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Pinoy expat ‘coming home’ to turn PAL around

Philippine Airlines’ next top manager is a Filipino expatriate who spent much of his career working for multinational companies around the world.

Gilbert Santa Maria, who was appointed PAL president and chief operating officer during a board meeting on Monday, replaced the flag carrier’s longtime chief Jaime Bautista, who retired last month.

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High on the agenda is bolstering PAL’s position as a four-star airline and improving PAL’s financial health.

“Maintaining the quality of service is important as well as profitability,” Santa Maria told reporters after his appointment on Monday.

PAL, in recent years, made significant strides in bringing up service quality, expanding its global presence and adding newer, more fuel-efficient planes. But its expansion, combined with external factors such as higher fuel costs, also led to two straight years of losses.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Santa Maria said.

Santa Maria, who was born in Butuan City, Agusan Del Norte, said he was surprised to learn he was considered for the job.

“It comes as a shock because I live on the other side of the Pacific. So for me, this is coming home,” he said.

Santa Maria has 15 years of experience in the business process outsourcing sector. Until early 2018, he was COO of Washington, DC-based BPO company Ibex Global and oversaw its 18,000 employees around the world.

Santa Maria, who also worked with eTelecare, Pepsi Cola Products Philippines and Unilever, left his Los Angeles-based advisory firm to join the airline. He said on Monday he was ready to master a new industry and lead PAL.

“The flag carrier matters. That’s one of the reasons I took the job,” Santa Maria said.

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Santa Maria earned a degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of the Philippines and then a master’s in Public and Private Management from the Yale University School of Management.

He was handpicked by PAL chair Lucio Tan and a small selection committee.

PAL executive vice president Vivienne Tan said Santa Maria’s experience working for local and global companies would be valuable for PAL as it seeks a larger footprint overseas.

“It is important for my father’s vision to be translated into PAL providing consistent quality service to our customers and also, the flag carrier serving as a means to contribute to nation-building. With this new leadership, we will accomplish this further,” she said.

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