Goal getter

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Chesna Cokaliong

Edd Buenaviaje

You know you are facing a woman of  substance when her charm goes beyond her looks.

She handles her own situation and doesn’t act on impulse. She doesn’t neglect her career, and she doesn’t let opinions affect her confidence. She sets her goals —and she sets them right. Meet the epitome of a strong and  independent woman—Chesna Cokaliong, the daughter of Chester Cokaliong, Founder and CEO of Cokaliong Shipping Lines Inc.

Back when she was a fresh graduate, Chesna immediately assumed  her share of responsibility at the Cokaliong Shipping Lines, and at
the same time became a student  of Law at the University of San Carlos.

Now at the age of 25, Chesna is already a lawyer and the Chief of Staff of the family-owned shipping lines that now serves routes to Visayas and Mindanao.

But this successful woman  cannot be summed by the figures of her bank account or the prestige of her family name. Her struggles while at law school was as common as the regular student next to her in class, even more as she was juggling both studies and work.

She also has a  preference for small kind gestures,  like her favorite slice of carrot cake or a half-eaten Jollibee Burger Champ
left on her study table.

What set  her apart though was her insatiable hunger for knowledge; she didn’t  want to stop learning. To her, there’s always room for self-growth. She
credits her accomplishments to her parents who always preach the value of hard work.

Chesna never doubted that she’d pass the bar. With that, she shared  the words she lived by that got her to where she is today: Always aim higher than your target to surely hit that  target.

What were you like as a kid?

I was nicknamed Bola. They told me I was too fat… since I was two years old. Like a ball! I also drank a lot of milk and maybe that was why I was fat. (Laughs). And I didn’t have hair. I don’t know but until now I’m still called Bola. (Laughs). A lot [of people] are asking nganong wala mana nawala nga nickname? Like my sister has  a nickname and she told us not to call her that so we stopped. I guess I don’t mind. If people call me
Bola, I still turn around. My employees call me Ma’am Bola, not Ma’am Chesna, and I don’t mind.

How are you toward your employees?

I’m not chummy with them. My dad believes that you shouldn’t be close friends with your employees because you will not be respected. You have to draw the line. Even in law school, most students like to get close with the teachers. I don’t know if that’s for the grade or for future connections. I never had that inclination. Again, that line… At school, I’m the student, they’re the teachers. Here at work, I’m the employer, they’re the employees. That’s being professional.

How did you juggle Law school and work that time?
I can sleep anywhere and whenever. I don’t even need a bed. I can sleep on the chair, in the car, at the movie house. It just takes me less than a minute to doze off. I have goals every night. I have to read this certain amount of pages and I won’t sleep until I finish that. I didn’t have the  luxury of time unlike my classmates. Most of them do not work. And some can take a leave. But me,  I can’t do that! I can’t file a leave and say, “Dad, I’m going to study.” That’s not an acceptable reason.  During our final weeks in Law school, I usually had the whole Sunday to study, but I cannot do all 6 or 8 studies in one  day. It’s just not possible. So what I did, I’d make a schedule on my calendar in Microsoft Word the week before. Like Monday night, I read this  topic; Tuesday night, this topic. And I’m so OC  (Obsessive Compulsive). Super. Take a look at  my paper clips (points
at the desk), they’re arranged by colors. But I’m a functional OC, just an organized OC, not a weird OC. (Laughs).

What was your schedule before?

I wake up at 5 a.m. so I’d be at the gym at 6 a.m. I leave before 7 a.m. to get to work early. I finish work at 5 or 5:15 p.m. I’m at class by 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. I’m home by 9 p.m. because of traffic and that’s the time I get to have my dinner. When I do, I also read to save time. I end my reading usually at 12 midnight. I’m a morning person  but I had to adjust. Many times I only had four hours of sleep in a day and if there’d be an
exam, I made it two hours only. It was like that for four years.

What did your parents do?

They know I’m studying because they visit my room once in a while!  “Are you really studying?” (Laughs). Kidding aside, what made it nice was sometimes there’s food  left for me on my study table. Mao nang wala gyud ko naniwang pag Law school! (Laughs).

Which had to come first, studies or work?
During my studies, work was still the priority. Law school was just the second. A lot of people asked why I want to study Law. “You’re
already tired after work; you’re even more tired after Law school. Why do you force yourself? You’re already smart. You can just listen and still answer and pass.” They also know I’m not going to practice Law so no need to aim high, and I have a good excuse because I have work. For me, I don’t want to use work as  an excuse not to do my best. Also, I represent the working people in school. (Laughs).

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Chesna Cokaliong

So why did you take up Law?
Pride. Pride not only  for me. Let’s be honest, the family is known. I may not be known personally but the family name is. The reputation  of the family… I carry it even in Law school. People observe. Some have  that impression that if you’re Chinese and rich, everything comes easy. Well, not in my case. I’ve been raised to aim high.

Who instilled this in you?

My mom was my tutor in elementary and she was very strict. My mom today is more relaxed. I’ve read this book, Tiger Mom. It’s a book by an Asian author about how she was raised by her mom. I read it and I was not alone! I had my mom read it. (Laughs). She was strict with grades and even if we had the capacity to buy things, she wouldn’t buy us unless we got a certain grade. I had to earn it. I love my childhood. Though I wasn’t appreciative of it as I am now, if I have children, I’d raise them in the same way. I know people of my age- Chinese, above average- but they depend on money and their parents. They don’t go to work and give no effort. You have a family business and you don’t go to work? That’s so absurd. Are you going to be a lazy person your whole life? Work is self-fulfilment.

Do you consider yourself competitive?
I’ve always been competitive, but I compete against myself. Oftentimes they wonder why I’m very happy even if I got the highest, and that’s because I didn’t reach the goal I set for myself. And sometimes I don’t get at the top, but I’m so happy because I reached my own goal. You should be the better person than you were yesterday.

You carry a prestigious name in the university. Do you have to carry yourself in a way that you won’t come off as brag?

You have to be careful with your words. You can’t say “That’s cheap,” and it isn’t for them.

Is it a pressure on your part to carry such family name?

No, it’s not. I never find it hard to keep a good name clean. Just don’t do anything that could ruin the reputation. A good name is built in years and you can ruin it in seconds. Besides, mga buotan man gyud mi! (Besides, we’re really kind!) (Laughs). Also, I love pressure. I love being busy because it keeps my brain active. I love it. Don’t you find it boring if there are lulls in between and there’s no adrenalin rush? Time would fly so slowly.

How did you decide on taking Law?

My godfather pushed me to do it. He arrived from Manila, and we were at Chikaan Restaurant in Lahug. He’s a lawyer as well, and he told my dad, “Chester, why don’t you let your daughter take law.” My father wasn’t really excited that I take up law because it would take my time from work. I would be less focused with work when I’m supposed to be his right hand. What good does that make if I’m always absent? My brother, Chase, is the HR Manager and VP for Operations. His work is more of daily operations such as the arrival and docking of the ships, etc. Mine is on paperworks like renewals, government agencies, so if I’m not in office my father has to do it himself. I understand why he wasn’t really thrilled of the idea.

So why did he approve of it?

It happened that Law School in San Carlos is in the evening. I can do my studies after work. It started 5:30 p.m. and ended 8:30 p.m. from Mondays to Fridays. Saturdays was from 8 a.m. to 12 noon, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Also, he respects my godfather a lot, and they’re really close friends. He really did ask me if I was interested to study Law. I told him I will have to read about it and the available schedules. He gave me a week to decide. He said if I do take Law, mind you, you will still have to work. I have to juggle these two, and if I start, he didn’t want me to quit because I’m going to embarrass us. Another condition, I don’t get to practice the profession after. I was not to fall in love with law that I’d leave the business to become a full-time lawyer for another company. He has always been telling us even before we graduated that he didn’t want us to work for another company. Maybe we can work outside for a year but only to have proper exposure on how other businesses operate and learn something. We have to come back. He said, why work for someone else’s business when you can help your own. And it does make sense. So I graduated on a Saturday, March 28. I worked March 30 while some went for a vacation to unwind before their real world started. (Laughs).

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Chesna Cokaliong

What do you do for yourself?

I’m a TV series addict.

Which ones?

Don’t be surprised. I watched all CSI series; New York, Miami, and also How to Get Away with Murder, and Grey’s Anatomy. I also watch House, Blindspot, Lucifer, Empire, Big Bang, and Two Broke Girls.

What books did you read as a child?

Goosebumps. Raold Dahl. Mickey Mouse. (Laughs). I love books. I like Jodi Picoult and Michael Conaway. Lately I’ve been buying biographies about people. I love it. These are true stories on rape, surviving, real life stories. These are so inspiring for me that whenever I think of my problems, and I read their stories, my problems seem so little, and these people still find beauty in life. I also read biographies of strong women like Hillary Clinton, Ivanka Trump—the way she was raised. I’m not a fan of the dad, Donald, but she’s nice.

Do you have a boyfriend?

No boyfriend since birth. How do you call that? NBSB? (Laughs). My friends wonder maybe I intimidate men. I hear some say, “Na mosamot naka wala’y uyab ana kay nag Law ka.” (All the more you won’t get a boyfriend because you took up Law.) No, of course not. Why? Since when does education become intimidating? Men who get intimidated by a woman are not real men.

What would your ideal guy be like?

He has to be tall so I can wear heels. (Laughs).

If given the chance to be someone in another lifetime, who would you be?

I have the cliché-est answer. Me. I’d still be me.

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