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How Grab's Country Chief Feels About Company's 10th Anniversary: 'I'm Meant to Be Here'

“There’s so much to do.”
IMAGE PJ CAÑA
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It has had its ups and downs, but the self-styled regional “super app” Grab is celebrating 10 years in the Philippines this year. What started as GrabTaxi—a ride-hailing company meant to help regular commuters, particularly women, get to where they needed to go safely and comfortably—has since grown to become a regional behemoth that has expanded into multiple other verticals beyond transport: food, grocery, and package delivery, and digital financial services. 

The woman in charge of it all here in the Philippines reflected on how far the company has come and her own place within it.

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“I think I’m meant to be here,” Grace Vera Cruz told Esquire Philippines during a special event celebrating the company’s 10-year milestone at the Conrad Hotel Manila on Friday (June 17). “I feel it. There’s so much to do. And it aligns with my values. Even with the long hours and everything that we do every day, there’s meaning to what we do.”

Vera Cruz was appointed country manager of Grab Philippines in October 2020, a few months after founding chief Brian Cu stepped down to found new startup ventures. She’s a graduate of Business Economics from the University of the Philippines, pursued an MBA from the London Business School, and had stints at Seawood Resources (Philippine-based investment company with a global footprint), McKinsey & Co., CLSA Exchange Capital, and Shell. 

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The country chief steered Grab through the most difficult months of the pandemic, when its ride-hailing business took a hit following strict quarantine measures. The company relied on its food delivery service to stay afloat, helping many other food and beverage merchants survive the crisis in the process. Just two months after she came onboard, Grab Philippines’ parent company, Grab Holdings Inc., successfully went public via the world’s largest SPAC (Special Purpose Acquisition Company) listing in New York, which was valued at $40 billion.

Asked what her biggest achievement is so far at the company, Vera Cruz demurred and remained humble.

Wala pa!” she said with a laugh over the loud club music the DJ was playing during the festivities. “Hindi pa ‘ko nag-start.” She paused then turned serious. “The team is happier working at Grab. It’s enlivening the sense of meaning and purpose in each and every single Grabber, rider, merchant. Hindi yun achievement but I’m proud that we do that every day.”

The next 10 years

Over the next 10 years, Vera Cruz said that she hoped the company would continue with its mission of making a difference in the lives of people—its employees, partners, and consumers in general—through its services.

“We’re here because we believe in the mission,” she said. “So I hope we are continuing in that journey and expanding on it, touching more lives in Southeast Asia.”

More specifically, she revealed that Grab is planning to make its services available to more cities in the Philippines, particularly in Northern Luzon and Mindanao, in the second half of the year.

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“We also plan to introduce more innovations in Grab Food, to make life even better for consumers and merchants,” she added.

Vera Cruz also addressed a problem many commuters have reported lately: how difficult it is to book a GrabCar ride. The company released a statement urging the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) to help fill the demand for more GrabCar drivers, many of whom were forced to give up their cars or look for other sources of income during the pandemic.

“We’re working closely with the government to ensure we have more cars on the road,” Vera Cruz said. “Every week I can say that we are able to increase our supply. On a weekly basis, we’ve been growing to serve the demand of the public. It’s not about us, it’s about serving the riding public. And about making sure that the ones who want to be Grab drivers are allowed to do it as soon as possible. Every person in Grab is working towards that.”

Grab BigaTen 

During the exclusive event held at the balcony of a Conrad Hotel suite with spectacular sunset views of Manila Bay and the Mall of Asia Ferris wheel, Grab paid tribute to 10 individuals representing different stakeholders in its operations in the country: GrabCar drivers, GrabExpress and GrabFood riders, and merchant partners.

Grab called the honorees BigaTen. They included Glenn Naga Barias, a driver who didn’t let regular dialysis sessions stop him from making a living as a GrabCar driver; Marvin Cabreza, founder of grocery delivery platform Instamart, which has benefited from Grab’s digital operations and tools to grow his business; Happy Santana and her daughter Steffi of popular doughnuts and pichi-pichi place Lola Nena’s, which was able to thrive during the pandemic after signing up with GrabFood; and Mark Anthony Aguilar, who found a job as a GrabFood driver after losing his job as a waiter when the restaurant closed down during the pandemic.

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Later, images of the 10 honorees were flashed over the MOA Ferris Wheel as testimonials of how Grab has helped them personally and professionally blared over the speakers. The evening was capped by a fireworks display over Manila Bay.

 

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Paul John Caña
Associate Editor, Esquire Philippines
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