How tycoons stay fit, sane and on top of things in times of COVID-19
It’s a force majeure that has caused a lot of stress to everyone in this world. This new coronavirus pandemic dragged down the global economy, triggered tough lockdown protocols that brought the Philippines to its worst economic recession in history, exposed gaps in the health care sector and resulted in record-high job losses. As businesses ground to a halt in the early months of the contagion, imagine the pressure on the captains of the industry—those who are responsible for a throng of employees, stakeholders and their companies’ well-being.
But to keep themselves on top of the situation and execute business continuity plans—apart from mobilizing resources to help the government, displaced communities and medical front-liners fight this war against COVID-19—they too have to take care of themselves during this challenging time. We talked to some of the country’s business tycoons, who shared insights on their fitness regimen as well as the necessary adjustments to their management style during these extraordinary times.
Based on our survey, all business leaders have embraced new technology to allow them to manage their vast businesses remotely. While working from home has become the new norm, along with videoconferencing, some still go to the office and physically meet with their management team, while observing strict physical distancing protocols.
Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala
Chair and CEO of Ayala Corp.
“Fit and sane—hopefully not mutually exclusive! I start to read global and local news in general at about 5 a.m., followed by a fairly regular 6 a.m. routine of cardio vascular workout on an elliptical machine (30 minutes—relatively intense) mixed, on some days, with a pilates-therapeutic instructor as all my muscles tend to tighten up during these long days in front of screens. “I tend to skip both breakfast and dinner most days to stay light, energetic and focused. I tend to keep lunch free for a relaxed catch up with my wife, Lizzie, or the family during which we cover most topics outside business.
“While considered by many to be bad habits, a cocktail and a cigar at the end of the day do wonders to calm my mind, usually followed by a catch up with Lizzie, reading, or movie watching.
“I try to get a motorcycle ride in most Saturdays in order to clear my mind and enjoy the relaxed banter of friends. As Milan Kundera wrote in his novel “Slowness,” “the man hunched over his motorcycle can focus only on the present … he is caught in a fragment of time cut off from both the past and the future … he has no fear because the source of fear is in the future, and the person freed of the future has nothing to fear.”
Shift to a more introspective, self-reflective approach
“I have worked mainly from home, with the occasional trip to the office. I have invested in upgrading my computer set up at home (much larger screen with ancillary iPad support) and carved out a personal space for myself to make it a dedicated work space. I have also invested in additional streaming equipment in more communal parts of the house for more informal streaming sessions.
“In the early part of the pandemic I communicated far more regularly and intensely both with my senior executive team and the broader organization as a whole. Early on, Fernando and I visited some front line operations across the group to touch base with those who had operational responsibilities. As the year wore on, my schedule has become less intense, especially as we developed a firmer control and understanding of the variables that we were dealing with. I moved from a more action-oriented approach to a more introspective and self-reflective approach. This led to more mental space to plan and think for the medium and long term horizon again. I then began to overweight my time to communicating with our broader community of stakeholders, with a clearer plan of action, outside our executive and employee circle. These included more regular and granular conversations with investors, both our larger and our MSME (micro, small and medium enterprise) partners, and engaging in broader conversations across a variety of forums, both locally and abroad (all virtual) to both communicate what we were doing but also to learn from others. These included both business and academic forums.
“At the beginning of the crisis, our community of executives rarely met [in-person] as we overweighted the health of our broader team. Once testing procedures began to mature and we felt we had enough safety protocols and back up health facilities in place to support the needs of our community of companies, I began to have more personal [in-person] meetings. These usually involved one-to-one meetings, either at breakfast or lunch and which, frankly, have been most pleasurable as we all miss some form of human contact with our peers.”
“I do exercise and plenty of thinking about the future. To exercise, I do walking and following YouTube exercise channels. During the lockdown, I distract myself by exercising, cooking and reading. I am learning to cook better. When I go back to work, I will still do that if there’ll be spare time.”
Flexibility in running business
“We do both face-to-face and virtual meetings. Communication is important in this pandemic period.
“The main lesson during this pandemic, it’s the same as everyone: count your blessings more than regrets. In the workplace, be flexible and adapt to constant changes.”
President and CEO of JG Summit Holdings:
“I try to keep a routine, keeping my regular office hours all through COVID. Since MECQ (modified enhanced community quarantine), I have been going to work or to various sites at least twice a week and because there has been less traffic, the commutes were shorter. I have also been able to save a lot of valuable time by using video conferencing tools like Microsoft Teams or Zoom; avoiding unnecessary face to face meetings; and, skipping all these business breakfasts and dinners. All these time saved has made me more efficient, and I now have more time with my family or for myself– reading, exercising or sleeping.”
“Generally, we avoid unnecessary face to face meetings in our company, but i still go to the office or visit various sites at least twice week. Sometimes I meet with small groups of executives on a face to face basis for more free-flowing, creative discussions or brainstorming.”
Chair of Vista Land and AllHome Corp.
“Even before the pandemic, hitting the gym early in the morning has always been part of my daily routine. Today, I try to make sure that I get enough exercise, that I eat right, and sleep well. Mentally, I keep my mind busy which is not difficult because I continue to discuss issues with our business people on a daily basis. I see to it that I take meaningful breaks, maybe some quiet time, or listening to music, or Zoom with my children.
“I would also spend some time in my garden. I love my garden because it relaxes me. Since my days in UP Diliman, I have learned to appreciate the beauty of nature. Lately, my wife and I would visit Coffee Project during non-peak hours just to relax and have some sense of normalcy.”
Business as usual via Zoom, Teams and Webex
“Most of my meetings in this new normal are done via online platforms, such as Zoom, Teams and Webex, which was difficult at first, but we made it work just like everyone else. For instance, much as I would like to attend the opening of our 46th AllHome branch in Santiago, Isabela, I had to attend via Zoom. We just need to do our part to limit the risks and help stop the rise of COVID-19.”
President of San Miguel Corp.
“I try to be as physically active as possible- walking or jogging in place or around our village. I also incorporate light exercises and stretching in my daily routine. I make sure I have a well-balanced diet. No special diets for me, just eating the right amount, and avoiding what’s bad. Also, sleep and rest are very important.
“They say a busy mind is a healthy mind. I believe that. I find that when your mind is preoccupied with things that are productive and that make a difference, or when you are focused on progressing toward your goals– no matter how small–you feel better and have a more positive outlook.
“My days can get very busy, and sometimes, it can get overwhelming. But I know when I need to take a step back. Most important of all: spend quality time with my family, especially my grandchildren. That’s how I maintain balance.”
Retaining sense of normalcy, continuity
“On the whole, not much has really changed, except that we have fully embraced and adjusted to safety protocols.
“As much as possible, everything is done online, and almost all meetings are via video calls. But for the more important and critical things, we still do in-person meetings, while observing the strictest safety protocols. This includes regular PCR testing for myself and our employees, proper social distancing, wearing of masks, limiting or minimizing times together to just the necessary, among others.
“Actually, one reason why we have been able to retain a sense of normalcy and continuity is that we have been very proactive and consistent when it comes to putting in place safety measures. We invested to put up our own PCR testing lab, and all our employees are periodically tested to help ensure safety in the workplace.
“At our head office, we installed hand-washing stations and temperature checks at all entrances of the building as well as at the receiving areas of all floors. We also retrofitted our windows to allow for more ventilation. Many are also still working from home. These measures, among many others, are also in place across all our offices and facilities.
“For me, the challenge is not so much about how we change because of the pandemic, but how we adapt and cope, especially with regards to safety, while ensuring we continue to perform well, if not better.”
Chair and CEO of PLDT, chair of Metro Pacific Investments Corp.
“I play badminton twice a week. In the initial month or two I couldn’t because things were closed, but when there was some lifting of the lockdown, I manage to play here in Makati and at Meralco, which has its own badminton court.”
Staying closer to the situation
“I make it a point to be at the office as often as I could – to maintain normality to my working life as much as possible. I do report to my office each and every day. I try to be as normal as possible.”
“I do prefer face-to-face meetings. You can get the nuances better. The problem with the video is that it’s usually a bilateral conversation. In a board meeting where people are physically present, you can have a bit more conversation with the other people because it’s a real dialogue.
“I know things have changed quite a bit but for me, the closer I stay with the situation, the more I understand what’s going on or not going on.”
President and CEO of Filinvest Development Corp.
“When the pandemic hit, I was very concerned because I felt that if the COVID-19 situation is not under control, no matter what business does, it would not be in any position to move forward. During that time, I kept my sanity by learning the latest about COVID. I have to say that I was obsessed with knowing all about COVID…So I took it upon myself to offer to develop the dashboard and data warehouse to the DOH (Department of Health) and DICT (Department of Information and Communications Technology) for free. It was a challenging situation because the data sources were not well-developed. Testing laboratories were just being accredited and did not yet have a centralized reporting system. The whole thing had to been done in a very short period of time. Filinvest hired the best data science company ,Thinking Machines, to help do the data warehouse and dashboard and they got the first one up in. It took some time to put in better reporting systems so that the data being reported by health centers and labs and hospitals nationwide became timely and complete. This marked the start of my involvement in the T3 Task Force. I am awed at how the Testing Task force under Vince Dizon’s leadership quickly ramped up the testing capacity with the help of the private sector. I personally saw how the IATF under Sec. Carlito Galvez Jr. work tirelessly 24/7 to ramp up testing capacity, put up the quarantine centers and provide an LGU playbook on how to isolate and quarantine COVID patients and manage the hospital allocation of COVID beds. I have to say, it was only then that I got back my sanity and was able to sleep more soundly. I kept my sanity by knowing first hand what was going on and getting involved instead of feeling helpless and not in control. Most important, looking at the smiling face of my grandchild and just being with my kids helps keep me sane.
“To keep fit, I exercise thru Walk at Home You tube videos coupled with Yoga stress relieving shows. Even if my husband, who is an ambassador, was in Singapore while I was in Manila, we would do Pro Walking Tours of Italian Towns together virtually. Now, I am happy I can already play golf again under strict social distancing protocols.”
Focus on health of stakeholders, business
“Under pandemic, the main change in management is that you take responsibility for the health of the Filinvest family and customers as well as the health safety of the workplace and communities on top of the financial health of the business. Therefore, a lot more time and resources are devoted to this. Financial planning is also more intense and over a shorter horizon as the future is not as predictable in a pandemic situation. Luckily, our businesses have invested heavily in IT so we were able to communicate easily with our buyers, sellers, homeowners and staff. East West Bank also has one of largest percentage of its workforce doing work from home because of the IT infrastructure they already had in place.
“Our company does not allow face to face meetings. All our meetings are done virtually to insure social distancing. This also mitigates the risk of a COVID breakout among the leadership team.”
president and CEO of DMCI Holdings
“I recently bought a treadmill so every morning I do some brisk walking at home.”
“To keep my sanity in check, I play golf sometimes. Physical distancing is easier to do in a golf course! The fresh air and Vitamin D are also good for boosting the immune system.”
Adapting to running business virtually
“I do a lot of virtual meetings. Although it’s safer, the group dynamics is very different from what I am used to. Our discussions are less spontaneous and interactive because of the limitations of the medium and the internet connection.
“Before the pandemic, I did plant and site inspections every weekend. With the localized lockdowns, I can’t go around as much. I have to rely on virtual reporting, videos and photos to oversee our businesses.
“I do face to face meetings occasionally, but in small groups and with appropriate safety protocols in place. I do the meetings in our boardroom so there’s more than enough space for physical distancing.”
President and CEO of Aboitiz Group
“It’s all about your attitude and mindset. I keep the goal ahead of me all the time. So I never forget where I am heading. Bad times will come and they will pass. All I can do is try my best. I can’t give more than that. It’s clear to me that pandemic or no pandemic, it’s all about people and the team we have. Focus on them and everything else will follow. Look for the good things that come from any situation and focus on that. Be true to your team. Don’t hide things. That builds trust. Share with them your real thinking. With this my mental state is stable.
“Then you have physical (activities). I swim, walk, or both almost every day.”
No problem adjusting
“So far, we have very little face-to-face meetings. Everyone adjusted very quickly so we did not have a problem here.”
Edgar Sia II,
Chair and CEO of DoubleDragon Properties and MerryMart Consumer Corp.
“Nothing beats getting refreshed when I travel with the family to new places, but since the pandemic does not allow that, I still get to relax at home when I am on the treadmill to sweat out thrice a week. I also get to relax when I listen to pop and R&B music with headphones on. Sometimes if there is a very interesting book or documentary, it also becomes a good learning break for me.”
Doing things more efficiently
“The current COVID management adjustment enables me to think and plan more clearly. I have noticed that some specific aspects of the business are still more effective with face to face meetings, but surprisingly, most can be efficiently done virtually.
“The increased familiarity in using digital communications on both ends actually made things, in some cases, far more efficient in getting things done. Although overall, I thought it may be good to keep a blended approach as in the long run, too much reliance on purely digital (systems) may also cause big risk in case in the future if the world will face a virus pandemic crisis not in the air but in the cyberspace.”
Chair and CEO of Megawide Construction Corp.
“I lost 18-20 pounds since the lockdown. I’ve had a personal trainer even before, but during the pandemic, I have been more consistent with my training. I work out four times a week but I increased active calorie burn target per session from 400 to 700 calories, sometimes hitting 1,000 calories. Because I don’t eat outside anymore, I have better control of my food intake.”
More productive, more people-oriented
“I feel I have become more productive during the pandemic. Travel time to and from our office in Santolan to Makati used to take three hours a day. Without traffic and travel time, that saves 20 percent of my time. Then, travel abroad was gone. Business and family trips overseas easily took 60 to 90 days a year, so that’s roughly 20 percent (of working time).
“That’s one advantage of having a young organization – we were easily able to adjust to digitalization. We have shifted more than 80 percent of our processes and our records/files to digital. We would not have been able to achieve this in six months without the pandemic.
“I’ve been going to the office every day since June. My management style has evolved significantly. I’m more people-oriented now. I have at least once-a-month engagement with the entire organization. We’ve set up systems in monitoring the output of everyone including the executives on a monthly basis. This is because of the work-from-home arrangement for some of our business units. I spend more time in developing our corporate culture and our organization.”
CEO, Alliance Global Group Inc.
“I did a lot of walking and made sure to stay fit by working out at home. I also spent a lot of time reading books. I am also very grateful to have more opportunities to spend time with my family.”
“Management style is still the same, except that we don’t do face-to-face meetings anymore. Now I have more time to accommodate more meetings in a day because I don’t have to travel from one place to another since we do everything virtually.”
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