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Bettina Chiongbian is new head of West Bay Colleges, Inc.

Taking West Bay in a new era of leadership
Yashika F. Torib November 3, 2021

She is the daughter of the late Benito Chiongbian, one of the pioneers of Philippine shipping and founder of the maritime school, West Bay Colleges, Inc.
Bettina Chiongbian has a large shoe to fill but she is filling it well.
Unlike many of her contemporaries in the industry, Chiongbian was not a seafarer. Hers, however, is a passion born of empathy to Filipino seamen as she is a child of a chief engineer. This, along with her love for education, made her a perfect fit for the role relinquished to her by the older Chiongbian.

"I believe maritime education and training (MET) is one legacy that my father has left which I can continue," Chiongbian said.

Her entry into the maritime industry started when she helped her father, who was then with Manila Sealink Corporation and Araw Shipping, with training examination materials. She then took on HR and Quality System roles for West Bay a year after it was established in 1996. "I also pursued a master's degree in education due to my interest in running the school. I then explored working outside the family business as an HR professional in the Business Process Outsourcing industry where I rose from the ranks of a generalist to a Senior Manager as an HR Business Partner. Just before the pandemic, I also explored the Branding space as a Chief Engagement Officer of Creatio7 Asia, Inc. which is now working with The Blake Project in the Philippines. I am also currently the President of Mrs. Philippines Globe, the number one Mrs. pageant in the country.

"Given that I am not a mariner by profession, I rely on the expertise and advice of the professionals before major decisions take place. I am lucky that West Bay has a team of highly competent and motivated individuals," she said of her challenges as the new president of West Bay.

The younger Chiongbian, however, brings to the table 20 years of experience in Human Resources operations. Her father has also introduced and exposed her to the projects of the Philippine Association of Maritime Institutions (Pami).

"I may be new at the helm of West Bay, barely two months, but I took the role with enough knowledge of the major concerns in Met," she said.

Chiongbian echoes the concerns of her father about the establishment of a National Shipboard Training program.

"This will benefit our seafaring community and the Philippine economy. With pre-pandemic remittances of seafarers reaching over Php 6billion annually, this can increase the Philippines ' share of the pie in the global count of professional seafarers. This may therefore increase remittances from which the Philippine economy can benefit."

The Covid-19 pandemic has also changed the playing field for maritime schools, institutions that offer higher education that are mostly reliant on face-to-face modalities of training. This is one of the challenges that Chiongbian had to resolve upon succeeding her father.

"We are now focused on improving virtual classes and preparing for a better face-to-face teaching. A major change that has transpired at the school is engaging more people in the planning and design process," she said.

While Chiongbian carries a different style of leadership from that of her father, she retains their common quality as a leader. "We both follow the open-door policy at the workplace. Accessibility as a leader is one of the traits I take from my father apart from our love for education.

Today, Chiongbian relishes being an agent of change in the quality of life of her people, whether they are students, staff, educators, or members of the community. She also settles into the challenges of striking a balance between academic quality and compliance while ensuring the viability of the school and choosing the right people whose personal vision and mission align with West Bay. "The pandemic has been a challenge for everyone.

However, as a person, it has allowed me to look at situations through different lenses and value what matters the most - faith, family, friendships, and dreams (purpose). It has taught me to be patient, to be more resilient, and to think out of the box. "I believe that people should learn to be grateful for all things that happen to them – good or bad, and embrace the opportunities that come along the way. Losing a child and a father in a year and a half has taught me that life may be short but it is meaningful if lived with a purpose," she concluded.