Mapping The Future

What is the secret of BDO’s success?

03:37 AM December 02, 2019

What am I doing here?

When I first heard the official news that I am being awarded MAP Management Man of the Year 2019 by the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP), it didn’t sink in right away. I was traveling in Spain on business when I received the first few congratulatory messages. [One of the first ones was from Gigi Montinola, chair of the judging committee. Gigi happens to be in Spain at the same time—however, he was on a wine tour while I was working. [Lucky guy!] It was only after a few days have passed and the MAP press release got around the mainstream media that it finally hit me. It was a combination of joy, honor and fear. Yes, fear. As I stand here before you accepting this award, I can’t help but think of others who came before me. With his recent passing, we are all aware of John Gokongwei Jr.s’ life story and his struggles to overcome the death of his father at an early age to build the empire that JG Summit is now. I am fully aware of Henry Sy’s struggles from a humble ”sari-sari” store to building the largest business conglomerate in the country. I saw firsthand my boss Tessie Coson’s struggles to bring the SM Group, especially the bank and the retail business, to where it is now, and the biases she had to overcome in the ‍ process.


I am now faced with the question: Am I bound to disappoint?

I am here now so let me then start by saying a very big thank you to the MAP for the honor. As a professional, I am realistic. This award is for what we have accomplished as an organization and I am here receiving this because I happen to be the face of the management of that organization.
So please allow me to share this honor with the real people deserving of this award—the people in BDO. First, to Tessie, for her confidence in us, for her drive and ambition that pushed us to take the bank to greater heights, and for her consistent and unwavering support throughout the years.
To the board of directors, who have been very effective stewards of the bank, providing guidance on our strategy, direction and governance. Special mention is due to our independent and nonexecutive directors who have been invaluable to our growth and success and a good stabilizing influence on all of us.


To my partners, first to Sonny Jacinto and Josie Tan who share with me the burden of management leadership in BDO. They also share executive committee and executive director responsibilities with me.

Then to my partners in the management team, who are also with us today. They are the real bosses running the individual businesses. If you believe we are successful, it is because of them. They are the ones grinding it out day in day out.

And of course to 37,000 plus members of the BDO team. The clients see the bank through them and not through me. Our success is largely through their good execution. To the BDO team, we couldn’t have done it without you. So, thank you!

Last but definitely not the least, I would like to give tribute to the biggest factor why I am here now—the support of my family. My wife, Loida, who has always been very supportive of my career and the long hours that go with it. She’s been with me through thick and thin from New York to London and back to Manila now. My parents, my first, my current and my most important mentors and cheerleaders. Daddy is here now. He’s the stabilizing factor in my life, and for those of you who describe me as calm, it was his philosophy that lay the foundation for that serenity. My mother, who passed away two years ago, was my most vocal cheerleader. (Mommy, if you’re looking down on us now, this is for you and thank you for giving the good words up there for us.) My brothers, Raul and Lorenzo, who were my support system growing up. Raul is based in Silicon Valley. Lorenzo is here now. He is my sounding board and adviser not only on business matters but on a lot of things as well, including cars, food and interior design. And my children, who give me the right perspective and are constant reminders of the more important things in life. My son, Matthew, is here now.
And I would like to add a special thank you to my adopted family—the Lasallian community, who were very influential during my formative years. Bro. Ray and Bro. Bernie are here now. ‍‍‍

(I guess from that alone I have used up my 30 minutes.)

Beyond the thank yous, I was at a loss on what to share with such an accomplished group of people. I took the route regularly traveled by professional managers, which was nothing extraordinary.

So when I saw Riza Mantaring at the Industry Academe Council meeting two weeks ago, I took the opportunity to seek her advice. She said just talk about your experience and your management philosophy. So I will follow that advice and that’s what I will do now.
Let me share with you a little bit about our journey ‍
in BDO.


BDO started out as a savings bank. Decent in size, well-managed and possessing a good business model supporting primarily the SM retail businesses. It was a good start for the ambition of Henry Sy Sr., but probably just that—a good start. Mr. Sy always had the ambition of becoming No. 1 in banking. The drive to fulfill that ambition started when, Tessie in quick succession Tessie, converted the bank license of BDO to a commercial bank in 1994 and to a universal bank in late 1996. While the licenses placed BDO in the big league, its organization was largely unchanged. That was when Tessie decided to strengthen the organization and build the management core to take it to commercial bank levels. I joined them in 1997 when it was ranked then 20th in terms of resources.

We started out with a modest strategy, a good niche player with businesses that are competitive in their own markets. Our current mission then reflected, and still reflects, our current thinking “to be the preferred bank in every market we serve.” We do not intend to be all things to all people. But where we are competing, we strive to excel. Even now that we are a full service bank, we try to remain focused, and strive to be good at what we do, and not simply bank on the strength of our size and scale.

Being good, however is not solely about products. It is also about service and reliability. We realized that clients value us not so much for our products but for our service—personalized, cheerful (despite of our staff’s long stressful hours) and accommodating. And yes, you are right, we are always willing to find ways to help the client. Hence, our tagline, “We find ways.”

Armed with simply two basic client philosophies—focus and service—we went on to grow the bank.

However, it was not meant to be easy. Shortly after I joined (four weeks to be exact) the Asian financial crisis hit us. To make matters complicated, the BSP (Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas) then instituted a policy of restricting branch expansion to encourage consolidation. For a small commercial bank like BDO, it was like being set up and packaged to be acquired.

For me that was another aha moment, as I asked myself: “What did I get myself into?”

Mr. Sy and Tessie were reassuring though. In so many words they said, ”Don’t worry, we will grow the bank.” Hence, our journey began. We started with the basics. We went on to implement our core IT system and to reengineer our key processes. We strengthened our bench with the addition of officers at all levels. To expand our network, we went on a series of M&A (mergers and acquisitions) transactions. First was Dao Heng Bank, followed by First e-Bank, Banco Santander and then UOB (United Overseas Bank). In 2002, in-between these the M&A activities, we did our IPO (initial public offering).We were able to thrive basically as a niche player.

It was not long before we came to our next strategic crossroads. As a niche player, we were doing well, but we were too concentrated, lacking scale and it did not give us a lot of room for the growth our investors (read Mr. Sy and Tessie) were looking for. We had a heavy large corporate lending concentration, our retail and middle-market businesses were concentrated in Metro Manila, Cebu and the Bacolod/Iloilo corridor. Our team bench was relatively shallow. It was clear that we needed to elevate our operations in a big way to fulfill the potential of our franchise. INQ
(To be continued next week)

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