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Dubai: A gritty Filipina who started working as a Jollibee service crew in Manila and initially worked on a Dh1,000/month salary in Dubai has reached new heights, becoming the CEO of her own company.

Mary Jane Alvero-Al Mahdi, 53, a chemical engineer, is today a master of geotechnical-testing and certification, currently the chief operating officer of a firm that operates in the Middle East, Africa and East Asia.

The mega development known as Downtown Dubai, of which the 828-metre Burj Khalifa tower forms a part, was one of the major projects she was directly involved in while she worked for a geotechnical testing, or simpy "geotesting" company.

Mary Jane Alvero
Image Credit: Supplied

Mary Jane is currently CEO of Prime Group of companies, based in the UAE.

It is a type of testing is done to investigate subsurface conditions and materials, determine the physical and chemical properties of the earth materials, evaluate slopes and soil deposits' stability, assess the risks posed by site conditions, design foundations, and monitor site conditions and foundation construction.

Early life, first Dubai job

Mary Jane knows what hardship means. She's the fourth of five children of Filipino businessman Renato and Martha Alvero, who ran a small restaurant.

Her academic aptitude showed early: she constantly ranked among the top of her class from her gradeschool years.

“Life was hard for me growing up,” she recalled to Gulf News

She recalls a time when was barred from sitting in an exam for being unable to pay her college tuition fee at the appointed time.

“While my father’s business was thriving, we lived in relative comfort. But once his chronic lung condition worsened, the business crumbled,’’ Mary Jane said.

Stricken by the eventual loss of her father, Mary Jane was determined to support her mother, who ran a modest restaurant, and provide for her four younger siblings.

With the family finances thrown into a tailspin, and her father’s eventual death, Mary Jane felt compelled to help.

While going school, when she was younger, heavy rain sometimes flooded the streets. For her, it meant one thing: "I'd have to stitch my only battered pair of shoes. If rain came, they'd be ruined."

But that experience pushed her to do more. "I was the breadwinner of the family. When we experienced the challenges in our family life, one example was when my father was bedridden for almost 10 years, my mom was a superwoman. She’s my inspiration,” Mary Jane told Gulf News in an exclusive interview.

During her college years, Mary Jane juggled part-time jobs, including clearing tables and cashiering at a Manila branch of Jollibee, the Philippine fast-food giant, while pursuing her engineering degree. Photo for illustrative purposes only. Image Credit: File

Dh1,000 per month salary

When Mary Jane arrived in the United Arab Emirates in 1992, she had no inkling of the remarkable heights that awaited her.

A mere 22 years old, armed with her degree, she boldly stepped into the UAE. Securing a role as a quality assurance officer at a Jebel Ali textile company, she earned a modest Dh1,000 monthly.

Her dwelling? A "labour camp" accommodation.

Mary Jane Alvero
From Dh1,000/month salary to CEO: The juxtaposition of Mary Jane's humble beginnings against the backdrop of the awe-inspiring trajectory she was about to embark on adds a dramatic flair to her compelling journey in the UAE.

The next decades saw a building boom in the UAE. She made it a point how to give back: giving free geotechnical services to projects such as new mosques or buildings for charity.

Mary Jane's climb up the corporate ladder was steady and relentless. It eventually propelled her to the position of CEO at Geoscience Testing Laboratory, a renowned independent testing laboratory in the Middle East.

The lab specialises in testing construction materials and also conducting microbiological tests on food, water, and air.

Mary Jane Alvero
Under Mary Jane's leadership, UAE-based Geosciences grew from eight people to over 500 — and expanded from a modest 1,000-square-foot space in Al Rashidiya to a sprawling 140,000-square-foot complex in Dubai Industrial City.

Building the company was one thing. Completing her Masters and PhD is another. With Mary Jane at the helm, the company undertook prominent projects like the Downtown Burj Dubai, Dubai Metro, and Emirates Road.

I could say that Dubai, the UAE, is built with quality... with a robust quality.

- Dr Mary Jane Alvero-Al Mahdi, CEO of Prime Group

“I could say that Dubai, the UAE, is built with quality... with a robust quality,” said Mary Jane, citing the strict standards adhered to in every stage of the construction and inspection process. “We test everything from the water used in the preparation of the concrete, to the sand or silica materials involved in the preparation and whick are available in the UAE.”

Her life philosophy mirrors her love for mountain hiking: "Life is like a series of mountains to be climbed. Once you reach a peak, you don't stop; you just find a higher mountain to climb.”

Her rise to the top was fraught with challenges, which helped shaped her character.

While going school, when she was younger, heavy rain sometimes flooded the streets. For her, it meant one thing: "I'd have to stitch my only battered pair of shoes. If rain came, they'd be ruined."

The tenacity she gained helped her take on leadership positions. At Geosciences, she led a thorough revamp of the systems, undertaking a comprehensive restructuring and re-engineering effort. This initiative demanded weeks of unwavering dedication, involving tasks ranging from rigorous testing and analyses to management of reports, worksheets, while empowering and harnessing each member of her team.

We test everything from the water used in the preparation of the concrete, to the sand or silica materials involved in the preparation and whick are available in the UAE.

- Dr Mary Jane Alvero-Al Mahdi, CEO of Prime Group

"There were nights when I found myself sleeping in the lab,” she said. As the company’s reputation in the market flourished, they managed to secure prestigious infrastructure projects from both government and private sectors, and the company broadened its scope to include specialised testing.

By the year 2000, Mary Jane was promoted to General Manager; by 2003, she assumed the role of CEO.

Mary Jane was was the first Filipina to win the prestigious Emirates Business Women Award (EBWA) in 2008. The EBWA stands as the preeminent accolade bestowed upon both professionals and entrepreneurs in the United Arab Emirates. This distinguished award operates under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Chairman of the Emirates Group and President of the Dubai Department of Civil Aviation.

Mary Jane Alvero
Mary Jane earned numerous recognitions and awards. She graced the cover of Forbes Woman.

Armed with her PhD, Mary Jane is today the Group CEO of Prime Group of Companies, with operations in the UAE, Africa and the Far East, including her home country Philippines.

Mary Jane has been responsible for all facets of the business as well as the successful direction and operations of the Group’s various business entities.

Name: Mary Jane Alvero-Al Mahdi
Birthday: April 29, 1970
Birthplace: Makati, Manila, Philippines
Parents: Renato Alvero and Martha Alvero
Husband: Mohammad Al Mahdi Lari
Degree: BS Chemical Engineer (Adamson University, Manila), 1991, passed Chemical Engineer Licensure Exam
Doctorate: Business Administration, Philippine Christian University (2019)
First job: Jollibee (while in college)
(1992) Trainee at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (Manila, where she started working to revive Pasig River)
(1993) Quality control engineer at a textile factory in the UAE
(1998) Quality assurance officer at Geoscience Testing Laboratories
(2003) CEO of Geoscience Testing Laboratory, Dubai
(Current) CEO of Prime Group, based in the UAE

She has a proven executive management track record. Her company is composed of experts and specialists in the fields of testing, certification, inspection, training, and research.

“I want to make a difference and help people realise their full potential,” said Mary Jane, who describes herself a “coach, mentor, and facilitator”.

Mary Jane Alvero-Al Mahdi
Mary Jane Alvero-Al Mahdi Image Credit: Supplied

Mary Jane thrives amid challenges. During COVID, the lockdown tested her ability to thrive.

"It has affected our clients — which in turn affected our cash flow. But I banked on our staff — they are chemists, researchers and lab technicians. They have the knowledge, skills and technical expertise to prepare solutions for sanitisers and disinfectants,” Alvero said.

Then it hit her: She encouraged her team to develop a variety of alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Collaborating with a nearby manufacturer, she successfully created Hagienex, employing eco-friendly and organic materials in the production process.

Her formula for success is straightforward: Anticipate and adapt to change. "I encourage my colleagues to step outside their mental boxes — challenge their comfort zones and explore. Mistakes should be viewed as stepping stones to rise up again. Everyone fails, so don’t be afraid.”

Mary Jane Alvero
Mary Jane Alvery-Al Mahdi was among the awardees of Presidential Award for Filipinos Overseas, Pamana ng Pilipino Award in 2012 Image Credit: Supplied

Receiving a recognition from a reputed institution means a validation of one’s work. 
For her invaluable contributions to society, Mary Jane was also honoured as a “Dakilang Bayani” (great hero). Mary Jane aims to further boost bilateral ties between the UAE and the Philippines, aligned with both countries' visions for a knowledge economy.

She attributes her success to the unwavering support of her husband, Mohammad Al Mahdi Lari, and her parents-in-law.

Her only wish today: that her father could witness what she’s achieved.


  • Adamson University Most Outstanding Alumna 2008 and 2009.
  • Emirates Businesswoman Awardee Professional Category 2008 (UAE)
  • Woman of Substance 2009 Honoree
  • Professional Regulation Commission (Manila) Most Distinguished Chemical Engineer 2009
  • Kuwentong Diyerto "Bida sa Negosyo" Awardee 2009
  • Blas F. Ople Awardee 2009
  • "Bagong Bayani" Most Outstanding Employee Awardee 2009
  • Most Outstanding Adamsonian Award 2012
  • Presidential Award for Filipinos Overseas, Pamana ng Pilipino Award 2012
  • Emirates Woman, Woman of the Year Award, Visionary Category 2013
  • 100 Most Influential Filipina Around the World, Thought and Innovation Leaders Category 2013
  • Gr8t Women Awards in the Middle East, Special Mention in the Field of Geoscience 2014