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Biz Buzz

Biz Buzz: The long wait

/ 05:24 AM December 01, 2017

Anyone who is waiting for the much anticipated appointment of a new president of the PLDT Group will have to wait a little longer after no less than its head honcho, Manuel Pangilinan, said that a new CEO might be chosen next year.

The long drawnout selection process, however, has not stopped the rumor mill from churning out names of potential heads who, Pangilinan has said, must be completely dedicated to the company. (Actually, any new president should be “ready to die” for PLDT, quoting his exact words.)

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At one point, it seemed like the top post was being readied for Filipino-American technopreneur Winston Damarillo who came onboard in 2015. But that plan no longer seems in play and Damarillo has quietly receded from the picture.

The current default choice is Eric Alberto—currently the highest ranking official in the telecommunications giant—who has been sitting on the throne labeled “chief revenue officer” for a year now.

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Word in the very tight circle of telecommunications officials is that Alberto could be elevated to CEO if he does well in his current job of… well… raising revenues. This is, of course, very challenging under the current environment after PLDT “fell off the horse” and lost the lead in the profitability race to an aggressive Globe Telecom Inc.

Of late, the revenue picture seems to have stabilized for PLDT, but it remains to be seen whether the giant has indeed turned a corner.

The latest rumor making the rounds is that Pangilinan may give more weight to management expertise than actual technological know-how in choosing the next PLDT chief. If so, this means that he views PLDT’s challenge as being primarily one of management talent rather than anything else like its understanding of the technology landscape.

This, we hear, gives another MVP group executive—known for his management prowess—the edge. We’re talking about former public works secretary Rogelio Singson who, after rejoining the conglomerate in 2016 to head its rail operations unit, has now moved to Manila Electric Co.

Singson is known for his management skills, which he applied effectively as chief of the Department of Public Works and Highways during the Aquino administration, and is doing so again in Meralco as head of its power generation unit.

“In terms of management ability, he’s one of MVP’s best men,” said one industry source.

Of course, all that could change if Pangilinan’s latest statement about being open to a Chinese investor comes to fruition. And what will the Gokongwei family—which holds a significant minority stake in PLDT—do? If that happens, you can bet that all bets are off. —DAXIM L. LUCAS

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San Miguel in the US

San Miguel Brewery’s (SMB) plan to set up a brewery in the United States has taken off as the group has finalized a deal to acquire the land on which to build the plant, which will initially produce about two million hectoliters of the iconic Filipino beer yearly.
In the next few months, RSA said SMB would break ground for the new plant in the US West Coast.

It was earlier reported that SMB was looking at a 10-hectare land in Los Angeles for the US brewery. This will be SMB’s first time to set up a brewery in the United States, where robust demand has warranted the building of a new beer brewery.

On SMB’s bid for Vietnam’s leading beer brewer Saigon Alcohol Beer and Beverage Corp. (Sabeco), RSA appears less interested now that only a minority stake is up for grabs.

“Originally, they said they will sell control of 51 percent but they are now selling minority shares,” RSA said.

“If they are only selling minority, we’ll still take a look at it if it offers good value but it seems very expensive.” —DORIS DUMLAO-ABADILLA

Heavy penalties

The banking industry is still trying to wrap its head around the sanctions recently unveiled by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas against Metropolitan Bank and Trust Co. over the P1.75-billion fraud incident that was uncovered last July.

In particular, the industry is abuzz about the large number of bank officials that BSP ordered suspended, including the head of another financial institution in the group.

We’re talking about Metrobank’s subsidiary, Philippine Savings Bank, and its president Vicente Cuna Jr. Word in banking circles is that Cuna, too, was included in BSP’s suspension list. Why? Because, prior to his appointment as president of the thrift bank in 2013, he also used to head the corporate banking unit where rogue banker Maria Victoria Lopez allegedly executed her brazen scheme.

That his involvement happened long ago didn’t escape the eagle-eyed BSP examiners and auditors, so his name was included in the list of officials to be suspended (although there’s no word yet on when he will serve the suspension). Talk about the long arm of the law, huh?

On top of the suspensions, BSP also ordered Metrobank to set aside P4.45 billion as a risk buffer in the wake of the theft. This wasn’t an outright monetary fine, per se, but it might as well have been because setting that money aside means the bank couldn’t use it for more productive purposes like loans. That’s a lot of idle cash sitting in the vault not earning interest. Talk about opportunity costs.

In any case, what the banking industry is really surprised about is the weight of the sanctions given that Metrobank is one of the most well-connected financial institutions in the country when it comes to having friends in the Monetary Board.

That’s because there are three members on the seven-member Monetary Board of the BSP who have past ties with Metrobank. We’re talking about Antonio Abacan, who was a long-serving Metrobank president and eventual vice chair for many years before retiring. There’s also Valentin Araneta, who, despite having spent his bank CEO years at RCBC, eventually became a director of Metrobank from 2004 to 2011. Then there’s Peter Favila, who also served on Metrobank’s board.

Biz Buzz learned that, of the three, it was Abacan who had to recuse himself from the discussions on Metrobank’s penalties because he was particularly close to the institution and its owners, the Ty family.

The good thing is, even as the BSP imposed sanctions on Metrobank, it also affirmed its confidence that the country’s second-biggest financial institution would weather them with flying colors. You win some, you lose some, huh?—DAXIM L. LUCAS

Speaking of penalties…

The country’s biggest conglomerate, San Miguel Corp., is set to take the Securities and Exchange Commission to court for what it calls “bad faith” on the part of the corporate regulator in imposing an “onerous” P769-million fine for the former’s supposedly late submission of supporting documents over a 2012 transaction of Meralco shares.

We discussed the issue in more detail in our banner story today and, if one reads that, one could feel from his statements that San Miguel president Ramon Ang was particularly angry at the SEC.

But is the entire commission the target of his ire? Maybe not.

Biz Buzz understands that the conglomerate’s chief is particularly upset with the decision of the SEC’s general counsel, Camilo Correa, and an SEC commissioner who exercises oversight function over this office.

Which SEC commissioner? Well, let’s just say there’s one who was appointed during the previous administration who hasn’t been a big fan of San Miguel, from what we hear—or more accurately, the Aquino administration Cabinet official who got him appointed to the SEC hasn’t been a big fan of San Miguel.

This former Cabinet official had been seen as having put roadblocks in front of the conglomerate during his six years in office, particularly in San Miguel’s public-private partnership (PPP) projects, we’re told. Well, he’s no longer in power, but one of his former subordinates still holds sway in the SEC. —DAXIM L. LUCAS

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TAGS: Manuel Pangilinan, PLDT group, San Miguel Brewery’s (SMB)
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