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MAPping the Future

Because people are important (BPI)

07:03 PM December 23, 2012


(Following is the continuation of an acceptance speech delivered by the author when he received the “MAP Management Man of the Year 2012” award from the Management Association of the Philippines.)

Going down market or “masa market” is key to sustainable growth.


Income inequality and youth unemployment today are the world’s biggest problems.

Previously considered an “elitist” bank, BPI has slowly but surely gone increasingly down market. We started with consumer banking in the ’80s, overseas Filipino banking in the ’90s, SME banking in the 2000s, and inclusive banking in this decade.

Visionary Filipinos such as Tony Tan Caktiong with Jollibee and Lance Gokongwei with Cebu Pacific have created successful new business models catering to a lower but much wider market.

The Philippines has constantly been referred to as a “boom or bust economy” as well as a “jeepney economy.” Only when we can consistently and cost effectively provide products for the 87 percent who comprise the D and E sectors of the economy will we able to sustainably grow and earn our investment grade status in an inclusive manner.

Common goals can healthily coexist with competitive goals.

Both at the Chamber of Thrift Banks and at the Bankers Association of the Philippines, I always made it a point to work together with big and small banks, foreign and local banks, and regulators. My theory was always that the general public should feel that banks were safe, sound, and helpful, and that the more banks that were consistent with executing this perception, the better for the whole industry. However, individuals and corporations should also have the freedom to choose which bank to deal with.

Therefore, we always espoused cooperation at the regulatory and operations level, but then we competed like hell at the marketing level.

Complementing rather than competing with government, and vice versa, is more productive and beneficial to the country.


Fortunately, the government today thinks a similar way. It did not in the state influenced, monopolistic tendency in the ’80s.

Allow me to quote part of Secretary Purisima’s statement on the recent 7.1 pct GDP growth—“This is the ultimate public private sector partnership. Government takes care of fiscal sustainability, macro-economic stability, and continued business facilitation, while the private sector responds with more investment and more consumption.”

Similarly, while we grumble about ever increasing regulation and taxes, we have to admit that particularly in the global banking arena, the BSP’s reputation for proactive governance and good supervision is also a major factor in generating respect, interest, and favorable reviews by respected international agencies such as the IMF, the World Bank/IFC, and all the state and private business visits that have taken place recently. Again the proof of the pudding is the stock market, which has consistently breached previous highs over the past few years.

Let me move on to some thoughts on the management profession:

Management is very much still a noble profession.

My parents’ generation were entrepreneurs, my generation has either been professional managers or overseas foreign workers, and I hope that my children’s generation will have the choice of being either an entrepreneur or a manager.

In a recently released book  “How Will You Measure Your Life?”, Clayton Christensen noted, ”…if you want to help, be a manager. If done well, management is among the most noble of professions. You are in a position where you have 8 or 10 hours every day from every person who works for you. You have the opportunity to frame each person’s work so that at the end of the day, your employees will go home feeling (they had) a good day: living a life filled with motivators. ”

It helps to start your career working under tough bosses.

I started after college with Kaiku Licuanan in Bancom. After MBA and 3 years of international assignments, I returned to Manila in 1980 and had Lanny Nanagas in Citibank as a boss. At BPI, I had the good fortune of working with Vic Pacis in corporate banking, and then with Xavier Loinaz everywhere else. All were demanding, never satisfied, and uncompromising; therefore, I learned the hard way how to get things done in an exceptional manner.

Cross posting makes a big difference

Had I not been continuously cross posted, I would have left banking and BPI a long time ago. I did mostly corporate bank work in the ’80s and primarily consumer bank work in the 1990s. In the early 2000s, I focused on overseas banking and on learning treasury by sitting on Board committees. In the mid 2000s, I focused on going down market with SME lending and mobile micro finance, while learning asset management and insurance through internal meetings and external partnerships.

Continuous executive education helps

The world is changing so fast that one has to be continually updated with what is going on outside. I read a lot, but I also have helped upgrade the BPI training we do at all levels as well as the “nice to have” foreign seminars we send key people to.

BPI has 2 bedrock training policies—all (not selected) employees should attend 5 days of training, and people are required to be cross posted to a different assignment within 3-5 years.

Payoff for BPI has been big time. Instead of feeling the loss of 40 vice presidents and up in the past 3 years, we have seen the gain of 800 trained senior managers and up, and this has resulted in a gain of more than 40 equally capable vice presidents seamless stepping into the shoes of the retired 40.

Work life balance is critical to maintain effectivity in a 24×7 multitasking, listed company life.

Exercise is important—I do two days of physical training, and 1-2 days of golf.

“I don’t have a schedule, I get scheduled” is a reality. Therefore I try to see many people for shorter periods of time, but I also delegate to equally capable seniors many other meetings. In this regard, I would like to acknowledge the invaluable contribution of my long-term secretary, Mariza Primicias, for keeping me within a 10 hour day and no weekend appointments.

I don’t overdo technology—I do email and text, and have an IPad, IPhone, and Blackberry, but I have no Facebook account and I rarely surf the Internet to ensure that I do not spend the four hours average time most people spend on Internet in today’s world.

I eat healthy food at home, so I can eat and drink what I like outside.

I have many fascinating non-banking friends in many areas, and this makes for equally stimulating conversations and interesting adventures.

I travel extensively, both for pleasure and for business, and gaining insights into how things are done differently in another country has tremendously helped me in a personal and professional manner.

BPI—the method behind the magic

I would like to close with a few key BPI themes to internally motivate and guide BPI employees over the years.

“BPI”—Because People are Important

We want BPI to be more accessible and more convenient for more Filipinos.

Let’s make it easy—for both our customers and our employees.

If you focus on customers and people, the business results will follow.

As a 161 year old bank, BPI’s mission is to help the customer, the community, and the country.

In conclusion, I would like to say that we are fortunate to live in exciting times, and we are on the cusp of breaking into tiger economy and investment grade territory.

However, we must remember that seeing the peak is very different from scaling the peak, and that we were once so close in the mid ’90s before the Asian crisis threw us back to earth.

Therefore, we cannot relax, and in fact must work even harder together to move the Philippines from today’s darling to tomorrow’s sustainable and inclusive growth model.

There will continue to be many obstacles and challenges internally and externally, but I am confident, that with continuous good government, a strong and ever improving Philippine professional management corps as represented by your Management Association of the Philippines, and everyone’s help, we will all prevail, and that the Philippines will once again rise to its status more than 50 years ago of being among the top 3 countries in the Asean, and maybe even in Asia. We can always think big, can’t we?

Mabuhay ang Pilipinas, and many thanks again for this prestigious award.

(The author is MAP’s “Management Man of the Year 2012” awardee, and president and CEO of the Bank of the Philippine Islands or BPI.Feedback at For previous articles, please visit

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TAGS: ASurelio R. Montinola, Banking, BPI, Business, MAPping the Future
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