Defying the odds
Sta. Elena Construction and Development Corp. is a major general contractor specializing in foundation engineering, power plants, ports and harbors, roads and bridges.
CEO Alice Eduardo, who was recently honored in Forbes Asia’s Heroes of Philanthropy 2018, shares with us her insights on service and strategy.
Q. What has been your competitive advantage against the big foreign firms?
A: Filipino talent and ingenuity are superlative, given the right environment to let us shine and realize our full potential. Sta. Elena can deliver the same world-class performance [at a price that is more competitive] because of our cost structure. We [have a] lean and mean operation, [which has] my personal touch. Those, apart from our fleet [composed] of the latest and leading edge equipment that are fully owned and not leased, are Sta. Elena’s clear edge.
I’m fully invested in our team and our delivery. I, as president and CEO, [is hands-on]. This is not because I refuse to delegate, but because I want them to feel that we rise or fall together. I make sure the team is more than happy with their compensation, and assure them that their welfare and their family’s welfare are my concern as well.
I am a total believer in people being the heart and soul of the organization, and if you create a work life for them where their minds are free to focus on the work, then productivity is maximized and fulfillment is at a high.
Construction and development are as much about precision and heavy duty as it is about passion and heart. It matters to me that I make a personal connection with each project I choose to pursue. This mind-set allows me to embrace every project with the same passion as the first. I avoid the mind-set that my work is merely a list of contracts. Each [project] must have a unique vision, purpose and personal meaning.
Q: Among all of your accomplished projects, what are you most proud of and why?
A: For a developing country on a growth trajectory such as the Philippines, a continuous, reliable supply of energy is a must. Clean energy is the ideal, and in amounts that meet growth requirements and ensure a better quality of life for Filipinos.
Sta. Elena has been entrusted with the construction of at least three natural gas-fired power plants of the Lopez Group’s First Gas for a combined total project cost of over $1.5 billion. These are efficient combined-cycle power plants, namely the 1000-megawatt Sta. Rita, the 500-MW San Lorenzo and the 450-MW San Gabriel, all in Batangas.
For these projects, Sta. Elena worked closely with leading worldwide engineering firms: German Siemens, British Balfour Beatty and Dutch Ballast Nedam.
Latest estimates for the Philippines’ additional energy requirements through 2030 is over 17,000 MW. All the infrastructure and commercial flagship projects we helped build are in the spirit of nation building. The power plants were built in the unique context of helping address a potential crisis.
In terms of rated capacity, the 1000-MW Sta. Rita is the largest, but in terms of scope, it has to be the state of the art 450-MW San Gabriel Flex plant, for which Sta. Elena designed and built the world’s second largest installation of GRP pipes spanning 1.1 kilometers under the sea and 1.4 km buried under the ground, as well as the second largest offshore pipe for power plant cooling water system in the world.
I am proud to say that Sta. Elena achieved these in record fashion, attaining even six million safe man hours, peaking at 6,000 workers.
Q: How is the Philippine construction industry changing and how has Sta. Elena evolved to exploit these changes?
A: I view the local construction industry as having evolved in these ways: a rebirth of the pioneering landmarks of many decades ago to entering a new level of infrastructure in recent history, to being guided by the pursuit of conserving the environment.
I picture the design and engineering of the CCP Complex of the 70s and the Entertainment City of today. I reminisce about the country’s beginnings in tollways in the north and south and compare that with the [North Luzon Expressway], [South Luzon Expressway] and the elevated structures of today. I imagine once regarding SM North EDSA as the biggest mall and now we have the Mall of Asia (MOA) Complex. I think of the Araneta Coliseum back then and now there are SM [MOA] Arena and Philippine Arena.
I feel blessed not only in having witnessed these developments in my lifetime, but [also], along with my cherished team, [became an] active participant and contributor to this evolution.
It’s a thrill to note that one of the architects of the CCP Complex has designed my own residence.
Sta. Elena is grateful to have served those three trends through its expressway projects, including NLEX and [Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway], landmark bridge projects including Sarrat and Pantal, its contribution to all the integrated resorts in Entertainment City, and the legacy of having built three combined-cycle clean energy power plants. We are equally proud to have built the foundation or substructure for SM MOA.
Q. What are the key challenges of the construction industry in the Philippines?
A: With the growth in construction-related jobs by over 600,000 last year, as fueled by the 14-percent expansion in the infrastructure segment, the industry is expected to employ nearly six million workers by 2020. The industry must have a steady flow of well-trained technical graduates who [must] be encouraged to stay and work in the country instead of going abroad. Tied to that are workforce management and talent optimization. The availability of funding/capitalization and liquidity and postponement and delays can be obstacles.
On the other hand, challenges that serve as drivers to level up the game are digital transformation and more complicated operating models in a globalized business setting. —CONTRIBUTED
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