Jocelyn Quintos Rodis is a Filipina quietly working in the government of San Francisco, a city with a high concentration of Filipinos ? about 40,000 of them in San Francisco, according to an estimate of the US Census of 2000.
As her position in the city government might suggest, Jocelyn has earned the trust of the officials, perhaps because of how she persevered on her way to the top. Today she?s the controller of San Francisco?s Department of Public Works, a branch of the city government that deals with the maintenance and creation of infrastructure. ?The department is responsible for capital improvements and infrastructure in the city of San Francisco,? she wrote the Inquirer in an e-mail.
As controller, she?s tasked to direct ?all accounting operations including procurement, payments, billings, job order costing, audits, revenue receipts, financial analysis and reconciliation.? Simply put, she makes sure taxpayers? money is well spent and all accounted for.
Jocelyn started working for the city government in 1998 as division manager of the department?s financial management and administration office, where she handled a 20-member staff. The office reviews capital projects and evaluates the city government?s financial system.
Capital projects involve the renovation of city parks and recreational areas, like the Harding and Golden Gate parks and the California Academy of Sciences and Conservatory of Flowers, and the redevelopment of communities like Mission Bay (where a number of Filipinos live), the Port of San Francisco and Hunter?s Point, she explained.
In 2003, Jocelyn became bureau manager of the department?s water system infrastructure division tasked with policy and decision making for a $4.3 billion, 13-year capital improvement program, among them San Francisco?s waste water program and the Hetch Hetchy reservoir.
Hetch Hetchy reservoir is a glacial valley in Yosemite National Park, a world heritage site famous for its spectacular granite cliffs, lush biodiversity and giant Sequoia trees flooded by the O?Shaughnessy dam built in 1913.
Leaving her comfort zone
The only girl in a brood of four, Jocelyn migrated to the United States in April 1984 despite reservations about leaving her ?comfort zone.?
?I migrated to the US not of my choice initially,? she said. She explained that she had to leave right away to get her green card before she turned 21. Enrolled at the University of the Philippines at the time, she decided to finish her studies at the San Francisco State University.
?I left my friends and comfort zone but felt that the US had more career options for me especially during the chaotic times in the Philippines.? Public anger was then roaring against the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos after the assassination of opposition leader Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr.
She even went against her father?s wish for her to finish her schooling at the U.P. ?I thought that I could compete better in the work place if I had a US degree,? she explained.
Summa cum laude
Jocelyn completed her degree in accounting summa cum laude and received an outstanding commendation from the San Francisco State University. She then passed the state board exams and became a certified public accountant. Later she pursued higher studies and completed a master?s degree at Golden Gate University.
She married another Filipino public servant in the city government, Don Rodis, brother to the prominent talent manager Girlie Rodis. He works as purchaser at the Municipal Transportation Authority ? MUNI, for short, San Francisco?s railway transportation system which includes all its buses, cable cars and underground railway.
Like every other immigrant who faced financial woes during the first years of migration, Jocelyn has had her share of odd jobs as a working student ? mornings as waitress and restaurant hostess, and student aide at the library, among other jobs, then going to school at night.
All siblings abroad
?I also had to help with the household expenses because I had two more brothers in school,? she said.
Today her siblings are all based in the US: industrial designer David and electrical engineer Jessie are based in San Francisco while Roberto, a doctor, is based in Las Vegas.
?I see them at least once a week but I talk to them almost every day,? Jocelyn said. ?We call each other as often as we can but see each other on special occasions. In spite of our busy schedules, we make sure that we are in touch.?
With her impressive marks and state certification as a public accountant, Jocelyn Rodis joined KPMG, an international network of accounting firms offering audit, tax and advisory services, in 1991.
After about four years she moved to TriValley Growers, parent company of S&W Fine Foods, Libby?s and other brands, and supervised and managed some of their subsidiaries in Russia and Bulgaria.
She went back to the US three years later and joined McCutchen Bingham Brown and Enersen, a law firm with offices around the world.
Jocelyn Rodis left McCutchen in 1998 to do public service with the city government of San Francisco as a senior manager in the city?s Department of Public Works. She has now spent close to 10 years in the city government and her loyalty has paid off with her rise up the career ladder.
Tough to be both Asian and female
If there?s anything Jocelyn shares with other migrants in her experience as an accountant overseas for the past 15 years, the word is ?tough.? She?s always had to go the extra mile to show that she?s as good as anyone else.
?It was tough to be an Asian and female in a white man?s world,? she said. ?During those days, public accounting firms were not hiring too many Asians so I had to work very, very hard and prove to them that I was as good as my Caucasian counterpart.?
Migration of Filipinos also affected the workforce in San Francisco, said Jocelyn. She recalled seeing a workers? survey that found that about 25 percent of the workforce is Filipino. ?[The figure] could have changed over the years with the retirements and migration of Russians, Chinese, etc. We [Filipinos] are a very, very big group,? she said.
She also noted changes in the workplace, with demand moving towards both technical knowledge and technology literacy in traditional professions like accounting. ?Accounting has moved from those long bulky ledger papers to software- driven programs. Accountants need to validate if the software program is giving the accurate and complete financial status and data,? she explained.
Leaving her comfort zone to take a chance overseas in the 1980?s, Jocelyn Quintos Rodis?s success isn?t something she earned with a stroke of luck or a series of breaks. Rather, she displayed a trait that describes the best of Filipino workers ? gritty hard work.
?I wanted to try the life in the US and prove to the world that a Filipino can compete in the workplace,? she said.