According to mathematicians, the reoccurrence of any event may simply be happenstance—a fluke—unless validated by a third instance.
“Two may be a coincidence, but three is a trend,” as they say in the field of statistics.
Well, if the success of the Ayala conglomerate—the country’s oldest at 184 years—is insufficient proof of success and dedication in business and nation building, the third Management Man of the Year honor to be bestowed on a member of the Zobel family definitely confirms it.
Last Tuesday, the Management Association of the Philippines conferred the country’s most prestigious award for business leadership on Fernando Zobel de Ayala, the president and chief operating officer of Ayala Corp.
It was a familiar affair for the most blue chip of Filipino business families as the same award had been given to the patriarch Don Jaime Zobel de Ayala way back in 1987, and Fernando’s elder brother, Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala II, in 2006.
Yet, in his acceptance speech delivered at the Peninsula Manila, there was no chest beating to be heard about how great the family’s business empire was, even though it is clear that Fernando is proud of their achievements.
Instead, what came across most clearly was a call to action to for the business leaders assembled in the audience and the wider community outside to use their collective skills and resources to tackle the country’s looming problems head on.
“In every timeframe in our history, we have had to deal with disruptions on various fronts,” Zobel said. “These challenge us to continuously find ways to put our organizations—and our country through our collective contributions—on a clear path to shared prosperity.”
And forcing the crowd’s mood to a more serious note, he added: “We live in a world that is very volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. But while current developments appear bleak, today’s dynamic times have likewise given birth to impressive advances and amazing possibilities. We live in an era where technological innovation, new business models, and new ways of thinking can be used to benefit a larger number of our population.”
Almost simultaneously, however, Zobel pointed his fellow business leaders toward the direction of where he thought the country should be heading, and what they could do to help push it in that direction.
“This is the notion that I would like to put forward today—that the ingredients to bring the country to the next level are already within our grasp,” he said. “MAP and our individual organizations carry the challenge and responsibility to properly harness the potentials of today and use them to create a progressive, equitable, and future-ready Philippines.”
“Our journey toward future-readiness requires a strong platform from where we can launch ourselves,” Zobel added. “I believe that we have already been building this over the last few years. I refer to our macroeconomic foundations, and our highly talented and committed human capital.”
And while it is easy to accuse the country’s elite of living in ivory towers that are insulated from the every day issues faced by the common man, Zobel showed otherwise, enumerating in detail that he was aware of the challenges faced by Filipinos.
More importantly, he also outlined how their business empire is moving—and has been doing so for many years now—to orient their business activities toward solving these national issues.
“Let me start with financial inclusion. It is unacceptable that only 23 percent of Filipinos are part of the banking system,” he said. “The rest are exposed to unauthorized lenders charging exorbitant rates and face the risks of the unofficial economy.”
Through its banking channels and mobile solutions, Ayala has been trying to address this. Its Bank of the Philippine Islands formed ‘BanKo’ a few years ago to serve micro, small, and medium enterprises with their lending requirements.
“On a more basic level, we must immediately tackle the serious condition we face in many of our schools, wherein 3.6 million Filipino youths find themselves out of school,” he said, explaining that the 2017 Philippine National Employability Report found that 65 percent of Filipino graduates lacked the appropriate skills and were thus unemployable in their sector of choice.
“At the basic education level, through CENTEX and APEC Schools, we have changed the way students are taught with a curriculum that focuses on practical skills and innovative teaching methods,” Zobel said. “Through close coordination with the needs of industry, we were also able to design programs where recent graduates are employed within 90 days and receive starting salaries that are significantly higher than the average.”
Then he highlighted the challenges Filipinos face in securing adequate healthcare.
“I strongly believe that the next critical need for the country is a ramp up in affordable, quality healthcare,” he said. “How can we possibly have a productive workforce and a higher quality of life for our people without proper healthcare? Our research is staggering: 43 percent of low to middle income Filipinos have not seen a doctor in more than a year, with 6 out of 10 Filipinos dying without even seeing a doctor.”
To this end, he noted that Ayala has been ramping up its investment in this sector to make healthcare products and services more accessible and affordable to a broader segment of the population.
Zobel rounded out his remarks by reiterating his call for the business community to come together to work for a better Philippines.
“Generating new jobs for the next generation and providing opportunities for value creation will be our utmost priority,” he said. This, however, requires a comprehensive response from the private sector and the full support of government. Like many of you, I am a great believer in the critical role that the business community plays in nation-building.”
“Today’s disrupted times, while alarming on many instances gives us access to several resources: capital is accessible for new ventures; new technologies and business models are available to be harnessed; and there is a wealth of talent among our people waiting to be unleashed,” he added.
It is a call to action best not ignored.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.