“Eggroll Queen” is the unexpected nameplate on the office door of advertising giant J. Walter Thompson’s (JWT) new general manager, Golda Aguilar-Roldan.
When asked what it meant, she simply answers (or perhaps doesn’t) that it was given to her during her stint at Leo Burnett. Then, in the flurry of hurried welcomes and some rearranging of inch-high paper stacks to make more table space, the quest for the answer was lost.
Golda Aguilar-Roldan is the woman behind the award-winning Kit Kat ad.
The nameplate, possibly colored in using highlighters–evidence of a personal touch–gives a preview into the person seated before theAsianparent team. Using deductive reasoning (thank you, Sherlock Holmes), we can safely surmise that she is quite fun, and funny.
Golda seems to break through stereotypes, especially those of commonly depicted successful women at the helm of international companies. An image of a dragon breathing fire down the necks of employees comes to mind. But it is not, however, how Golda is.
Her petite frame is unassuming, her smile accommodating. Her small voice, used to apologize for “the mess” of papers and whatnots around the office, is gentle. Quite different from a persona expected to run a ship.
In the making
Golda wasn’t born into success. Like most outstanding individuals, she shares that long hours and hard work, i.e. blood, sweat, and tears, paved her road to success. (For those looking for a short cut, this should prove that there is none.)
She recounts that during her college thesis, she became pregnant with her first child, Ian, who recently turned 20. After graduating, she landed her first job at PAC (Philippine Advertising Council), the oldest local agency.
Golda uses this caption for the photo above: One night out with JWT Millenials
Young Golda strived hard to provide for her son, because she and her former boyfriend did not end up together. She reminisces that at that time, she would tag her baby Ian along to weekend shoots and then back to the office since she didn’t own a computer back home.
She also lived with her mom at that time–a challenging blessing. On one hand, it allowed her to toil while her baby was in safe hands; on the other, her mother constantly worried about her long hours at work.
Her troubles didn’t end there. At work, her boss was difficult; her words were tough and manner, demotivating. This added more weight on Golda’s already heavy shoulders.
Life is, however, what you make of it. And because Golda is a self-proclaimed, “happy person,” she was able to break through the walls of her boss. She, “went against her fear,” and asked her boss questions.
Because she was the only one to do this, she put a chink in her boss’ armor. Eventually she became the bridge between her boss and other colleagues.
Though the situation was grating at that time, Golda chalked it up to learning. There is truth to the saying that one is greatly influenced by his or her first boss. So Golda vowed to be the opposite.
The modern leader
“In JWT, there’s this strategic concept called brand idea. It’s like the essence, the soul of the brand,” she explains. So, what is the Golda brand idea? Tough empathy.
While her demands on output are sky-high (and we’re assured she holds herself to the same standards), she also decodes what makes her staff tick. This enables her to steer them to success. Couple this with meeting any mishaps with a genuine desire to understand what led to the mistake–as opposed to the knee-jerk reaction of anger–it becomes apparent that kindness is innate in Golda.
A letter from one of Golda Aguilar-Roldan’s staff that proves how her brand of leadership touches lives.
On the topic of mistakes, she also considers blunders of her underlings as her own. Accountability is something she, no doubt, takes seriously, to the point that she currently shadows a handful of newbies in her team.
In an environment where it is common for superiors to lash out and point fingers when problems arise, Golda proves that a true leader can resolve issues maturely.
Her secret weapon is openness. And it starts with being approachable, which Golda confirms does not happen over time.
“When they’ve done good work, I send an email to say ‘good job.’ And if there’s something they’ve done I don’t agree with, I sit them down and say, “You know this could have been this way.” I show them I’m being objective about things and emphasize what they’re good at.”
It’s a no-brainer that this method, one that seems innate in Golda, can be encouraging for employees who occasionally fumble. They know they aren’t being attacked personally because Golda’s objective approach addresses the issue at hand.
She’s not quite the boss we’re used to. And there’s more.
Golda shares that when she emails her staff on weekends, an accompanying disclaimer reads: “You don’t need to reply now. I just sent an email so I won’t forget.” If this all sounds too good to be true, that’s because it sort of is–too good, and too true.
At home with the family
How does a successful corporate mom raise her kids?
Though the values of tough love, kindness, empathy are all present, there is one pressure point she eases up on: excelling in school.
She doesn’t expect her kids to be on the honor roll, but she does expect them to be accountable for their work. Once, her 6-year-old daughter, Juno, fell asleep before she was able to do her homework. Golda went to work and printed cutout images–and stopped there.
Golda’s family (L-R): son Ian, daughter Juno, son Zach and husband Onat.
The next morning, she let her girl commence with the cutting. Golda claims she won’t be caught doing her children’s homework because she wants them to do the “dirty work.”
When reminiscing about her firstborn, Ian, during the days he struggled at school, Golda retells that she asked him flat out if he needed help. When he said “yes,” she was sensitive about his perception of getting a tutor.
She didn’t want him to feel like a failure. She told him instead that those who need help are there to improve their strengths further. It helped.
Eventually, Golda was able to wean her son off needing a tutor. And without the pressure to excel, he finished top of his class during high school.
On the topic of spending time with her kids, Golda says that her two younger kids, Juno and 9-year-old Zach, are used to her work schedule.
Like the true manager, she lives by efficiency. Golda starts her days at 5:30am ensuring her kids get ready for school. Then, she takes them to school–a 45-minute ride–every day, no fail. It’s that short window she uses wisely to catch up with her kids.
When they ask what time she’ll be home, she emphasizes her mantra: honesty is the best policy. So even seemingly unimportant information like the time of an evening meeting is mentioned to her kids. This way, they know what she is doing and when to expect her home.
Golda shares that middle child, Zach, is protective of his younger sister, Juno.
Like all mothers, time away from home stings. During such times, Golda asks her husband, who sometimes is home before she is, to record their children’s voices. She then plays, and replays, the voice message. And as she explains this, she looks longingly at an imaginary phone on her hands.
As the interview comes to an end, one can’t help but wonder: did Golda’s parents envision their daughter to be the successful career woman she is today; when, as Golda recalls, they were just happy that she graduated the seventh grade because they weren’t expecting it?
The question probably isn’t worth dwelling on. But learnings are. And if there’s anything to take away, it’s that success doesn’t require an abrasive leader. Steering a ship can be accomplished with kindness, a trait Golda values the most and one that she instills in the workplace and at home.
Also read: 25 women share how motherhood changed them