MANILA, Philippines—Were it not for his children, especially the boys who might grow up to be “long-haired beach boys playing guitars all their lives,” Cemex Philippines president Pedro Palomino and his wife would have stayed in Spain’s Canary Islands forever.
Palomino’s posting as the head of the cement firm’s operations there in 2000 was a dream come true. With its mild temperature, white sands and sea, the islands turned out to be a paradise for the couple.
The Canaries has not lost a bit of its charm and remains a “fantastic” place to live in and enjoy life, Palomino says.
But after seven years, the couple realized it was not the best place to raise their four children. This realization led Palomino to overseas postings, first in Dubai and, a couple of years later, the Philippines.
Now in his third year as Cemex Philippines president, Palomino says he is happy they made the move.
“The family is happy. The kids adjusted quickly. It took them no time to find friends and get into sports and various activities. If I tell them now to pack up because we will be moving somewhere else, they’ll get very upset,” he says.
“It helped that [the Philippines] is very similar to Spain in many ways. We came from almost the same roots, we are mostly Catholic, we have similar food and cultures. Also, the Philippines is very kind to Spanish people. Filipinos are warm, and we feel welcome here,” he says.
Palomino, now in his early 50s, was born and raised in Spain. He joined the Cemex unit in Spain many years ago, initially as an accountant, after a brief stint with an international auditing firm.
He later moved to finance and, “after discovering there’s life outside numbers,” he transferred to other departments of the company, starting with planning. Later, he was assigned to head subsidiaries of the cement firm.
His posting as president of Cemex Philippines is his second time in the country. The first was in 1999 when he was sent here as chief financial officer to help oversee the transition of the company following the purchase by Cemex of Solid Cement in Antipolo from the Madrigals, and Apo Cement in Cebu from the Gokongweis.
“I was given a second chance here and I thought, perhaps, I have something to do in the Philippines,” he says.
Maybe he was right. Certainly he knew his timing was perfect. President Aquino has just been elected and confidence levels across all sectors have never been as high. The economy has since grown at rates better than those seen in many other countries despite unfavorable global developments.
Businesses have been picking up, and this is good news for cement firms like Cemex. Under Palomino’s leadership, the company embarked on a P2.6-billion expansion plan so that, once infrastructure projects under the public-private partnership (PPP) program start, Cemex will be ready to support them.
Managing Cemex Philippines and its people is not much different from how things are done in Spain, he says. The company has direct employees of about 700 and another 600 indirect and contractual workers, mostly in logistics. He says Filipinos are easy to work with, and he takes every opportunity to touch base with them. He visits the plants to reach out and communicate with the people manning the facilities.
He keeps communication lines open and sends e-mail to the employees at least once a month to inform them of what’s been happening in the company. Cemex even provides employees the opportunity to raise their concerns anonymously if they can’t come forward to discuss them personally with him.
“We have this e-mail address that anybody can write to about whatever concerns they have without identifying themselves. It is only I who gets to read it and nobody else can access it.”
Palomino half expected to get tons of complaints on a daily basis but, to his surprise, he gets very few of them—one or two a month—and the issues raised were legitimate and accurate.
“If you put that [e-mail address] in our office in Spain, you’ll get all sorts of complaints every day.”
He says he gets more of the regular e-mails from employees. “They do not want to air their concerns anonymously. They are open to discussing them with me. They are not afraid to come forward to discuss things.”
He also tends to downplay his role in the company’s scheme of things.
“I never claim to run our company, it’s the whole team that runs it,” he says. “My job is to help people do their tasks well and to enhance their capabilities.”
Palomino also gets out on the field to keep in touch with customers, not to sell anything “for we have people to do the selling,” but to know more about the clients, what they need and how they feel.
The Cemex Philippines chief is so passionate about what the company is doing and how the industry and the Philippine economy are faring.
“With things (private and public construction projects) starting to pick up now, we are getting happier. But I think we are still far from where we should be as an industry. I feel there are still so many things that can be done, that need to be done,” he says referring to the state of the local cement industry.
Compared to 1999, the industry has improved but the growth in cement consumption leaves much to be desired at the estimated level of 18 million tons this year, compared to Vietnam’s 30 million tons.
“It was better than the 15 million 13 years ago, but we should now be above 30 million tons a year easily, given a population of about 100 million and the growth rates that the economy is posting,” he says.
Palomino is optimistic about the prospects of the economy and business in the country.
“The economy is growing fantastically. It is very liquid. The deficit is controlled and there’s political stability. Everything is in place.”
He is convinced infrastructure, which the country has been lacking, will get its share of the action soon.
“When I arrived in the country in 2010, President Aquino announced the PPP program and, more than two years later, it has not moved at the pace it should have moved,” he says.
“But a piece of good news is that the provinces are going ahead. In the Visayas, particularly Cebu and Iloilo, there are more movements in terms of construction and improvement in the quality of life. The same is true with Davao and other key cities in the regions. I think we need to speed things up. We should take advantage of the momentum.”
He takes pride in being part of the ongoing development in the country and the company, and he hopes the entire Cemex team will feel the same.
Aside from having a fulfilling job in a friendly place during these interesting times, Palomino gets to do now what he wants most—spend more time with the family, particularly his children.
A typical day for the Cemex chief starts at 6 a.m. with a breakfast with the kids. By about 8:30 a.m., he is already in the office. By midday, he comes home to have lunch with his wife and youngest child, as the three others are usually already in school. He then enjoys a quick siesta before going back to the office around 2:30 p.m. By 9 p.m., he is ready to call it a day.
He used to play football with some Latino and Filipino friends every Monday, but this has to take the back seat for some extra time at home with the family. On weekends, the family may be found in Chilis, Cinnabon, TGI Fridays, KFC or Jollibee—places where his children love to eat.
Whenever he visits plants or customers in the provinces, he tries to go home that same day.
It looks like Palomino is here for the long haul, especially as his pet project—the plant expansion program—is still underway, and he doesn’t seem to mind.