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Strength of character

Strength of character: P&A partner Mai Sigue-Bisnar

There are many ways of defining a life well-lived. Some say it’s about becoming successful in your career, while others say it’s about raising a happy, healthy family. Still others insist it’s about being of service to other people, and some say that it’s about being true to the ones you owe your good fortune to.

For Mailene Sigue-Bisnar, an Audit and Assurance Partner of prominent accounting firm Punongbayan & Araullo (P&A), it’s all of the above, and more.

The eldest of three girls, Mai is a born achiever. She graduated valedictorian from her hometown high school in Marinduque, where she was already making quite a mark for herself: She was president of the Student Council and the Kabataang Barangay, an active member of student Catholic organizations, and a title-holder to boot – she was once hailed “Mutya ng Gasan,” the small town where she grew up.
 
After graduating from high school, she moved to Manila where, thanks to her excellent academic record, she got accepted in the prestigious University Scholars in Accounting Program of the University of the East (UE). Although she did not have to worry about tuition, even receiving a regular stipend as part of her scholarship, Mai worked doubly hard in the big city.

She lived for a time at the home of the Manila-based owner of her father’s handicraft business, where she used to work to help her father. He would usually send finished pieces to Manila from Marinduque, and whenever alterations or corrections had to be made, Mai would work on the pieces herself in between school assignments.
 
Like the quintessential Ate, Mai volunteered to take care of one sister’s college education. She worked as a student assistant at UE and part-timed at a fast-food franchise to support herself and her sibling. Despite having to juggle several responsibilities so far away from home, Mai never lost her focus and graduated cum laude from UE.

In 1991, she joined P&A, where she found her second home – a firm driven by hardworking people who, like Mai, were dedicated to excellence and family. It was also at P&A where Mai met her husband.

Ed Bisnar got to know Mai when they worked together on a campus recruitment effort. They were married in October 1998, and although Mai made her new family her top priority, she never let her commitment to P&A – and her clients – slip. Mai’s dedication and hard work were rewarded when she was sent to the New York office of P&A’s then international affiliate through a secondment program.

“Her co-workers and superiors at the New York office were so happy with her that when her secondment was over and she was scheduled to return to Manila, the whole office went on a mini-break and threw her a farewell party,” recounts Fred Damian, then- HR head of P&A. And even after she had left, Mai’s US co-workers never forgot her. The partners at the New York Office were so impressed with Mai’s performance that when another P&A candidate was proposed for secondment to the same office, the partner-interviewer said, “Is your candidate highly recommended by Mai? If she is, that’s all the testimonial we need. She is accepted.”

Mai’s client service philosophy is a big part of the reason why her co-workers admire her and clients trust her – on more than one occasion, a P&A client has specifically asked for Mai to handle an engagement. “When I work with clients,” she explains, “I don’t think of them just as clients. They’re people, and it is important to me that I make a personal connection with them as we work together.”

This personal approach to work has been a constant throughout Mai’s career, even when she faced her biggest challenge as a mother. When one of her children became seriously ill, Mai and her family faced a long road of tests, treatments and, eventually, recovery.

Mai’s daughter is now a happy, healthy girl, and of the difficult experience, the mother of four chooses to see the good: her family – at home and at P&A – became stronger, rallying around her in support. It only made Mai even more committed to excel at P&A. “It was always clear to me that I would stay with P&A, no matter what. The firm’s values align with mine, and it has taken very good care of me as it has consistently done for its staff--a big part of the P&A culture,” she shares.

Asked about how she manages to balance her personal and professional life – as Audit Partner, Mai handles big clients in the real estate industry – both of which require much care and attention, Mai says simply: “When you live for others, you are inspired to always be a better person, to always do your best. If I can keep doing that, then I am fulfilled.”

 

(As published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, 12 September 2009.)