Manuel V. Pangilinan values integrity, competence and passion
Allyssa Jan Marie Joson
Erwin Macam (coach)
(Editor’s Note: This interview with CEO Manuel V. Pangilinan is the fourth in a series of five interviews by the finalists in the Inquirer’s My Dream Interview Contest cosponsored by Nokia Philippines and supported by Maynilad.)
Next Monday: Maria Ressa
There is something in everyone that drives them to succeed despite the odds. Our dream interviewee was propelled by his ambition and nationalism to improve his country’s economy.
Manuel V. Pangilinan, aka MVP, is the genius at the top of the country’s biggest companies: Philippine Long Distance Telephone (PLDT), Smart Communications, Metro Pacific Investments Corp., Manila Electric Co. (Meralco), Philex Mining Corp., Maynilad Water, TV5, among others. It is no wonder that he was voted the Philippines’ Best CEO in a recent regional survey conducted by Finance Asia.
Although MVP is widely recognized for his business accomplishments, the backstory to his corporate success is not as well-known, perhaps because, according to Inquirer editors, he is averse to media interviews.
Fortunately, he agreed to be interviewed by our team for this My Dream Interview project. We asked him about his student years, about what he values, even about his political plans, if any. To the last, he answered that politics was not in his blood. “I don’t like it,” he said, referring to politics, “but if there is a scenario where I am forced to accept … in the end, it is also difficult to turn your back on your country.”
For more excerpts from our Dream Interview with one of the most powerful and influential Filipinos ever, read on.
Did you expect to be this successful?
I guess I did. But not in a way that was very fervent, I would say … It was not an absorbing goal to be rich at that time. I guess if you come from a humble background, it’s difficult to see how long the horizon could be for you. I certainly wanted to improve (my) economic lot.
My father was a messenger at the Philippine National Bank and he rose through the ranks. Most of my academic life, I was on a scholarship … my ambition was limited. I never expected to be where I am today. The driving force must have been deprivation.
When I was in school (San Beda), a number of my classmates were rich and … were able to buy chocolate drinks. Then they would buy sandwiches, either a chicken sandwich, a hamburger or whatever. I’d be limited to Coke and crackers. That was throughout my elementary and high school years. My allowance was 25 centavos—10 centavos for the Coke, 5 centavos for the crackers and 10 centavos for bus fare … I guess that was a very strong impetus for me to tell myself: “I can’t live like this. I have to do something better than this.”
Then, as well, my relatives, a number of my cousins, were rich. They owned department stores and such. When you went to their homes they had all sorts of food that I never saw in my home. For birthdays they had cakes and ice cream, which I never had. Sometimes my mom would send the help to the corner store to buy a cake that was small and hard like a large hopia.
It was the sense of deprivation that sort of gave me the impetus. In a way, that is not so good because it is a negative kind of impetus or motivation.
What were you like in school? Any bullying?
I was quiet in school, so all sorts of taunting happened … I wasn’t entirely sociable when I was young, maybe partly because of the insecurities of being small and not so rich.
In what subjects did you excel? Any favorite ones when you were a student?
Those would be history, religion—I was not good in mathematics actually—and literature, which is why I went to the Ateneo (de Manila University for college), I guess.
Was there a time that you would consider as a first step into becoming what you are now? Or that completely changed your life?
I guess, if you look at the spectrum of my life, there are events that have happened that have changed the course of my life, for better or for worse … Certain of those events are negative and certain of those events are positive. It’s like the hand of God just moving us, placing the direction but you are given the options … You are here to choose what you want to do. There are events that will happen in your life that will sometimes force you to make a decision, and sometimes you have no choice.
So considering where you are now, do you think you made the right choices?
I would say on the whole, yes, but I’ve made some mistakes … In our particular world, the business world, you’re only as good as your last deed. You’re only as good as your last results. You’re only as good as your last year’s performance….
In a way, success is fleeting. You succeed this time; then people say, “Well, when is the next success?” What you want is possibly to be a bigger success. So, you have every right to relish the moment of your victory, but bear in mind that after a few days the world is waiting for you to do more.
And now, if you flip it, failure is the same thing. People will hate you for it, but you have no choice. You’re still alive, right? You can’t give up. I know some people do, but you have a responsibility to continue, so you should treat failure as fleeting as well.
Your successes help you build an arsenal of confidence that you can succeed in the future. Your failures tell you that it’s not the end of the world. Keep on trying. And you should learn from your failures. In the end, it is your moral courage that counts … Don’t get caught up in the ego that success can give to you nor the desperation that failure can get into you. You have to stay above it and, I think, if you do, you will stay humble. In the end, your talents are God-given. It’s not you. It’s you but it’s not really you.
When you were abroad, were any of your experiences difficult?
I would say, not really … I had difficulty adjusting personally, plus the work environment [was really different from the Philippines]. Hong Kong hosts an international community of professionals, and they are good. The level of quality of work and people is extremely high, so you compete on that basis. It was a very inspiring environment for me. It took me years to learn, but it’s an episode of my life I don’t regret and am grateful.
What motivated you to come back?
Maybe it is a personal reason—come home, do something useful for the country. I was also growing old and tired.
What are the core values of your companies?
There are only three things that are important to us. No. 1 is integrity … financial integrity and mental integrity. Nobody steals money from the company. You should be paid well. (We should pay) you more than the competition. That’s our philosophy. Mental integrity means if there is a problem, tell us. We like to know. We’re here to help. We encourage you or force you to make decisions … we allow you to make mistakes.
Second is competence. We have to hire the right people for the right jobs. After all, quality decisions are made by quality people. If people are good, they will make the right decisions, more or less. So competence is very important to us.
No. 3, and I think the most important to us, is passion. People have got to have the drive and determination to succeed. The problem with this country is apathy … People have no drive. It’s so much harder pulling somebody at work and so much easier if you don’t have to push a guy. If a guy is self-driven and self-motivated, he’s more fun to be with. And if you have good people in your team, people with the same objectives, it’s so much fun to work with them and the burden of pulling or pushing people is diminished.
Who do you see following in your footsteps or continuing your business?
The issue of succession has been raised. It is time to develop the younger managers. It is a process of identifying the talents who can become the future CEO of the group … exposing them, training them and sharing experiences with them….
I don’t want my successor to be—I would encourage him not to be—like me. Same basic attributes or principles, but a different way of managing people…
I don’t want (him) to be a clone of myself. Times change and my style will not apply in the future. I want (the new person) to have his/her own style, his/her own way of managing that conforms to the times. (But the) values are eternal to us. As I said, integrity, competence and passion.
Also I’d like to make our decision-making process a collegial consultation. We’d like our people to talk. The job of the leader is not to be upset when someone speaks up and either criticizes or disagrees with a decision. So the decision-making process should be as collegial and consensual as possible.
But I want to emphasize personal responsibility and accountability. At the end of the day, you should be able to ask who made the decision … If it’s wrong, then be prepared to lose your job. If you know that you may lose your job because of this decision, you will certainly think about it very carefully. It builds character.
If you acquire GMA 7, what will happen to TV5?
It will be no different from what we did with Sun Cellular. We have to keep the brand. At least, you have two different franchises, two studios and two separate organizations. It’s difficult to kill one (and keep) the other. Firstly, (we have) a responsibility to the people at TV5. These people took huge risks when they joined us. It’s not right to just close it because the other one is bigger. So we’ll operate them separately with a different culture, different programming. It will have its own culture and personality, but there should be cooperation.
What do you expect from the youth today?
More … I expect you to be greater risk takers, more entrepreneurial, to do more things that will improve the lives of people, especially the poor … You’re young enough to fail, so go ahead and venture out and fail. You can afford it. That’s what I did … You have to keep on reaching beyond what you can grasp … You will find out that you are more than what you are and what you think you are. Don’t be afraid.
The public sees you as a powerful and influential man, but how would you like to be remembered?
More for the deeds, the legacy in terms of work, the improvement that our companies have brought to the lives of people. That’s how I like to be remembered. Not as someone powerful. If somebody asks you what you have done with your life and you answer, “I was the most powerful and influential person,” and then they ask, “Did you help the poor?” how would you reply? “No, but I’m still the most powerful and influential person?” That’s such a hollow thing.
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