MANOLO M. LOPEZ BIDS ADIEU
‘A privilege and a great occasion for me’By Amy R. Remo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
When Manuel M. Lopez stepped down from his position as chair of Manila Electric Co., he did not only end a 36-year career in the country’s biggest power distributor.
The 69-year old Lopez, current ambassador to Japan, also relinquished the last remaining grip in what was once considered as the crown jewel of the Lopez family—finally ending an era marked (or marred rather) by initial successes, controversies, a reported tiff among family members, and an alleged “attempted government takeover” amid a backdrop of increasing consumer protests over rising power prices.
The Lopezes, of course, will continue to hold a 3.9 percent stake in Meralco—a marginal figure compared to the controlling stake it used to hold, but also a wistful and compelling reminder of the family’s struggles to grow the company when they acquired it from an American firm back in 1961.
In his last speech as Meralco chair, Lopez admits to having mixed feelings in leaving the company, as he reminisces and reminds guests that Meralco has become more than just a business case for him, but also an extended family, whom he has cared for and nurtured and where he, as well, grew up and learned from.
Here are excerpts from the speech of Lopez during the stockholders’ meeting of Meralco last May 29, 2012, held at the Meralco Theater in Ortigas Center:
“For 24 years, I have addressed this assembly as your president, COO, CEO, and chairman as distinct positions sometimes but oftentimes as concurrent posts. Annually, it remains a privilege and a great occasion for me.
“But today, let me also address you as a Meralco employee who has been serving this company for 36 years, just like so many other employees here with me today, and many more who have left us, who have served loyally and faithfully for almost a lifetime.
“Today, for the last time, I address you from that position as your chairman. Since my first stockholders meeting in 1986, as your president, I have not just reported the numbers but have put them into context and perspective.
“When I came back in 1986, the rehabilitation of Meralco was the highest priority. From the lowest point in its financial position of P301 million in losses in 1984 to 1985, to the dismal performance of the electric system with 21-percent system loss and regular occurrences of brownouts and blackouts in the franchise at more than 30 times a year, with ever lengthening duration of no lights, we had to rebuild not only the electric system infrastructure but more so bring back the company’s care for its employees.
“Another milestone in our history [is] the Meralco’s IPO (initial public offering).
“Meralco’s IPO was the biggest stock offer in the history of the Manila Stock Exchange at that time. On Nov. 26, 1991, the IPO began, selling some 21 million shares or 23 percent of the company to the public. The issue was heavily oversubscribed, garnering P240 million pesos in three weeks. The share price quickly and steadily soared that by December 1993, the stock price reached a high of P505 per share.
“In the ’90s, Meralco started to dream to be a world class company, able to compare very favorably with the best utilities in the world… In 1996, we resolved … to change the company’s very fabric, processes, organization and technical infrastructure.
“We partnered with Union Fenosa of Spain, an electric utility in Madrid, who had the same number of employees and very similar profiles of customers and franchise area with Meralco. It took us six years, from 1996 to 2002, to transform all aspects of the company.
“As Meralco succeeded in providing better service to its customers and in improving its financial performance, so with its attraction to investors and other interested parties increased. There followed in the early 2000, takeover attempts by the government.
“Aided by unfavorable and sometimes unfair court decisions and government rulings, overcharging, rollback, refunds and provisional decisions became part of our everyday life in the early years of 2000.
“With the hostile environment, the company’s financial position suffered yet again a big setback. And your company experienced two hostile takeovers with the excuse of helping the company get back to its feet again.
“In 2004, the government attempted to gain control of the company through a friendly and subtle way by trying to install their people in the company’s board of directors and in the key positions in its management.
“The timely exposure to the media of this veiled attempt put a stop to it and the government retreated in its desire for a time.
“Some of you may have witnessed a few years ago, in our 2008 stockholders’ meeting here in this very theater, the second, bolder and more aggressive attempt by the government to takeover Meralco through the GSIS.
“We had the longest ever stockholders meeting in the country, lasting from 9 in the morning to 10:30 in the evening. The GSIS, with the assistance of certain elements in the Securities and Exchange Commission, tried to void a number of proxies to gain control of said stockholders meeting.
“With the concerted effort of everyone in the company and our excellent team of legal experts, we defied the SEC order, continued taking control of the proceedings, and thus foiled the attempt. Thereafter, we went to the Court of Appeals to finally settle the issue.
“There was even a time that charges were pressed against some company directors and officers, including yours truly, to the point where arrest warrants were issued against us already. The threat was very real that we had to tell our families to be ready if we do not go home that evening and some of us brought bags in our cars and offices just in case we get picked up and jailed.
“All of these happened against the backdrop of the beginnings of deregulation. Congress passed RA 9136 known as the Epira, or the Electric Power Industry Reform Act, ushering in a new environment for the company. As fate would have it, we completed the Meralco Transformation Project just in time.
“The impending deregulation of the power industry was what had spurred the then management to begin the reengineering of the company in 1992. In 2002, we believed that the company was ready and poised to take on the challenges of this new life in the electric power business.
“I was a very lucky CEO indeed, that I was there when these all happened. How can one not leave with such mixed feelings, especially if we also consider the following:
“When you had a father who showed you the way; who knew you more than anyone else; and, who believed in you when it seemed no one else did;
“When you had a mother who defended you even at the most unlikely moments and against the fiercest of critics;
“When you have a wife who stood by you no matter what and kept the family together when Meralco demanded so much of my time and energy;
“When you have children who grew up very well, and who with their spouses and the grandchildren they gave us, is a constant source of inspiration, stability, and joy;
“When you have employees, who gave you such unequalled welcome in 1986, in its exuberance and warmth; who taught you the best, and the most enjoyable of the Meralco ways; who supported you through the most radical of transformations and persevered with you through the most challenging of times; who fought alongside with you against the bleakest odds and stood with you in the trenches against all difficulties; who taught you that fun and loyalty is in genuine friendship and who gave you such lifetime and invaluable memories.
“For these unparalleled experiences and much more than words can say, I thank all of you.
“I leave this company, with full confidence on the leadership of Manuel V. Pangilinan, who definitely will bring Meralco to even higher levels of service and success. I wish to thank MVP for his astute leadership of Meralco and most especially for taking care of our employees.”
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