How time flies… It was in 1968 or some 42 years ago when my late father, Eugenio Lopez Sr was approached by Wash SyCip for a donation to make possible the construction of a building that would be the home of the Asian Institute of Management. It was the missing piece of an ambitious plan to replicate the Harvard Business School in a way that provides rigorous academic training to Asian managers that’s relevant in their environment.
My father did not require too much convincing. He knew Harvard very well, having studied for his Masters in Law there. My brother Geny took his MBA from Harvard Business School and eventually, so did Geny’s son Gabby. I myself took my undergraduate and graduate degrees from the Harvard school that later on became the Kennedy School of Government. My father was also deeply committed to education and he saw the idea of setting up an academic institution with similar standards and methods was a good way of providing his most lasting legacy to the Philippines and to Asia.
I remember that the project was going on well but was blocked by a critical gap in funding. The Ayala Corporation had agreed to donate 1.3 hectares of land in the heart of Makati. The Ford Foundation and US AID had committed some funds. But the building fund, the largest single component, was still lacking. In fact, the first classes of AIM were held in the Padre Faura campus of Ateneo. The organizers estimated they needed at least P5 million for the building. They thought that if the amount could come from one big donor, other donors would follow to cover other needs like faculty development, scholarships, endowed chairs and a library.
In July 1968, my father told the AIM proponents yes, he would fund the building. His only request was that the phrase “Eugenio Lopez Foundation” be made part of the AIM letterhead. It was not an unusual request because this was routine with foundations abroad donating to schools like Harvard.
True enough, my father’s donation unlocked more donations and soon other Filipino businessmen agreed to donate until they had 20 professorial chairs. My father also ended up donating more than P5 million because he also agreed to pay for AIM’s air conditioning and other facilities. Today, it would be worth at least P400-500 million to put up this same building. The construction took a year, and AIM’s building was completed in December 1969. The brass relief of my father is now on the wall of the lobby as a tribute to a principal benefactor.
There is a side story to the request of my father to have the name of the Eugenio Lopez Foundation on AIM’s stationery. During the martial law era, Malacanang asked AIM to remove the name “Eugenio Lopez” in exchange for significant financial awards. The board of trustees rejected the overture, and reiterated their pride in the association with my father.
A lot of things have happened over the last 42 years. AIM must have graduated over 30,000 students in its various course offerings. Its graduates have made names for themselves and have helped build up the reputation of their alma mater through these years. AIM itself won the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for International Understanding in recognition of its contribution to the region. It has also expanded beyond the strictly business courses to offer a Masters in Development Management that used business management methods for effectively running non profits. Our very own Gina Lopez, who has taken on the impossible task of cleaning up the Pasig River after reforesting La Mesa Dam, is among the proud holders of this degree.
Forty two years is a long time indeed. Today, we need to rededicate ourselves to the ideals that led my father and the institution’s early proponents to establish AIM. I see the needs in two areas: the physical and the spiritual not in the religious sense but in the spirit of excellence for which the institution was well known. The physical building is in need of refurbishing and this is why we are here today to offer our donation of P25 million to get the rehabilitation of the physical plant started. This is perhaps the easy part. In less than a year or so, we should have better looking and better functioning facilities.
Now comes the hard part for which we as a donor will need to depend on, and that is the leadership and execution abilities of the men and women who make up the management, faculty and staff of AIM. The institution is today faced with increased competition in a world revitalized by globalization and the rise of new emerging economies. For AIM to continue to exist in this kind of world, it must learn to compete as vigorously as it has trained its alumni to compete.
When I met AIM President DJ DeJesus last month, June 16th, to be more precise, he was candid enough to share with me the many strategic challenges AIM has been facing. Someone of DJ’s caliber , with his background both in government and the academe, and having served as Secretary of Education in 2002 to 2004, will no doubt be an asset for AIM. His sincerity and passion to bring AIM back to its enviable position in both the regional and global status a leader in education was really what impressed me. DJs task is no doubt a daunting one. To be competitive even in Asia, we have to be focused on once again being the bastion of excellence in business education in this part of the world. We need to reset our goals, review our values and reaffirm our commitment to the lofty ideals that are the reasons for being of this institution. As he himself has stated, “ the classic conundrum: is how to change and how much to change without losing ones identity”
And finally, now that AIM has a sizeable alumni base, it is time for those who have benefited from an AIM education to give back to the institution. Your institution needs you now… contributions of time and money would go a long way in revitalizing AIM. For our part in the Lopez Group, we remain committed to AIM. We will continue to support its various activities and needs. But it would be great if there was more bayanihan among the business sector and the alumni who are the beneficiaries of the training provided by AIM.
In closing, let me express my belief that we have a good thing going in AIM. Let us all continue to give the institution our wholehearted support, specially now when it needs that the most.
Good evening to all of you.