Softer side of MVP, PH’s richest eligible bachelor
HONG KONG—The only thing most people can’t imagine Manuel V. Pangilinan doing is sitting at home, enjoying the pleasures of retirement.
But preparing for retirement is exactly what the businessman, philanthropist and avid sports patron Pangilinan is doing.
First Pacific Co. Ltd., the Hong Kong-based holding company that Pangilinan founded in 1981, celebrates its 30th anniversary this month.
“I hate anniversaries. I always have to give speeches and I’m not good at that. I’ve actually been accused of plagiarism,” Pangilinan says in a recent interview, adding that he usually felt “old” in times like these.
Pangilinan, known by his initials MVP, turns 65 this month-making him First Pacific’s oldest employee. He won’t be retiring just yet as the self-confessed workaholic says there are still three items left on his to-do list that he wants to check off before he cleans out his desk.
The first is to find a young successor that will ensure the group’s continued growth over the next 30 years.
The MVP group is unlike other local conglomerates, which are usually family run. Pangilinan is a bachelor and has no offspring to anoint as heir.
“So I want to look for the talent within the company and develop them to be the next leaders of the company,” Pangilinan says. “Pilipino sana (preferably Filipino),” he adds.
This will be a tall order for any young up-and-comer, given how First Pacific has risen to the top of the Philippine corporate scene. It has controlling interests in leading companies in almost every big industry in the country today.
On top of the list of companies Pangilinan chairs is Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT), the leading telecom firm and the country’s largest company with nearly $1 billion in annual profits.
Next is Manila Electric Co. (Meralco), the biggest power distributor and the Philippines’ top company in terms of revenues.
Another is Metro Pacific Investments Corp., the company that runs North Luzon Expressway, as well as interests in water distribution and healthcare.
Outside the Philippines, the First Pacific unit Indofood Sukses Makmur Tbk is now Indonesia’s largest food company.
And Paniglinan has done all this virtually on his own. Indonesia’s Salim family financially backs First Pacific, but Pangilinan says their influence in decision-making is “virtually none.”
Apart from his success in business, Pangilinan has also been recognized as a philanthropist. The several foundations he chairs have steered billions of pesos to benefit various causes-from disaster recovery and the government’s underfunded sports programs.
He is currently chair of the Philippine Business for Social Progress, the country’s largest umbrella organization for corporate charity work.
More recently, as head of broadcast industry newcomer TV5, Pangilinan has also gained fame as somewhat of a show biz personality, with some TV and movie stars calling him “bossing.”
Certainly, his education has helped him achieve what already has today. Pangilinan graduated with a degree from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Commerce and Finance. He also holds two honorary doctorates, one from Xavier University and the other from his high school alma mater San Beda College.
But to be a man for others, also known as the “Ateneo Way,” may be the most important lesson that Pangilinan needs to teach to whoever replaces him as head of the country’s largest business group.
“I would hope that my successor and I will have similar values, but I cannot impose,” he says, adding that he was not looking for a clone that would run his companies the same way he has.
“Any incoming CEO should be given the chance to make the appropriate changes he wants to do,” he says. His only concern, he adds, that whatever changes should be in line with the “long-term future of the group.”
“I don’t want to give the impression that I am holding on to my job. It’s my duty to find my replacement,” he says.
The second item on his list is the diversification of his businesses to other countries outside of the Philippines and Indonesia.
This could mean providing water utility services in Thailand, building new roads in Malaysia or setting up a mobile telephone network in Vietnam. Whether his group’s expansion would be any of these-or all of it-Pangilinan would not say.
“It’s nothing against the Philippines,” he says. “But the goal is to be a giant at least in the region,” he adds.
Last on his list is, well, to make a “bucket list” of what he plans to reach before he “kicks the bucket.”
In business, the Pangilinan group has used its financial strength and influence to do pretty much whatever it wants. In real life, the man admits that he is in touch with his own mortality.
What else Pangilinan wants to achieve, after already having done so much, is anyone’s guess.
At the moment, his love for sports has been taking up whatever time away from work he has left to spare.
With his “Midas” touch, the Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters, just one of several professional basketball teams he owns, recently won its second straight Philippine Basketball Association championship. The team is gunning for its third—to complete a rare grand slam-next year.
Last year, he assumed the post as head of the Philippines’ Amateur Boxing Association, where he has spearheaded a fund-raising campaign supporting Filipino pugilists that are most likely to bring the country its first Olympic gold medal.
Recently, Pangilinan also entertained the possibility of owning a majority stake in financially-distressed National Basketball Association (NBA) team Sacramento Kings. He has since dropped this plan, citing the need to learn more about the NBA.
More than for entertainment, Pangilinan says his love for sports runs in his blood. Perhaps, out of everything else he has done, his passion for sports is closest to his heart.
“One thing I do regret is that my father, an avid golfer, is not here to see all this,” he says. His brother too was a big sports nut, Pangilinan says.
“If they were here, if they were alive today, they would be happy,” he says, briefly showing a side of his personality that, like every man, does not want to be lonely even after reaching the top.
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