In the last 30 years, Pinky Yee pushed the definition of corporate success by expanding bakeshop giant Goldilocks from 9 stores when she first joined in 1988 to more than 400 stores nationwide by 2015. She served as the company’s Marketing Director from 1999 to 2014 and then as the New Business Group Director for Goldilocks and President of Domino’s Pizza Philippines from 2014 to 2019.
Today, instead of resting on her laurels, Pinky is once again redefining retirement by building her own brand.
STARTING FROM THE BOTTOM
Pinky began her career from the figurative corporate ground floor. Fresh from graduation, she became a management trainee at Fairweather, a Canadian women’s fashion brand.
The most effective managers learn from their people,” says Pinky. She manned the cashier, served customers, and folded clothes in the backroom. By knowing how to carry out the responsibilities of everyone else in her organization, Pinky was ready to step up in any scenario to ensure that operations wouldn’t be crippled.
When Pinky and her husband moved to the Philippines, she brought this mindset and work ethic to Goldilocks. Under her leadership, managers received a holistic experience in selling pastries, preparing supplies and products, and doing administrative work.
“Sometimes, when people become managers, they don’t want to look back,” cautions Pinky. “They think they can learn only from mentors and coaches. But new generations continue to come into the company with their own good ideas.” Pinky underscores the importance of listening and learning from everyone within the company, even from those perceived to be in subordinate positions. After all, inspiration, insight, and innovation aren’t limited to managers and executives. With hard work, perseverance, and the drive to push things forward, anyone can rise through corporate ranks. “When you work on all levels of the organization, it teaches you humility and compassion,” concludes Pinky.
LEARNING FROM CORPORATE
For Pinky, operations and marketing always go hand-in-hand. When she worked at Fairweather, a division of Dylex Limited in Canada, she knew that she wasn’t just selling clothes--she was giving people self-confidence through the clothes.
This was the same message she taught the employees of Goldilocks as head of marketing. “We don’t just sell cakes, we sell celebrations,” declares Pinky. From children’s birthday parties to parents coming home bearing pasalubong, Pinky explains that sharing food is at the center of the Filipino love language.
Placing this purpose at the heart of Goldilocks’ operations aligns everyone within the company, no matter their rank and position. Whether you’re wiping down tables, designing cakes, or tabulating the month’s sales, everyone plays an important role in family celebrations. This in turn pushes each employee to improve their operational roles and fulfill their brand’s promise of value.
“You have to find your purpose,” says Pinky about striving and succeeding in the corporate world. “You can only learn to love your job if you like what you do. Strive for excellence and don’t give up because finding your place in the sun takes time.”
While Pinky believes that there are no shortcuts to success, learning financial discipline early in one’s career is an essential step. “For employees and even my children, I tell them to always live below their means. Only use 70 to 80% of your income for your expenses, pero dapat lahat na nandyan, rent, food. The remaining money, save it or put it in an investment product, something that can grow a monthly interest.”
MAKING THE LEAP
After decades of corporate success, Pinky admits she wasn’t prepared for what was in store for her next. She quotes the Bible verse “Many are man’s plans, but it’s the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”
In 2018, Pinky was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. A doctor recommended that she embrace a natural lifestyle, remove processed food from her system, and change the way she cooks her meat. He also advised her to eliminate sweets, dairy, and gluten.
“Without those products, what in the bakery and pizza world could I eat?” laughs Pinky. “If I sell something, I must believe in what I’m selling. The only way I’m credible is if I consume my products.”
It was during this health setback that Pinky had a eureka moment. “Is it just in food that I should take the natural route, or should I also use natural products in cleaning our home?” She checked cleaning products in groceries to find anything that used natural ingredients. When she couldn’t find what she was looking for, she wondered if she should just make her own.
Since then, Pinky would do her corporate work during the day and draft business plans for natural cleaning products at night. She brought her plans to a friend who was supplying multinational cleaning brands and asked for help in creating natural cleaning products using pure calamansi essential oil as the key ingredient. That same friend would join Pinky as her business partner.
“We had each other’s backs,” says Pinky about having a trusted business partner. “There should be like-mindedness, your values should be the same. You should have a shared vision.”
With the business slowly taking shape, Pinky found herself at a crossroads.
“I had a good-paying job. Do I stay? Do I go?” The universe would soon give her an answer as 2020 and COVID-19 arrived in full force. “I knew then it was time for me to retire and pursue this social enterprise.”
Through the next months of lockdown, Pinky and her business partner would conduct brand and product development, testing, and packaging online or through couriers. In August 2020, at the height of the pandemic, they officially launched LivClean.
LIVING BEYOND PROFIT
With LivClean, necessity has truly been the mother of invention. Not only was the brand created because of Pinky’s personal health needs, the limitations imposed by community quarantines informed their business operations and logistics. Since its launch, LivClean has thrived on digital.
“I didn’t want to sell in major supermarkets,” shares Pinky. “Going the natural route is not for everyone. It takes a certain market segment to embrace it.” While Pinky ultimately hopes LivClean will be able to penetrate traditional brick and mortar stores. For now, she is strengthening the brand’s presence in the digital space.
Even the way Pinky is approaching business with LivClean is different from how she used to approach corporate work. Back then, she was beholden to sales quotas, shareholders, and the board of directors. With her own business, she is accountable only to herself, her advocacy, and her customers.
“As a social enterprise, my number one objective is not profit. It’s about people,” says Pinky. “It’s about the planet and influencing others to live naturally and sustainably.” Asked if profit doesn’t matter even a little, at least to cover her operation expenses, Pinky says she has “been there, done that.”
“I was in Goldilocks for 32 years. When I look back, I have no regrets because I learned so much. Now I’m able to apply it in a smaller scale,” says Pinky. “Money, we can’t take to our graves. We want to leave it to the next generation. I was given a retirement fund and I knew I wanted to set some of that aside to venture into a social enterprise.”
Pinky expounds on her approach to managing her retirement funds. “Kung ito ang pera mo, you should be able to separate it into three: what you need to live by, what you need to set aside as your investment money, and what you will use to help your community.”
“I put part of my retirement fund in a low-risk investment. Low-risk lang kasi I do not want naman a high yield, gusto ko lang may little bit of interest,” explains Pinky. “Kasi if I place my money in high-risk investment portfolio or products, it’s just like putting it in business kasi may risk din yun. Businesses are high risk din especially during COVID times when the situation is volatile.”
With LivClean, Pinky sees the social enterprise as a middle ground between an investment, a business, and an effort to do right by her community and her planet. “The mindset is like planting trees. It’s not going to grow right away. It’s going to take years for the tree to bloom and bear fruits. My purpose now is to give back the blessings that I received.”
Pinky has picked up some valuable lessons in her journey as an entrepreneur. “As a social enterprise, start small. The corporate world values specialists, not a jack of all trades. But in your own enterprise, you’ll have to know how to do everything. Starting small allows us to really look into your own systems and utilize operational techniques that work for you.”
It’s been two years since the start of her entrepreneurial journey, and Pinky still wonders if she opened her own business too late in life. But she knows that everything she experienced and learned in her years in corporate contributes to her life and attitude today. “Nothing is ever wasted and there’s no place for self-pity,” says Pinky. She quotes C.S. Lewis, “You’re never too old set another goal or dream a new dream.