When Adela ‘Delle’ Sering Fojas came to New York, she was a carefree 20-year-old, fresh from convent school in Manila.
Coming from a prominent political family in Surigao, she was not all that serious at her job as a garments industry clerk. Not having the typical immigrant’s drive to succeed, she partied hard with friends in the West Village. She reported to work dreamy and distracted.
After less than a year as a clerk for a manufacturer of children’s wear, she was fired. She shrugged it off, confident another job more to her liking would be out there.
“It was a clerical job. After work I would go out with my friends, hang out in the Village. That was my interest rather than working,” said Delle, 58, recalling with amusement her early days in New York in an interview with The FilAm.
While she did not stay long in that first job, it was there where, she confessed, she learned a lot about working in New York, negotiating with the toughest customers, being obstinately competitive, until she became the hard-nosed marketing representative in technology and chief executive officer at Seven Seven Corporate Group.
The free-spirited goodtime girl is now a CEO!
Delle laughed. “They (the company) gave me a shot, but I did not do a good job.” There must be a lesson somewhere, she thought.
Whatever it was, it was not apparent at first. Until she met Macario ‘Mac’ Fojas, who was then working on his MBA at Fordham, on a group date. They wed civilly, but did not live together until after a church wedding a couple of years later.
When Mac’s family offered them cash as a gift, they had to choose between a flashy wedding or an investment. Delle chose to make the money grow. The couple purchased two two-family homes – one unit for their use, the others to rent out.
“We’re trying to save money,” she said. “Mac was still in school. It’s all about saving for the future.”
That was the advent of a new, take-charge Delle, one who is conscious about managing resources, growing investments, making decisions out of tough deals, and knowing the context between scrimping and splurging.
At Seven Seven Corporate Group, which she co-founded with Mac in 1996, she is at the “frontline” of client services. The company provides a wide range of information technology services to top US insurance firms, Wall Street banks, manufacturing, and telecommunications institutions around Asia. The services included software development; infrastructure and application support; technical service desk; IT consulting and back office services.
“Mac is the visionary, I’m just the sales person,” she said.
When told they seem like the East Coast counterpart of Silicon Valley venture capitalist Dado Banatao and his philanthropist wife Maria, she hesitated, “We are not in the same category. Both Dado’s and Maria’s success are in a much larger scale.”
Delle has been very effective in sourcing clients and tech workers. Those who have dealt with her are quick to credit her “positive attitude, authoritative presence, fair disposition, and leading with passionate initiative,” according to feedback received by the company.
“Bear Stearns was my first account,” she shared. This was in 1997 when the global investment bank was at the peak of the trading game. It would eventually collapse in 2008, one of the first big banks to crash under the weight of the global recession. When Delle closed the deal, she said, “They were very strong.”
“I like working with Wall Street professionals,” she continued. “The business culture is cutthroat but very professional. I was very lucky, the people I worked with taught me a lot.”
Seven Seven, 20 years later, is an acknowledged global consulting company with about 2,000 employees, a majority of tech professionals based in the Philippines.
“We are 100 percent Filipino-owned,” she said. The headquarters in Rockaway, New Jersey has a staff of about 200 people. There is a small presence in Singapore, and plans to open a satellite office in Japan are underway.
The Philippines, she stressed, is the birthplace of many excellent technology professionals, both programmers and troubleshooters. “There’s so many talented people in the Philippines,” said Delle.
Their son Miguel, 26, has joined the company in the area of business development. An only child, he went to school in Rhode Island where he studied business. He took up an advanced degree in Belgium, returning with a Master’s in Management Innovation and Entrepreneurship from the Antwerp Management School.
Delle and her family make it a point to go home for the holidays, and share generously with the less fortunate. In Cavite where the Fojases are from, the family is known to distribute slippers to street children and host Jollibee meals for them. One of the recipients is now a rising child singer who won a talent competition and is now of modest means.
“That has become a family tradition,” she said. “The money comes from my son’s Christmas gift, and it has been going to charity.”
In Bicol, the family supports the distribution of packed food to as many as 400 families for an entire week during the holidays. The family nanny oversees this annual project.
“One of the things I tell God is whatever I get, I will give back. I’m religious but not fanatic. I go to church and do my obligations.” That’s Delle speaking from the heart and sharing what it means to be deeply grateful. —The FilAm