she held her own with the guys and as a matter of fact she could take out a couple of guys on the basketball court. She’s a tough gal; don’t mess with Bernie — but she’s very kind and fun to be around.”
Sports have always been a part of Valencia’s life and also a way of relieving stress.
“I used to love paddling and basketball. Now it’s snowboarding and golfing,” she says.
Born in the Philippines, Valencia grew up on Guam, graduating from Academy of our Lady of Guam in 1987. With a talent and liking for math and the sciences she began studying engineering at San Francisco State University, where she would also participate in college basketball and enjoy life in a big city. Refining her aims, Valencia changed her field to aviation maintenance.
“The highly technical degree, along with the discipline of being a college athlete, helped me excel in all my roles throughout my career,” she says.
Valencia began her career as an airframe and power plant mechanic at Continental Micronesia.
But before long she began her upward path and spent 14 years at Mobil Oil Guam Inc.
She served as the operations manager where she oversaw fuel terminal activities on Guam and Micronesia. As part of her duties, Valencia managed the daily operations at eight fuel terminals; stewarded strict safety procedures and standards; and ensured the overall financial efficiency of the operation. Her other positions with Mobil included vice president of Station Managers Inc., a subsidiary of Mobil Oil Guam, retail sales manager and commercial sales manager.
Despite a significant travel schedule, Valencia has taken on various civic service activities and leadership roles within the community.
She serves as a board member for the Guam Chamber of Commerce; Guam Employer’s Council; Guam Business Partners in Recycling Inc. (iRecycle); and the Guam Contractor’s Association Trades Academy and was elected to the board of the Guam Women’s Chamber of Commerce in December.
She additionally serves as a council member on the University of Guam School of Business and Public Administration and United Service Organizations Guam.
Matson also supports Special Olympics Guam, the Ayuda Foundation, Boy Scouts of America, the Guam Contractor’s Association, the American Red Cross, the Guam Chamber of Commerce, the Saipan Chamber of Commerce, the University of Guam, the College of Micronesia, Northern Marianas College, Palau Community College, Autism Community Together, the Guam Memorial Hospital Volunteers Association and the Mariana Islands Nature Alliance. The Adahi I Tano’ or Caring for the land program — which began in 2013, sponsors $500 cleanups on Guam.
Valencia is also co-founder and board treasurer of iCAN Resources Inc., which employs about 200 people in Guam with significant disabilities.
She says, “We started the organization with a group of friends who worked with special needs students. … We find meaningful work for our employees and make them proud contributing members in our society. I truly believe that we have offered a life-changing career for many of our staff. It is so full filling to see them show our community what they CAN do.”
Valencia has achieved much on behalf of Matson and her community, but says there is a message that others might take away.
“I hope to inspire others that it is possible to achieve executive levels of an international company. I hope to have also inspired young women to aim high and show that there is no glass ceiling. I believe that I have proven to other large companies in our region that locals can run their organizations better than ex-pats. I am very proud to be locally hired and have 100% local staff in Guam, CNMI and Micronesia with responsibility for a significant part of the company portfolio.”
Bernadette N. “Bernie” Valencia: 2018 Executive of the Year