Today we commemorate 50 tumultuous years of our company’s history. When I think back about what Meralco Securities Corp. (later renamed FPH) has been through all these 5 decades I can’t help but be amazed that we’re still standing today. Or maybe it’s precisely because of that, that our company is tougher and stronger today than we have been in a long, long time.
I was born barely a month after our company MSC was formed. I remember my Mom always quipping that among my brothers and sisters I had the most shares because Lolo gifted me with a couple of hundred pesos more of MSC stocks just for being born that propitious year. I never knew what that meant because all I would see each year from those stocks were a nice looking pamphlet usually with my Lolo’s picture on the cover, called an annual report, with a nice Orange pencil with the Reddy Kilowatt logo on it. So I felt that it must have been a great company if it could afford to give all of us these nicely printed orange pencils every year.
At that very young age before I reached ten, I was oblivious to the fact that I was living at the time many considered MSC’s “golden age” where the strength of Meralco’s cashflows to MSC, after it had paid down a huge chunk of its acquisition debt by 1966, were now being put to work expanding into a slew of businesses that would in turn become vital pillars of the Philippine economy. During this period, as kids we would pass by the Meralco building in Ortigas Avenue at night and count the floors and lit windows to identify whether my dad’s office was lit, which meant he was still working late. More often than not, in this period during the late 60’s to early 70’s before 1972, he was. So we would pop into his office to chance if he’d be ready to come home. But during those times when he still needed some time to finish off, we would take it as an opportunity to play with Meralco’s sparkling new elevators. We would repeatedly head up to the Lighthouse and down to the ground floor, lighting up every touch sensitive button on the panel to the dismay of half‐smiling employees who I’m sure were in a rush to get home.
But this was a busy period for many, and as head of the newly formed but oddly named Department of Economic Research and Development of MSC, my dad and Tito Ernest Rufino were responsible for determining our expansion plans. They charted our entry into the country’s first and only oil products pipeline (MSIC), Philec, Pecco (which was the precursor to Ecco‐Asia and First Balfour) and lube oil manufacturer Philippine Petroleum Corp which during its heyday had a 98% share of the lube oil market in the Philippines. This was also a period when MSC amassed a controlling stake of 30% in PCIBank, then one of the country’s largest commercial banks. That was a strategic decision insisted on by Lolo and Alfredo Montelibano because controlling your own bank was necessary to finance the many expansion programs envisioned for MSC at the time. However, our world changed drastically in 1972, when Martial Law was declared and Dad and Mom sat us down at the dinner table revealing to us that government was seizing Meralco and Kokoy Romualdez, the First Lady’s brother, was taking over.
Subsequently, the new owners renamed it FPHC and later embarked on a massive diversification into failed ventures like oil exploration, coffee trading, financial services, credit cards and an ill‐timed tripling of Philec’s production capacity. To fund these efforts they took on considerable dollar‐denominated debts which later brought FPHC on the brink of collapse with the onset of the 1981 Dewey Dee crisis and the turbulence caused by the 1983 assassination of Ninoy Aquino. Many believe that were it not for the 86’ Edsa revolution FPHC would have gone bankrupt in a matter of months.
On my dad’s return in 1986, FPHC had been humbled and hollowed out to a mere fragment of what it had been when he left it. I still remember the days after the PCGG appointed him OIC of FPHC. There was nothing but gloomy news about what else needed to be sold to keep the company afloat and stabilize its finances. I was working elsewhere with Peter Garrucho at Motolite Batteries at the time but I recall visiting the First Philippine Holdings Building in Buendia and only remember it as a dark and quiet place somewhat in the throes of death. That’s why I recall getting goose bumps one time when Cedie came home telling us of one of her dear psychic friend’s having a vision of my dad walking thru a dark corridor, similar to the FPHC building at the time, but presiding over an FPHC that would grow and expand to be the (quote)“biggest part of your family empire”.
But if you saw my dad at work during those early days in ’86, you didn’t have to be a psychic to conjure up such a vision. There was nothing but optimism in his voice, his stride and his outlook. For him, after all had been taken away during the martial law years, he was feeling like someone with a second chance at life and he was not going to miss a single day relishing the challenge of helping rebuild a company and a country he had once thought he lost.
To stabilize FPHC, many of its key assets had to be sold: PCI Bank and Philippine Petroleum Corp. (shortly before our return in 1986), the 25% stake in Pilipinas Shell, and the FPHC building in Buendia. All those were sold surgically and clinically, without hesitation.
But after that was done we entered a new phase, that of searching for a new center of gravity—a new core business.
Our days in the wilderness searching for a new core saw us toying with agri and aquaculture: growing Prawns, Bangus and Asparagus in Negros, cut‐flowers in Bukidnon, trading tomatoes in Cagayan de Oro and even Onions in Nueva Ecija. Momentarily, even manufacturing 3.5 inch diskettes and leather handbags. We didn’t stay long with these ventures, however, and recognize our own share of missteps, but they taught us many precious, if not painful, lessons. For us they served as an invaluable training ground, provided we were honest enough to learn from our mistakes.
The point is, that journey has led us to a powerful and dazzling set of businesses that are well positioned to fill existing voids in the country today. But what’s more is that their potential to fill the needs of the future well into our next 50 years is even greater. I cannot even begin to express the excitement I have. But in getting to that future we must never lose sight of key Lopez Values that through time have had the power to guide us to where we are today. Namely, Business Excellence, Unity, Nationalism, Social Justice, Integrity and our overriding concern for Employee Welfare and Wellness.
But one key value stands out through the 50 years of FPHC and more than 80 years of the Lopez group. The fact that we have always been undaunted in the face of challenges and moved by a pioneering and entrepreneurial spirit. We have seen that throughout our history. In the move from Sugar to Electric Utilities, in our ability to establish the country’s first oil products pipeline and transformer manufacturing plant, in our shift from print media to broadcast, radio and cable TV, and Lolo’s transport ventures from buses to airlines. More recently, from oil‐fired power generation to the production of electricity from cleaner, indigenous sources. Not to mention our moves to supply the world’s best makers of Solar PV cells with first rate silicon wafers from First Philec. Our stage is being set to supply goods and services for a very demanding and competitive global market.
We take much of it for granted today but being a pioneer means the paradox of getting comfortable nudging ourselves outside our comfort zones and never being content with the status quo. It’s an attitude akin to the great explorers of old. Like Columbus sailing out in 1492 confident that great unseen lands lay beyond the Atlantic horizon. Or Lewis and Clark opening up the rest of North America west of the Mississippi with their great westward journey in 1803. Or even David Livingstone’s final journey exploring the darkest recesses of the African continent in search of the headwaters of the Nile.
Just a few weeks ago, I took Monina and Robert on a two‐week trip to South Africa, Zambia and Botswana. Whenever I visit a new country I like to read up as much as I can about its origins, history and its place in the world. I found it remarkable how old the continent is and how geologically stable it has been through time relative to any other place on earth. But what stunned me even more is what modern science is gradually uncovering about Africa and its role as the “cradle of mankind”. Many strands of evidence, fossil, genetic and linguistic, point persuasively to conclusions that every person on earth is descended from one of thirteen maternal lines, all of which have their origins in Africa. But even more intriguing is new genetic evidence that every non‐African person on earth, Australian, Chinese, European, Indian or Polynesian, can trace his or her roots back to a single maternal line that ventured to leave the shores of Africa 80,000 years ago. Those same genetic fingerprints further indicate that they left in one migration of just 80‐100 brave souls with their descendants subsequently populating the earth over the next 4,000 generations. It’s an intriguing theory that’s been getting stronger since it first came to light on the cover of Newsweek in 1988.
But I tell you this story and ask you to suspend any skepticism and disbelief for a moment. Imagine yourself as one of those 80 or 100 Homo Sapiens that were faced with a choice to stay, or go beyond where any human had been at the time. To face unknown dangers or maybe to reach some promised land. Surely a very disconcerting dilemma to say the least. But by choosing to pioneer and go beyond their known comfortable boundaries, they simply changed the course of the world forever.
As the wise wizard Dumbledore in Harry Potter’s Chamber of Secrets tells young Harry “It is not our abilities that determine who we are. It is our choices.”
Anyway, with that I’d like to wish all of us a happy and golden 50th year! Congratulations to us for making it this far. Let’s all work to give the people who will be around to celebrate our 100th anniversary some great pioneering achievements to celebrate then! Thank you and good afternoon.