The chemist who cares

Of her many accomplishments in life, it is her being a chemist that Pinky Tobiano enjoys talking about because, she says, “My profession has made it possible for me to help make the lives of the people in our country better, especially among our fellow Filipino and the farmers, which I consider my foremost cause and purpose in life.”

The statement would most likely come as a surprise to those who know that her parents are both pure Chinese who migrated to the Philippines in the 1950s. Pinky, who can pass for a Filipina mestiza, describes herself as “100 percent Chinese by blood and 100 percent Filipino at heart.”

CHIC in her Filipiniana attire.

The lady, looking at me straight in the eyes, all the while beautifully made up with hair well-coiffed, zeroed in on “one of the biggest problems in the Philippines in the past few years, which is food sustainability. Because we have a shortage of pork and this is caused by African Swine Fever or ASF. It’s like the Covid for pigs.”

She pointed out, “Because of ASF which has been affecting our swine industry since the last three years, (over) P120 billion in business have been lost.

“If there are no pigs, the food chain is broken. After all, people plant corn, but nobody buys corn anymore because corn is fed to the pigs. If there are no pigs, the slaughterhouses close. So, we have to import. What we need is food security,” she added.

Then, her face lighted up, as she said, “As a chemist, I was able to find in Vietnam a manufacturer that produces African Swine Fever Vaccine.  And ours is the first company in the world to sign up with the source.”

She related, “We signed on 20 November last year. Then last 2 February, we commenced the first trial in the Philippines. So, I stayed inside the farm for 38 days. I’m very proud to say that the Bureau of Animal Industry also conducted their safety dose test. We are very successful in the trial. Hopefully, by God’s grace, with the help of the Food and Drug Administration, the Bureau of Animal Industry and the Department of Agriculture, we can now import the vaccine to revive the swine industry and thus help sustain our local farmers.”

It had been quite a journey. “I learned about this formula that originated in Vietnam. Yes, I had to validate and audit it. It was the Ambassador of Vietnam to the Philippines who reached out to me. He is aware of my passion for helping the needy.”

Pinky explained, “It’s my company, KPP Powers Commodities, that is producing the vaccine. KPP is a feed additive company. It’s a gateway for profitability poultry and swine raising. We sell feed additives — enzymes, vitamins.  These are incorporated into the feeds. All for agriculture.”

Storekeeper at five

This fascinating lady, whose cutting-edge fashion sense makes her astounding at first glance, began early in the field of enterprise. “I was only five years old when I told my parents that I wanted to make medicines for animals,” she recounted.

At that age, she had already been helping man the family store that sold poultry supply. “Our family quarters were on the second floor, while the ground floor was our store. I would hang around the store and assist my mom. When my parents were busy checking the inventory, I would be assigned to entertain customers, give them what they wanted, and receive their payment, and give them the change.

Busy as she was with her store chores, she always landed among the top students in her class. At the Immaculate Conception Academy, she graduated first honorable mention in high school, and received Best in Science and the Mercury Drug Award. Four years later, she acquired her diploma in BS Chemisty with Cum Laude honors from the University of Santo Tomas.

Inspired by Grandmother’s good heart

“I never fail in business because my greatest competition is myself,” she emphasized. “So, now you can let me run anything, and I can run it for you. And I’ll guarantee you, I will never pick up a business that won’t hit the target.”

If she grew up learning how to engage in business from her parents, she learned “from my grandmother, who lived with us, her passion for helping the poor. She was very charitable. But other than contributing to the usual charities, she assisted our workers in their personal needs and those of their families.”

When her grandmother passed on when Pinky was 21 years old, she honored her by founding the Pinky Cares Foundation. In existence for the last 33 years, it has mostly assisted abandoned elderly in GRACES Home for the Aged, and sexually abused children in the Reception Center for Children in Project 7, Quezon City.

Youngest at Harvard course

Her compassionate character is only matched by her entrepreneurial acumen. She was 23 years old when she realized her childhood dream “to make medicines for animals.”

She narrated, “I was on my way home from Paris on a plane when I had a conversation with the gentleman beside me. He said that he was going to the Philippines because Bayer, which was manufacturing one of their medicines, had a strike, so he needed to find a way to manufacture their brand’s products. I asked if I could instead manufacture their medicines for them.

“In turn he gave me his card. I read that he was the CEO of Ciba-Geigy, which I had not heard of yet. Two weeks after, he called and asked me, ‘Are you really interested in making me a plant?’ I said yes. He visited my plant and he saw that I needed to construct a new plant, so I said yes. I borrowed money from my dad, and in one year, I paid him back. I built the plant for Ciba-Geigy and I made their medicine.

“I started with only three people whom I hired. They told me that since I didn’t have any formal educational training in business, they would require me to take a three-year business course in Harvard. As requirement for my application, I submitted an essay. I wrote that education is not a privilege of the rich, but of every Filipino. I got accepted, the youngest in the course and a Filipino.”

Vitamin for pigs

It wasn’t long before her company would begin its animal health line. “The strike in their first Philippine plant led to my animal medicine business. “We first produced (Apselin), a vitamin for pigs. That was my big break,” she recounted.

It was fortuitous that she had a big break in the Ciba-Geigy offer. From her first medicine, Pinky has expanded to manufacturing medicines for other brands. “I cannot say we’re number one. But we are leading and we are all Filipino,” she said.

To-do list in her own handwriting

She adheres to a hands-on management style. “I make sure to be in my office at 7:30 in the morning. So, I would start presiding over a meeting even before eight in the morning of Monday. We have a mantra in the office. It goes ‘being on time is ahead of time.’ It’s really our culture, it’s our mantra. So, I tell them, ‘When you’re on time, you’re late because I’m already on my desk.”

Outstanding UST alumna

Successful as she is, Pinky says her greatest pride are her daughters. My daughters are 29 and 21, respectively. My elder daughter, Pianne Nicole, took up management and chemistry. She is my chief financial officer. My younger one, Karrel May, graduated with highest honors at New York University this May with a degree in Economics.

PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF PINKY TOBIANO | PINKY with daughters Pianne Nicole and Karrel May and husband Juan Carlos Robles.

“I am grateful that they are now on the road to their respective successes,” she said. “At the same time, I tell them that they are not defined by th eir educational attainment but by the lives they have touched.

One that approximates her pride in her daughters is her admiration for “my staff who have joined me, many of them from the early years of my first company and the other companies that I founded.  So, I am very proud of the fact that my employees who have stayed with me for 20 years or more have homes of their own, and whose children have finished college. In fact, the son of our janitor recently passed the bar.”

WITH daughters Pianne Nicole and Karrel May.

At the time of the interview, her employees gave her a surprise party. She had just received an award from her alma mater, UST, for being one of its outstanding alumni. She said, “I love our employees. They would always say we would take a bullet for our boss. They know I would do the same thing for them.”

Battling the Big C

The pandemic became a test not only to her relationship with her employees, but also her capacity for coping with crisis. “Instead of folding up, or just waiting for things to get better, we grew the business. We did this by manufacturing alcohol which people need as disinfectant.” Not surprisingly, Pinky donated alcohol to the Philippine General Hospital and to the homes for the elderly.

The biggest challenge for her, though, came by way of the Big C. At one point, she and her mother were diagnosed with cancer.

A WORKAHOLIC. She starts her day early in the morning.

She recounted “We first found out that my mom had cancer. We were so broken, but then, I soon found out I too had cancer. We were in wreck. But God is good.”

She related how she was cured of the dreaded ailment: “I was in a cruise when I met Dr. Jatin Shah, head of Sloan Kettering Neck and Head Surgeon. So, I kept his card and every Christmas, I would send him Christmas cards.  I consulted with Dr. Samuel Ang of the Cardinal Santos Medical Center. He recommended a doctor who he described as one of the best in the world. His name, he said, is Dr. Jatin Shah, the chief of Sloan Kettering Memorial Center, ‘but he’s too busy.’ I got excited and said, ‘I know him.’” It turned out Dr. Ang studied under Dr. Samuel.”

Dr. Shah soon flew to the Philippines and performed surgery on Pinky. When she asked how much she owed him, he replied, “Those 12 years, you’ve been sending me Christmas cards that I never replied to is enough payment for me. You are healed and you’re well. I am flying to New York tonight.”

By then, her mom too had healed because then “It was much easier to cure her breast cancer.”

A grateful heart

Today, Pinky looks back with a grateful heart. Through good times and bad, “God has always been with me and my family.”

Excited at the prospects of introducing the vaccine to fight the African Swine Fever, Pinky goes about her day with the strength and a courage of a woman who has enjoyed big breaks, faced challenges head on and hopeful for the future. Other than her pharmaceutical business that caters to the health and medical needs of livestock, she hosts an online lifestyle show of Cornerstone Entertainment which she founded during the pandemic “when I explored other avenues for my creativity.”

“There is so much to be thankful for. The least I could do is to pass forward my blessings,” she concluded.