Her colleagues and employees are the first to say that Esther Asuncion-Vibal, founder and chairperson of the Vibal Group of Companies, has more energy and passion than her grandchildren.
And at 87, that is no small feat.
She may have lost a bit of the spring in her step, but the dynamo that is Vibal more than makes up for it in enthusiasm and desire to bring the Vibal Group to an even higher level 60 years after the first and still the flagship company—Vibal Publishing House Inc.—was founded by Esther’s late husband, Hilarion P. Vibal.
In the unforgiving world of business, where enterprises consider themselves lucky to last beyond two years, Vibal Publishing Inc. was able to outlast the competition and become one of the country’s largest publishers of textbooks and educational materials by never compromising on quality.
Vibal tells SundayBiz that quality is the single biggest determinant of success in the publishing sector since the company’s products are being used in the shaping of students’ minds.
Feeding them the wrong kind of information through published textbooks will have dire consequences, not just for the students but also the school, the Department of Education, and especially the company that produced the books.
Vibal, who majored in English Literature and Journalism at the University of the Philippines, says maintaining this laser-like focus on quality through the years meant tapping the expertise of the leading figures in the education sector to write the textbooks.
These experts may cost more, but the quality is assured. This will in the end result in a higher return on investment because of the repeat orders and the enhancement of the reputation in the lucrative but highly competitive educational field that the Vibals entered into in 1953.
Vibal, who was a journalist at the Manila Times before she joined her husband at the helm of their fledgling company, says that she and her husband entered the publishing sector, specializing in textbooks, as they believed that the demand for educational materials would never wane.
They also established Vibal Publishing right after World War II as a response to the then Bureau of Elementary and High School Education’s call for the “Filipinization” of textbooks for use in schools, so that students will no longer rely on just US-produced textbooks.
“The government was pushing for the big shift from American textbooks to locally produced curriculum materials. Hence, I left the Manila Times and joined forces with my late husband,” she says.
Initially, the Vibals came up with a Science magazine called Science in Schools. She says it was one of the pioneering products in the subject area as Science was then still being introduced as a core subject.
There was no looking back since then as the Vibals went headlong into the development of curriculum materials with the publication of its first set of Science textbooks.
These are Science and Health for Everyone (Grade 4) and Science and Health for Better Living (Grade 5). These were quickly followed by the publications of supplementary magazines for Mathematics and Social Studies called New Adventures in Arithmetic and School Time.
Today, textbooks produced by Vibal Publishing, which employs about 350 regular employees, account for over half of the textbooks distributed to an estimated 18 million Filipino children enrolled in public elementary and secondary schools nationwide.
It was able to do so partly through winning sizable textbook contracts under competitive bidding and the continuous investment in new equipment and new technologies to cope with the changing demand of the marketplace and continue to deliver the best products to its clients.
Vibal’s management style described by her employees as “aggressive” and “results oriented” also had a significant impact on the growth of company, especially following the death of her husband in 1971, leaving her alone to steer the company to greater heights in what used to be the male-dominated world of publishing.
She says that she cannot help but remain very much involved in every aspect of her company’s operation, from the editorial department, to the printing of the textbooks and even to the delivery, simply because it makes her happy.
Vibal, however, has allowed her son, Gaspar, to take over the digital side of the business. She acknowledges that technology is making great inroads in the publishing industry, thus while there will always be room in the market for printed textbooks, there is also a growing demand for digital information materials.
Recently, Vibal Foundation, in partnership with De La Salle University, published the first set of e-books published in the Philippines.
The four books are ‘Sanghiyang sa Mundo ng Internet” (Reflections on the World of the Internet) by Rhoderick Nuncio; “Filipino Religious Consciousness” by Sylvia Palugod; “Maharang, Mahamis na Literatura sa Tataramon ng Bikol” (Spicy, Sweet Literature in the Bicol Language) by Paz Verdades M. Santos; and “Mabathalang Pag-aaral” (Religious Studies) by Jose M. de Mesa.
These are the first Filipino books to be published in digital e-book format, making Vibal Foundation the first local publisher and DLSU the first Philippine university to venture into digital e-book publishing.
Vibal, who was named Women Entrepreneur of the Year in 2010 by Ernst and Young Philippines, says that her background as a journalist also played a big role in setting apart Vibal from the rest of the players in the highly competitive publication sector.
“The passion for writing is still there, and developing curriculum material is an extension of that passion. And as journalists, we know what is good writing,” says Vibal, who used to edit the baby and women and home sections of the Manila Times.
Her journalism background also instilled in her the desire to continue learning and keep a close eye on developments that will affect her sector. This is why it was not difficult for her to embrace the latest technologies even if they are far from what she was used to when she was working the trade.
Vibal, who has remained at the forefront of women’s issues through her involvement in the Philippine Center for Entrepreneurship and Philippine Commission Women, explains failure to adopt means failure in the business, especially in the publishing field where there is always something new to be learned.
“You have to be daring in business and innovative. An entrepreneur cannot afford to stay where he or she is,” says Vibal.