Sheila Lirio Marcelo: The Pinay who worked to have it all — and succeeded!

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez - The Philippine Star
Sheila Lirio Marcelo: The Pinay who worked to have it all � and succeeded!
Sheila Lirio-Marcelo, founder of Care.com, founder/CEO of Proof of Learning and Ohai, which focuses on ‘chief household officers.’
Joanne Rae Ramirez

Sheila Marcelo reshapes the old molds when it comes to defining successful women.

The co-founder and CEO of Proof of Learn, an education platform and founder of Care.com, an online marketplace for childcare, senior care, special needs care, tutoring, pet care and housekeeping, where she served as CEO and chairwoman, she also has defied stereotypes and is blind to glass ceilings.

She was a wife and mother at 20, a woman of color, a member of the ethnic minority so to speak. And yet she has used whatever choices she made as a pole vault to her dreams.

Born in the Philippines, she and her family eventually settled in the United States. She graduated magna cum laude from Mt. Holyoke College in Massachusetts with a degree in economics and received MBA and JD degrees, with honors and the Dean’s Award from Harvard University. It was during her undergraduate years at Mt. Holyoke that Sheila had her first child, Ryan. Her second son, Adam, was born right after graduating from Harvard Business School.

With US President Barack Obama and President Benigno Aquino III, who awarded her with the Filipino Heritage award in 2014.

In 2014, Sheila received the prestigious Harvard Business School alumni award, “for her achievements as founder, chairwoman and CEO of Care.com.” She is the second Filipino, after Jaime Augusto Zobel De Ayala, to be honored with this award. Also in 2014, she was bestowed one of the highest honors for Filipinos, the Filipino Heritage Award or Pamana ng Pilipino from President Benigno Aquino III for her “excellence and distinction in the pursuit of [her] work or profession.”

And she’s still happily married to the same man after 33 years and is hoping for a grandchild soon. Sheila met her future husband, Ron Marcelo (MBA ‘98), at a Filipino student conference he had organized at Yale. “Ron has always supported me all the way,” she once said of her husband, who enrolled with her at HBS in 1996.

Sheila founded Care.com in the United States when she was challenged with the care of both a newborn and a sick parent.

We know how Alexander the Great conquered the world of his time, but how did the former Sheila Lirio — who spent a year in Quezon as a child, learning how to clean her grade school classroom with a bunot like the rest of her classmates — do it?

During a recent interview in a BGC high-rise a few hours after she landed in Manila from New York, a still vibrant Sheila, in office wear and sneakers, begins, “Because I was so young getting pregnant, I became very focused early. I wasn’t as makalat. I knew that I’d have to take care of my family. So I just buckled down. I said, okay, I got to focus on my career. I got to focus on income. I have to focus on studying. I need to make sure to take care of my family,” says the tycoon with a Close-Up smile.

It wasn’t always easy for Sheila.

“I also went through a lot of learning. I was stressed when I was young. I took on a project where I traveled all over the world for over three weeks, six countries. I was in my twenties. I landed in the hospital due to stress. And so due to that, and I was a young mother already, I started meditating at a young age and I didn’t realize that investing in myself and mental health actually helped me a lot in leadership in my career.”

It taught her a tool that would serve her well as she founded all the groundbreaking startups she will be forever known in history for.

“I’ve learned that 80 percent of success is actually driven by mental (health). And that meant meditation. So we spend so much time trying to physically take care of our bodies. So much of it is really taking care of ourselves mentally as well. So I started investing in that.”

After university, she rolled up her lace sleeves and buckled down to work.

“I wanted to go into consulting and investment banking. I ended up in telecom research and that’s how I got into telecom and the internet. I did my first year of Harvard Law and then I realized that I liked courses related to business more than I did public law. I wasn’t as much into criminal law or into public interest law. What I really wanted to do was corporate law. That’s what really led me into applying in Harvard Business School, where I took entrepreneurship courses.”

She never took the bar exams. “I didn’t want to tempt myself. I knew in my heart I wanted to build things and be an entrepreneur. So, when I graduated, I wrote a business plan. But then in my fourth year of the program I got pregnant again. My second child. So I ended up teaching at Harvard Business School.”

“I also ended up having my parents come help and using daycare and then my cousin came to help for a short period of time. But I really relied on family and daycare. It was hard. My husband and I took turns.”

All that led to the birth of a third “baby” — Care.com.

“That’s what inspired it. And then when my dad fell ill, I was like, wait, this whole child care, senior care, was really hard,” shares Sheila. ?It was not rocket science — just her empathy for those in a similar situation. She was only 35 years old. Sheila founded Care.com in 2006. Today, Care.com operates in 17 countries.

“What was the best gift, and I didn’t realize this, but maybe my heart was speaking to me, is that my mom said, ‘You entered into the business where the number one source of caregivers in the world is the Philippines, and you can help so many Filipinos.”

And so you employ mostly Filipinos, I asked.

“Not all, not all. It’s generally indexed to the percentage of Filipinos in the US. That’s the number of caregivers that were on the platform. Whatever that percentage was, it just basically reflected. We had Nepalese. We had Jamaicans, Burmese, whatever that reflection of the country of the number of caregivers was also the same reflection. It inspired many Filipinos. I always had the dream of how to help Filipinas and Filipinos. And when I got interviewed for Harvard Business School, I said, you know, whatever I can do to help the Filipinos around the world was the dream. One of the drivers was really – how to help Filipina nannies.”

According to the Care.com website, $340 billion is spent annually on care, 10,000 people turn 65 every day, 80 percent of brain development occurs from the ages of zero-four and 50 percent of families in the US live in a “childcare desert.”

“Our purpose is to help every family at each stage of care and today, we’re helping millions of families at home and at work across 17+ countries and growing.” *

(To be concluded)

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