Trade Sec. Gregory L. Domingo has a ready smile, great for cheering investors that the Philippines wants to attract. Yet behind the positive outlook is the drive for results that has kept this foodie at work and away from the home kitchen for years.
“I haven’t cooked in maybe 30 years!” he quips when asked about his love for simple but hearty food. “When I did cook, beef ribs sinigang was one of my specialties.”
The country’s Trade chief says he prefers Filipino and Japanese cuisine but also likes Thai and Chinese food. Italian pasta will also do, but no chocolates, please. “I can survive on ramen everyday,” he says.
Domingo took the helm of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) on July 1, 2010. That brought him back to the agency where he had served as undersecretary for the Industry and Investments Group and as managing head for the Board of Investments from 2001 to 2004.
Within his first 100 days as Trade secretary, Domingo says the department automated its business name registration system. This reduced the time it takes to register a business name to 15 minutes from one day.
Aside from shoring up Philippine investments by promoting the country to business leaders locally and abroad, Domingo says DTI is also working with local governments to simplify business-related processes.
As a result, both investments and the number of business prospecting missions have increased.
His management style, Domingo says, is to hire qualified and self-motivated people, communicate what needs to be done, describe the known constraints, and give them room to work. “I follow up once in a while, but if I’m always checking on someone’s work, that’s not a good sign—for the work and for the staff doing the work,” he says.
On weekends, the trade secretary does paperwork but sets aside Sunday morning for family time as much as possible. After Sunday morning mass, Domingo says, he likes to have lunch with his family, either at home or outside.
“Public service is so demanding that it is hard to find time for family activities, but for professionals who have had some success it is only right to give back a few years to the country through public service. It’s better to be part of the solution,” he says.
Right after completing his degree in Management Engineering at the Ateneo de Manila University, Domingo worked in the private sector, once working for an industry group and for accounting giant SGV.
He later graduated with distinction at the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) for his Master in Business Management and completed his diploma for Master of Science in Operations Research at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
Domingo has worked for Chase Manhattan Bank (Manila), Chemical Bank (New York), and other financial institutions in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and New York including First Boston, Drexel Burnham Lambert, and Mellon Bank. He has also served as director to private companies, among them the SM Investments Corporation, BDO Private Bank, Belle Corporation, Pico de Loro Beach and Country Club, Pampanga Sugar Development Company, Carmelray-JTCI Corp., and power firm Meralco.
In all his years of moving up the ranks to president of a private firm and now as trade secretary, Domingo says he has never once asked for a raise or a promotion. At the same time, he says, he stays open to opportunities.
“My advice to young workers is to always put out your best work and don’t limit yourself. Once you take on a task, do your best even if it means working more than you’re paid for. Invest in your reputation because that will open better opportunities for you in the long term,” he says.
What of employers who take workers for granted?
“If after consistently doing your best, you feel underappreciated, then work somewhere else. Don’t waste time and energy staying in a job or a place where you are unhappy and reduced to constantly complaining.”
The best advice he has received?
“My professor in Wharton, Russel Ackoff, considered the father of operations research, once said in class that when you can’t solve a problem, you have to expand your view of it in order to find what variables you haven’t considered or haven’t been able to control. You have to view the problem at the right level.”
On wealth management, Domingo says it pays to diversify investments and if possible, invest some hard-earned funds in real estate.
“Long term, it’s better to invest, especially in high-growth areas, than keep all your funds in cash.”
Should he ever get tired of regular work, Domingo says he would find something relaxing to do, such as woodworking or farming.
“There’s always something to excel at and have fun doing,” he says. For now, he adds, it’s leading the parade for Philippine investments.