Officers and Staff of the Asian Institute of Management, and in particular, of the Ramon V. del Rosario, Sr. Center For Corporate Social Responsibility, Officers and Members of the Junior Chamber International Philippines, more familiarly known as the Jaycees, Honorable Members of the Board of Judges of the Ramon V. Del Rosario Award for Nation Building, headed by former Supreme Court Justice Artemio Panganiban, Other Honored Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen.
A very good evening to all of you.
You have chosen me as recipient of the Ramon V. Del Rosario Award for Nation Building, citing my achievements demonstrated over several decades of professional and entrepreneurial work, and most notably for my commitment to social responsibility. I humbly and gratefully accept this honor that you have extended to me. I hope you are not giving me this award because I was successful in climbing Mt. Kinabalu in Borneo.
All kidding aside, I would like to thank the Asian Institute of Management and the Junior Chamber International Philippines for considering me worthy of this unique honor. While I have never been a Jaycee, it seems that we are kindred spirits, for this is the third time that I am being recognized by them. In 2009, the JCI Senate together with Insular Life also conferred upon me its TOFIL award. And, in June of this year, I also received a JCI-Pinoy Icon Award for Media in Iloilo City. In particular, I would like to thank the members of the Board of Judges headed by retired Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban, again for considering me worthy of this honor. Peer recognition is often the hardest to earn, and because of that, it is the most cherished form of recognition. I would also like to thank the Del Rosario Family, who has done so much to promote responsible commerce and governance in the Philippines for more than half a century.
As I look back on my career from the vantage point of semi-retirement, I tend to view it in three phases. The first phase covered about ten years, from the time I returned from my post-graduate studies at Harvard, first to The Manila Chronicle as its publisher, and then to Meralco Securities Corporation, now First Philippine Holdings Corporation, as head of its Economic Research and Development Unit which was responsible during my time for expanding the franchise area covered by Meralco, for establishing the first electric transformer factory in the country, and for laying down the first black and white oil pipeline in the country, extending from the Shell refinery in Batangas to Metro Manila. The second phase consisted of fourteen years of virtual exile during the martial law period when Marcos and his cronies took over most of the assets of the Lopez group. During this period I kept myself busy by researching and writing the history of the Lopez Family. The third phase began in 1986 when, following the EDSA Revolution, I returned to head a virtually bankrupt First Holdings and to nurse it back to financial health. I suppose you could say that the past twenty five years since 1986 have constituted the bulk of my life’s work, for which I am being honored here today.
What we tried to do over that period, my siblings and I, was to reconstruct what had been taken from our family and destroyed during martial law. We felt very strongly that the businesses our father had originally created were worth preserving, even if we had to rebuild them from scratch, brick by brick, all over again. Eugenio Lopez, Sr. demanded the best of his businesses, because he felt that the Filipino people deserved only the best. That philosophy or tradition is something that we have tried to honor, preserve and enrich over our own lives’ work. It is a tradition that we have passed down to the next generation of Lopezes, and one that we fully expect them to honor, preserve and enrich before they, in turn, pass it on to succeeding generations. It is hoped that the Lopez Group of Companies will still be around a few centuries from now. It is something we have come to call “The Lopez Way” and it is a tradition embodied in the Lopez Credo and Values that each and every member of the Lopez Group must take to heart.
To a great extent, we have succeeded in our reconstruction job. We were able to rebuild ABS-CBN and return it to its accustomed role as leader in broadcast media, a leadership that we have also been able to extend to cable TV. More important perhaps, we have been able to project the reach of Philippine television to Filipinos all over the globe through The Filipino Channel. We were able to regain management control of Meralco even though only 15% of the ownership of Meralco was actually restored to us. During the time my brother Manolo served Meralco as its Chief Executive Officer, Meralco returned to profitability and it began to approach the levels of operating efficiency that it had achieved during its golden years before martial law. Beyond these businesses, we expanded, not always successfully, into other areas like telecommunications, water distribution, tollroad construction and operation, industrial park and commercial real estate development.
Today, we preside over a complex of businesses that, I feel, enable us continue to assert that we are truly in the service of the Filipino. In ABS-CBN, we have the market leader in traditional broadcast media, but also a company poised to launch the country into broadband digital media. That is the entertainment and money-making side of the business. However, we also remain as committed as ever to deliver to all Filipino people the truth, and nothing but the truth, in the news that we report, the stories that we feature and the commentaries that we project. That side of the business may not always be money-making; indeed, it often invites retaliation or disfavor upon our other businesses, particularly those that are regulated by the government. But it remains the principal reason why we are in media. At First Holdings, we have assembled a core of the cleanest and greenest electric power generating assets in the country today. We have staked our future in geothermal, hydroelectric and solar power business, fully recognizing that clean and renewable sources of energy will be key to our preserving a livable environment for Filipinos of the future.
We also recognize that to be in business in the service of the Filipino people in this modern era, it is not enough to be merely a producer of goods and services. No business can prosper in a barren desert. It is our responsibility, particularly where the state has limited resources, or where there is absence of political will, to contribute to the development and wellbeing of our environment. To educating our people. To providing them channels by which they can escape from the clutches of poverty. To protecting our ecology. And to promoting proper governance. And why not? All of these also make good business sense. By contributing to the development and wellbeing of our social environment, we ensure the development and wellbeing of our markets and ultimately of our own companies.
It was my father Eugenio who articulated this social philosophy for the Lopez Group of Companies in a speech he gave to the business community when he won the Businessman of the Year award in 1964. In that speech, he said: “we sincerely believe that a greater proportion of the earnings accrued from business should be returned to the people whether they are in the form of foundations, grants, scholarships, hospitals or any other form of social welfare benefits. We consider this a sound policy and good investment, which in the long run will pay off because it will mean more business and goodwill for the company and would minimize if not prevent social unrest and disorder.” Close quote.
How prescient these words were, encapsulating the essence of what we now today call corporate social responsibility decades before we even heard of the term CSR.
Today, we have 7 Lopez foundations doing work in the fields of education, environment, livelihood, health and wellness, corporate philanthropy and all these work is coordinated by an entity called the Lopez Group Foundation, Inc.
When we talk about the Lopez philosophy in business, it is essentially the concept of stewardship that is involved. In other words, we are not really owners but just stewards of our companies and we are here in this life to see how we can improve on these companies so we can hand them down to the next generation in better shape than when we found them.
Doing things “The Lopez Way” has never been easy. We have always dared to be pioneers. We stick to a high ethical standard, no matter what. We call things as we see them and as they are, no matter the risk or cost to our businesses. It had always been thus with my father; it will always be so with us. We invest in the Philippines for the benefit of Filipinos. And now, even as we invest modestly overseas, we do so in order to bring the Philippines closer to the Filipinos who have had to go abroad to seek job opportunities. We espouse a brand of nationalism and define the term to mean whatever is good and best for our country. That means that we oppose whatever is not good for our country, most of all graft, corruption and the abuse of power. We also rail against what we regard as the philosophy of entitlement, or the “policy of mendicancy”, as the late, great Senator Claro M. Recto called it. We are not entitled just by the mere fact of being around. Whatever we are and whatever we make of ourselves will have to be earned by our own hard work, determination, discipline and self-sacrifice.
For the past twelve years, since my brother Geny passed away, I have been the captain of the Lopez ship, the custodian of our values. If you honor me today, then I believe that it is because I have remained steadfast and faithful to our values, and that I have demanded that we live our corporate lives by them. In honoring me, therefore, you also honor my father, my brothers, and all the men and women of the Lopez businesses who have preceded us, and the all the men and women of the Lopez businesses today.
When we embark on our professional or entrepreneurial careers, we often start out with modest dreams even though we do so with the absolute conviction that we could, if we wanted, conquer the world so to speak. We all want to succeed, yes, and we all want to prosper; but it is also natural to initially be somewhat awed by the future that confront us.
This is one reason why I have decided that the time was ripe for me to step down from the Chairmanship. Now, I can contribute from a position allowing me more time to figure out how the Lopez Group can best compete against the formidable rivals in the new businesses we have chosen to enter. But at this point, we have some time to savor what we have achieved and to plan for new mountains to conquer.
Those of you who have experienced reaching a mountain summit would know the exhilaration it brings. The majestic views are a reward to be enjoyed. For adventurous souls, the greater sense of fulfillment comes from looking back, and remembering the many difficulties we had encountered and overcome.
We cannot, however, wallow in self-congratulation. After looking back, we must now look up, and start the trek anew. Undaunted and unbowed, let’s move on to conquer taller, if more perilous, peaks. There is too much poverty, sickness, ignorance and injustice. We have a long way to go and many more mountains to climb.
So for now, let me say again to all of you, thank you for the award, a very good evening to all.