Fellow Officers and Employees of First Holdings, Honored Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen.
It is my great pleasure to welcome you to the 50th anniversary celebration of our company and would like all of you to know that I help celebrate our 50th anniversary by climbing Mt. Kinabalu, the highest peak in Southeast Asia.
Fifty years ago today, our corporation was established under its original name, Meralco Securities Corporation. The charter papers were drawn up by then Atty. Jovito Salonga. There were 605 initial investors who paid in P22.5 Million in subscriptions, an unprecedented amount in 1961. (Mrs. Lydia Santos Fullon, who is with us here this afternoon, took receipt of, and meticulously recorded, those initial contributions at the time.) Incidentally, Mrs. Fullon is now 93 years of age, 3 years older than Wash Sycip, from all your friends here we are wishing you a happy birthday and hope you reach 100, if not more. The other person I would like to greet is Jake Almeda-Lopez, who celebrated his 83rd birthday 2 days ago. I would like you to know that Jake was one of those who accompanied me to the First Holdings office when I decided to take the company back shortly after the EDSA Revolution. But to get back to our story, there were 14 incorporators in Meralco Securities Corp., namely, Eugenio Lopez, Sr., Rafael Anton, Salvador Araneta, Antonio Delgado, Senen Gabaldon, Emilio Gonzales LaO, Ricardo Ledesma, Alfredo Montelibano, Ernesto Oppen, Ernesto Rufino, Jose Soriano, Dolores Paterno Tuason and Roberto Villanueva. In the first organizational meeting that followed, Alfredo Montelibano was elected Chairman of the Board and my father, Eugenio Lopez, Sr., was elected President.
There were very specific reasons why the corporation was formed. In normal circumstances, it would probably not have been formed because, until that point in time, my father customarily invested in a business as a proprietor or co-proprietor, along with his brother and lifetime partner Fernando, owning a clear majority in the business. If he needed other partners, he would turn to a very short list of trusted friends and business associates. Forming large, public corporations was not yet his way at the time.
However, the historic purchase of Meralco was no ordinary transaction. Meralco was, at the time, the largest company in the Philippines, serving more than 360,000 customers. It had always been American owned and managed since 1903. Its acquisition would entail a purchase price of US Million, an amount unheard of at the time in the Philippines. Because of Meralco’s sensitive political nature as a public utility, a broadly-held, public corporation would have to be proposed as the acquiring party. Neither the Philippine government, nor the US Securities and Exchange Commission, nor the syndicates of international and local banks who would have to underwrite the transaction, would have approved the acquisition of a utility as important as Meralco by just a single individual or by narrow interests.
And so, Meralco Securities Corporation was formed, with the Lopez brothers owning only about 33% of its shares. It was precedent-setting in so many ways, for the country, for Philippine business and for the Lopez Family. What followed over the next ten years, was a period of unprecedented growth, profitability and service that we fondly speak of as “golden years”. But unfortunately, this golden period was devastated by martial law.
When I was asked to return to First Philippine Holdings after the 1986 EDSA Revolution, First Philippine Holdings was virtually bankrupt and bleeding with debt – but slowly and with much persistence we have managed to rebuild to where it is today.
If I were to choose just a few of the underpinnings of our birth as a corporation that made it so remarkable, then I would choose the following:
First, it affirmed the Filipino’s confidence and courage to be entrepreneurial and to think and act big. Of course, there were very few such individuals then and my father was one of them. But around him, there were a few others who could think and act big, individuals like Roberto Villanueva and Alfredo Montelibano, and their faith and support were needed for the Meralco acquisition to happen.
Second, it heralded the rise of the Filipino manager. Prior to the historic Filipinization of Meralco, all large, vital companies were in the hands of westerners, a by-product of our colonial history. Until Meralco came under Philippine control, the Filipino manager, with very few exceptions, served in a subordinate capacity under an expatriate boss. Meralco Securities Corporation and Meralco, which were to be regarded as synonymous in those early, heady, years, opened the floodgates for the wave of acquisitions of major businesses by Filipinos that followed, and for the rise of the Filipino managerial class.
Third, it marked the beginning of a tradition, a legacy, a history, call it what you will, that has today become our greatest treasure. And it is by listening to our past talk to us, by acquainting ourselves with our own corporate history and heroes that we stand to enjoy and benefit from this treasure that we have.
We have, for example, the ingredients that have enabled us to survive and prosper over fifty years. Our values are time-tested: honesty, integrity and loyalty; an entrepreneurial spirit, courage, hard work, nationalism, teamwork, and beyond mere teamwork, being part of a corporate family. The care and compassion with which we regard our people and our customers. Our credibility and reputation. They form the core of the Credo and Values that we have just recited. We’ve been pushed to the brink of disaster, not once, but several times. Each time, we have had the fortitude, born of our values, to fight back.
We have also learned other valuable lessons from our first 50 years of existence. That sometimes, we have to take a stand in defending our values and principles, no matter the risk or cost. And that we should never forget those whom we really serve and to whom we should be loyal, our customers and society at large. At the end of the day, business is not, first and foremost, about money or profit. We have learned that important lesson over fifty years and that lesson has been articulated in no uncertain terms by those who have preceded us, notably by my father and my elder brother. Business is about serving society in ways that are invaluable to society. For companies who are able to do that, the money and profits will naturally follow.
If we listen carefully, if we are discerning, then the future also talks to us and tells us what it is looking for. The words I hear are that it is time for the Filipino and for Filipino companies to shine in a global context. Some of our artists, like Lea Salonga, have already done so. Some of our athletes, like Manny Pacquiao, have also done so. Now, it is our turn to do so as well, and we are beginning to make our mark internationally, in mass media with ABS-CBN, in the geothermal and solar power sectors. I also hear that good is not good enough. Sometimes, it upsets me to note that we seem to behave like a mendicant society, where everyone expects the best, but is not prepared to pay the true price of what he or she seeks. Therefore, we produce and sell, or are willing to settle for something that is mediocre instead. Well, that simply is not good enough. We cannot calibrate our businesses to a standard that is mediocre. To the contrary, we must aspire to deliver world-class products and services to our markets, and find a way to make them affordable to as many people as possible. We did this with North Luzon Express (NLEX) and we have done this with the cleanest, greenest power plants currently operating in the country. We must demand of ourselves, that we do it in any business endeavor that we take on. Finally, the words I hear are that there is great business and economic potential in the Philippines itself, but that we must empower the poor by getting them out of poverty. We do this, first, by being model a corporate citizen, by paying our taxes properly, by totally rejecting graft and corruption and by being responsible and prudent custodians of the resources entrusted to us. We do this by giving our consumers the best bang for their peso, by ensuring the best quality possible for the products and services that we provide. And finally, we do this by addressing our CSR programs to activities that can meaningfully reduce poverty and dependence, such as education, environmental care and healthcare. These, collectively, are what make up the challenge that we face over our next fifty years.
I doubt that many of us gathered here today will still be around when our company celebrates its 100th anniversary. Be assured, however, that when they celebrate the first centennial of First Holdings in the year 2061, it will largely be because of what those of you who are here today will have accomplished over the coming years and decades. Good luck in that journey and stay faithful to our history and traditions.
Finally, I thank all of you my faithful employees for the faith, friendship and support that you have constantly gifted me in the close to 25 years that I have served as your Chairman and CEO. I look forward to doing my utmost to serve you as your Chairman Emeritus for as long as you will have me, as a senior statesman of the Corporation, perhaps, and certainly as custodian of our history, traditions and values. Thank you.
Can I now have our 2 birthday celebrants – Wash Sycip and Jake Almeda-Lopez – to please come to the stage.