Mian Datu-David: Leading Marketing Excellence at URC

As chief custodian of URC’s brands, Mian’s goal is to make them bigger & stronger
by The JG Summit Team | Sep 2, 2020
Share this:

“Did you know that nine out of 10 Filipino households have a URC brand? If you pick any 10 homes in the Philippines, nine of them will have a URC product inside. Isn’t that amazing?” enthuses Mian Datu-David, Chief Marketing Officer of Universal Robina Corporation and Co-managing Director of URC Branded Consumer Foods Group Philippines.

When URC commissioned Kantar Worldpanel, a leading market research firm, to do the survey, the result proved both surprising and meaningful for Mian. “We have an amazing opportunity to touch millions of Filipinos every day. The people we serve are daily-wage earners, a lot of them live below the poverty line, and yet nine out of 10 of them are choosing to spend their hard-earned money on our brands,” says Mian.

“That means we have a huge responsibility to make sure that when they buy our brands, they are the best brands. When they buy our coffee, it’s the best-tasting coffee. When they buy our chips, they are of outstanding quality, meaning hindi makunat, hindi maanta, hindi matabang, because they’re spending their hard-earned money on our chips. When they turn on the TV, they feel proud about choosing our brands, because they can laugh along or sing along with our ads. We owe them our best.”

This pursuit for excellence, in a nutshell, is how Mian approaches her work. “I believe that all marketers, not just myself, but all the marketers in URC, we are custodians or stewards of our brands. As custodians, our role is to make these brands bigger and stronger while they are under our care, and then pass it on eventually to the next set of custodians,” says Mian, who joined URC in March 2018.

For a better idea of the scope of Mian’s work, consider that URC has a strong presence in the ASEAN and Oceania regions, operating in key markets including Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Australia, New Zealand, and China. It also has sales or marketing offices in Hongkong and Singapore. URC's diverse portfolio of brands run the gamut from coffee to candies, from bottled tea to biscuits.


Initially appointed as Vice President and business unit head of URC’s Beverages division, Mian came on board during a difficult period for the company, as it had been steadily losing market share in the Beverages segment, especially Coffee, which was dragging down company performance. So, when URC’s fortunes took a turn for the better in 2019, not surprisingly, Mian was thought of as one of the primary architects of that turnaround.  But she’s quick to deflect any praise that might come her way. “I want to correct the notion that it was me. The turnaround of the Coffee business—and it’s still an ongoing journey, by the way—is because of the acts of heroism that everyone in the company did to make it happen,” she says.

The heroism that she speaks of are the acts of perseverance and sense of duty that URC’s employees displayed to get the coffee business back on track. “For example, our Research and Development colleagues really worked hard to come up with a winning formula for Great Taste. It took them six tries to get it right, six failed product tests! But they never gave up. If you look at our Sales Team, I can say that the execution of that launch is a gold standard for URC. They really showed what we’re capable of doing. From speed to market, 100% planogram compliance, perfect execution on the shelf. And then the on-ground activation, effective advertising, massive sampling from our Marketing guys… we really rose to a gold standard,” says Mian with heartfelt pride. “Did you know that some of our plant workers spent Noche Buena in the factory, just so we could launch on time? That’s heroism. And because of them, we were able to build our pipeline volume for launch, even over the holiday break.”  

After three years of decline, URC’s Coffee/Powders business registered 14% revenue growth in 2019, incremental sales of almost Php 2 billion versus the previous year, and an increase in profit of around half a billion over the same period.


Excellence has always been part of Mian’s DNA. She graduated valedictorian from Miriam High School where she was also Student Council president. And in college, she graduated magna cum laude with a degree in Economics (Honors Program) from Ateneo de Manila University. 

Unlike many other whiz kids who flamed out after graduation, Mian quickly proved she could cut it in the real world. Starting out as an account manager for a supermarket chain, she then went on to have a 17-year journey in Marketing & Sales with one of the world’s largest multinational companies.

While handling a variety of well-known brands over the years, she earned a reputation for being able to improve a product’s market share or turning around underperforming ones. It’s an impressive track record that’s followed her to URC.

When asked about her approach to improving businesses, Mian says there are three things that has always worked for her. “The first thing in a turnaround is to ‘confront the brutal facts.’  And sometimes, the facts that are most difficult to see are those that are staring us right in the face. Sometimes the hardest facts to accept are those that are the most obvious.”

At URC, the painful truth was that the product that was created by John Gokongwei Jr., the company’s late founder, had been eclipsed by its rivals as market preferences changed over the years. “It was so difficult to accept that the original Great Taste White that we all love in URC, that was invented personally by Mr. John for his wife Mrs. Elizabeth, was no longer competitive, and it was dragging us down,” says Mian.

The second part of the equation is taking decisive action, says Mian. “You need to be able to identify the one or two levers of the business that you need to fix, and then put the full weight of the organization into the few things that will really make a difference in a turnaround. Whether it’s product, branding, or distribution, call it if it’s broken, then fix it.” She asserts, “You need to be able to take decisive action early, and with courage.”

Finally, Mian says, it all boils down to people. “You need to take people with you. No one can do a turnaround alone. Everyone needs to believe that it can be done, that we can all be part of something historical, something magical. What we are doing in Coffee isn’t rocket science. The difference was that we believed that we could do it together. It was the same R&D team, the same Sales team, the same Marketing folks, the same people in the factories as before. But when the same people believe that something impossible can become possible, then they rise to the occasion. And that’s what URC did.”


Before considering whether to join URC, Mian did her research and learned all that she could about the company and John Gokongwei Jr. She says, “What really struck me wasn’t his success story, or how big he built the business, not even his achievements. What really struck me was his values. The values around hard work, excellence, integrity, putting the family first. I joined URC because of those values. Those are my personal values, the same values that I grew up with.”

When she read Lessons from Dad, John Gokongwei, Jr., written by Lance Gokongwei with Yvette Fernandez, Mian was pleasantly surprised that she had some similar experiences as Mr. John’s children. “I never had the best toys and my cousins always had nicer clothes than me, but when it came to books, my parents would usually take us to National Book Store or Alemar’s on Quezon Avenue. When I got good grades, they would let me pick any book I liked. That was my Disneyland!” says Mian, echoing a passage in the book where Lance writes, “They didn’t give us much allowance, but they let us buy as many books as we wanted.”

Despite his passing in 2019, Mr. John’s values continue to live on in URC, having permeated deep into the company culture. “I’m proud to work in a culture with the same values as mine. I feel completely at home,” says Mian.

When asked about her leadership style, she goes back to her values, citing three: Courage, Humility, and Excellence. “They’re my compass for how I behave and also for how I lead,” explains Mian.

“Courage means doing the right thing, even if it’s difficult. Making tough decisions, even if they’re painful. Aiming high, even if it’s crazy or unachievable. Speaking up, even if its unpopular.”

Having humility to Mian means acknowledging that she doesn’t always have the answers. “I always say this to the team: None of us is smarter than ALL of us.” Humility makes her respect the competition, being humble enough to see that they might be doing something better than URC. It also means taking responsibility for failure. “Humility means admitting if you made a mistake or a bad decision. And then admitting it early while it can still be corrected. Raising your hand and holding yourself solely accountable for that mistake.” She adds, “Humility is apologizing if you did wrong by someone or said something unkind.”

The value of excellence, says Mian, was instilled at an early age. “My parents would always tell me, ‘It doesn’t matter what you do with your life as long as you’re doing your best. If you want to be a street sweeper, go ahead, we will be proud of you.’ And funnily enough, my mom, who’s in her 70s, up to now reminds me about doing my best, including in my current role.”


Having read up on Mr. John’s life, Mian would surely have come across and agreed with his opinion that “Women are as smart and as strong as men, maybe even more.” To her fellow women in the workforce, whether at URC or elsewhere, Mian is keen to give a message of support: “We’re like ducks or swans. Beneath the calm exterior that you see, is someone who’s paddling furiously under the surface just to keep afloat. Just to keep everything together. That’s us.” 

A mother to two girls, an 11 and a 14-year-old, Mian attests that the struggle of working women is all too real. “There’s nothing glamorous or sexy about being a working mom,” says Mian, looking back on personal experiences to amplify her point. “How do you make a presentation when you’re feeling morning sickness? Or what do you do if you have to pick up your daughter from school early because the clinic says she’s sick, but you need to meet a deadline? You know that feeling when yaya doesn’t come back from her day off… the day just before you are supposed to take a business trip? Or staying up late to make reviewers during exam week? The struggle is real! And we gladly struggle because we love our families and we want to be great moms too. So, I salute all working moms who struggle every day.” She adds, “Let’s support each other!” 

As a woman in the world of business, and working in different cultures, did Mian have her share of “glass ceilings” over the course of her career? “I wouldn’t call it a glass ceiling. But many times over the past 20 years, I would find myself in a room, and realize I would either be the youngest, or the only female, or the only Asian in that room. I’d sometimes wonder if that would be taken against me. In a room like that, it takes a lot of courage to find your voice. I’d like to think I eventually did. It may not be the strongest, or the loudest, or the boldest, but it’s my voice,” says Mian.

Her advice to women who find themselves in the same situation? “Find your own voice. Have the courage to use it.”


“They say crisis situations can bring out the best in people or the worst in people. At URC, I believe that Covid-19 has brought out our best,” says Mian. Citing a few examples, she proudly tells us of a plant manager who, in the early days of the ECQ, walked two hours to the Mayor’s office to get an operations permit, or the Sales officer who dutifully waited for a delivery to a customer until 2 a.m., or the Marketing and R&D team who continued to work in the lab during the lockdown so that product launches remain on schedule.

In Mian’s eyes, people at URC display this malasakit because of their commitment to make life better. “In the end, the people that we serve, our customers and our consumers, they are the reason we exist, the reason we’re all here. They’re the reason we do what we do.” Going back to the incredible opportunity to serve nine out of 10 Filipino families on any given day, Mian reflects that, “this time of crisis has made our sense of purpose even more stark. I think it’s what keeps a lot of us in URC going.”

Is this the reason she goes the extra mile? “A lot simpler than that. I just want to make a difference. To the business, but more importantly, to people. I want our team to be able to say that because we worked together, we learned together, we had some fun together, but more importantly, we grew together. We became a family.”

For more information on URC and its portfolio of products, visit urc.com.ph

Share this: