By Rose Fres Fausto
6 September 2017 | Philstar.com
The recent summit of SharePhil (Shareholders’ Association of the Philippines) was jam packed because it was a rare appearance of brothers Jaime Augusto (JAZA) and Fernando Zobel de Ayala together in one event. At the start of his speech, JAZA said: “It’s not that Fernando and I don’t want to come together, we actually enjoy it. It’s much more pleasant when we’re together. It’s just that we divide up our work - If one goes, the other one backs off to do something else or to take a rest. But we couldn’t say no to Jimmy.” (Jimmy Ysmael was the CFO of Ayala Land Inc., and now the president of Ortigas & Co., the joint venture among the Ayala, Sy and Ortigas groups.) The program was hosted by the now popular Atty. Lorna Kapunan who spiced up the event with her irreverent humor. Congratulations to SharePhil president Francis Lim and the rest of the team for a successful event.
During the open forum moderated by ANC anchor Cathy Yang, I asked this question: “Lorna Kapunan mentioned earlier that you two should run for the Senate or presidency. Let’s dream a bit here. If you were to be the president, or at least have the ears and obedience of the president for six years, what would be the top three things that you’ll do to get to your dream Philippines?”
The question elicited an interested reaction from the crowd. They were eager to hear what the brothers have to say about running our country during a very polarized regime.
Jaime Augusto (JAZA), the older of the two, born in 1959 and current Chairman and CEO of Ayala Corp., spoke first.
“We have modeled our government under the tripartite system (judiciary, legislative and executive) and this can be very effective. But it is important that those can be trusted.
1. Strengthening the institutions will be a most vital thing to do and that would be the key.
2. The rule of law. It would be hard for us who work within a society without being able to count on the rule of law as a basic principle for us to do anything.
3. Finally, building a robust, progressive, future-oriented educational institution. It is hard to build value for a country without overweighting the quality, standards and progressive nature of our educational base. It is through this that we can survive in a world that’s rapidly changing. With a hundred something million people, if we get that right, then we can really create something special.”
Younger brother Fernando, born 1960 and the president and COO of Ayala Corp., added this.
“We have a tendency to just look at our political cycles within those years (six years) but…
1. We really need to think way beyond single political cycles. We have to make sure that one administration moves seamlessly into the next one so there’s continuity in the projects. Many of the projects cannot be done that quickly and we need to have long-term vision with projects of scale.
2. We need to figure out how to continue and increase the momentum of growth because clearly there is impatience, and it’s for good reason, that it’s not trickling down far enough. That’s a whole combination of many issues, but as many economists have told us, it takes ten to 15 years of six or eight percent growth to really make any kind of difference. If you can get that from eight to ten percent, then you can see the difference faster.
3. Right plan and trust between government and private sector. We need dialogue between public and private sector to carefully craft the engines of growth for our country; otherwise, we will never see a difference in terms of inclusive growth. The private sector should be given the space to do what it does best which is to do things quickly, efficiently and well, because at the end of the day, we are held accountable by our stockholders, and by the people who use our services.
As a follow up to the trust issue mentioned, moderator Cathy Yang asked: “Do you think there’s more trust or less so between the government and the private sector in this political cycle?”
Fernando answered: “It fluctuates. I wish it would be more consistent, and it has to come based on performance. If we don’t perform, then fine, but I think there have been some pretty good examples of private sector work and what can be done when the right frameworks are put in place, when there is fairness, when rules are followed, and when there’s a consistency in contracts. Foreign capital will not come to the country unless they see consistency in contracts. We need a lot of foreign capital in the country. It’s the one thing that’s still missing in the formula. All the other countries in the region are receiving far more foreign capital. We’ve got Filipino groups investing a lot in their own country, that’s a very good sign, but we need foreign capital also. We need to get more of that into the country for the big projects.”
What others say about the Zobel brothers
A lady in the audience also stood up, not to ask a question but to say her praises for the Zobel brothers. “I remember one time while traveling with your parents, you two were very handsome young men in your twenties and you were seated at the economy class,” she said. This elicited a reaction from the audience.
I have also heard positive stories about the humility and concern of the Zobels from people who work for them. I have yet to meet an Ayala employee who is not fiercely loyal to them and proud to work for them. Here are examples of what I’ve heard.
“At Ayala, we do well by doing good.”
“They have a genuine concern for their employees.”
“Compared to other companies I’ve worked with, Ayala is more long-term nation building oriented. Ayala’s success is inextricably tied to the success of the Philippines.”
“They are very thoughtful and protective of their name. They have no intention to tarnish their centuries old reputation.”
“What is fulfilling about working with Ayala is that it provides me the opportunity to contribute to national development through private enterprise. This deep desire to contribute – making sound investments that grow our country’s economy and improve lives – comes from the very top of Ayala’s leadership.”
The importance of long-term vision
The underlying theme of the above feedback and in the way the brothers answered my question about a “Zobel presidency” is the long-term vision.
Unfortunately, this is sorely missing in the political regimes that we’ve had. They all seem to be very short-term in nature, no longer than the president’s term of six years, and doing so made them too pre-occupied with earning pogi points not necessarily good for the long-term welfare of the country but just enough for them to be remembered in the next elections. (And this is worse in the local elections which run every three years).
The only long-term I can remember when it comes to presidency is that of the dictator’s regime. Sadly, its long-term nature was not so much concerned with the long-term welfare of the country but prolonging his term, which of course, brought our economy to tatters.
I long for the day when our political leaders will re-orient their vision for our country from six-year term to really long-term, not necessarily with them still holding the leadership position, but being able to pass on the baton to the next one, in a much better condition than when they inherited it.
Maybe there should be a stronger sense of family. And when I say family, I don’t mean keeping the positions just among family members but considering the entire population – the hundred million Filipinos – as family members. As what these seventh generation Ayala leaders said, “We are ultimately accountable to our stakeholders.” And that’s the entire population of the Philippines. Maybe it’s about time that we all act as stakeholders. When we choose our leaders, let’s not just choose based on anger, nor based on who will benefit us personally. That’s very myopic (short-term).
The Zobels may not run for any public office but it may be good to learn from their governing style. While 70 percent of family-owned businesses do not survive into the second generation, theirs is now in its seventh generation and growing strong!