When the great Painter Pablo Picasso was a child, his mother early on recognized the passion he brought to almost everything he did, she would say to him: “If you become a soldier, you’ll be a general, if you become a monk you’ll end up as the pope.” Of course he later said “Instead, I became a painter and wound up as Picasso”. In him she recognized that the most powerful force on earth is a “human soul on fire”.
Today with the Lopez Group Business Excellence Awards, we seek to recognize many of you who have brought that same passion for excellence to the many everyday challenges we face as we journey on together. Many of these, until now, may have been acts of discreet and quiet leadership in your daily work and I’m glad that you’ve chosen to share these achievements with the rest of the Lopez group.
Throughout our group’s history, a pioneering entrepreneurial spirit has always driven us toward realizing many trailblazing accomplishments in the country. I myself am proud to have been a part of one from start to finish almost 17 years ago. That involvement of course was the Santa Rita and San Lorenzo Power plants and the keystone role these plants played in the Philippine Natural Gas Project. At a total price tag of US$ 5 Billion, the PNGP was rightly dubbed the largest single industrial undertaking in the Philippines for the 20th century. The project required 2,700 Megawatts of power plants to be financed and built in lockstep with the development of the Camago‐Malampaya gas field which at the time was one of the deepest, technically most difficult gas finds in the world. It practically required a near‐simultaneous closing of numerous multibillion dollar contracts such as the Gas Sale and Purchase Agreements, Power Purchase Agreements, EPC Turnkey contracts, Liquid fuel backup purchase agreements, DOF undertakings and Financing agreements. The counterparties ranged from NPC, First Philippine Holdings, British Gas, Meralco, Kepco, Shell, Occidental Petroleum, Enron, Siemens, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and more than 30‐50 local and foreign banks and sovereign export credit agencies just to name a few. The undertaking was just slightly less complicated than trying to herd a bunch of cats. However, upon completion, it ushered in the use of indigenous and clean natural gas for the country utilizing the world’s most advanced gas‐fired generating plants. For many of us involved at the outset, it was a golden opportunity to deal with and learn from many of the world’s best companies and consultants.
But being a pioneering entrepreneur isn’t just about passion and boldness. It’s even more about preparation, attention to detail, a fair dose of caution and, most especially, good execution. The US Navy flyers that land on aircraft carriers have a motto that “there are no old, bold pilots”. They know only too well that audacity without good execution and planning ends in death.
There’s an amusing story Giles Puno, Ricky Tantoco and Nonoy Ibanez often recall when we need a chuckle. Sometime in 1998 as we were pulling the gas projects together, we sat down with my dad to present the numbers of what these gas projects could do for FPHC’s bottom‐line by the year 2000 if we executed them properly. One slide I clearly remember was FPHC’s rank in Businessworld’s Top 1000 at the time being something like number 513. What visibly irked many in the room was the fact that we were tailing behind companies like Tropical Hut Food Mart and Andok’s Chicken! The point of the slide was we could correct this when the gas projects came on stream by year 2000. I’ve never really wanted to check that fact since then, but I hope by now we’ve at least surpassed Andok’s chicken.
Despite this competitive streak, however, one crucial point I will never forget is that we weren’t driven primarily by the need for profit and a hefty bottom‐line. What propelled us was a desire to build something bigger than we were, ignited by a passion to blaze new trails for the country. It was that kind of pride and sense of mission that got us rushing out of bed every morning fueled with enough energy to last a 12‐ 14 hour work day. Our offices were in the windowless middle area of FPHC’s 4th floor so we were never conscious of what time it was. As a team, we tackled every challenge and difficulty that came our way. Nothing was too big, or too small. We lived on buckets of coffee, Au Bon Pain sandwiches, oatmeal cookies and chocolate croissants; we gained a lot of weight and racked up elevated cholesterol levels because nothing else in the world mattered but the project. We were still in our 30’s and felt we could afford to abuse our bodies. Of course, if we were to do it all again today we would advocate something more attuned to our Chairman Emeritus who always reminds us of our concern for employee health and wellness. Years later, I personally had to make an abrupt diet and lifestyle change to shed more than 20 pounds and bring my health parameters back to normal. Nevertheless, at the time we were happy beyond a doubt, and those fires forged working comradeships that remain as strong and as sharp as a sword’s edge to this day.
I fondly recall all these because running through those gauntlets successfully opened new doors and presented us with many opportunities that have transformed the Lopez group into what it is today. I’m reminded of what educator and political reformer John Gardner said in the mid‐60’s: “Everyday we are all faced with a series of great opportunities ‐ brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems.”
Today we highlight those who combine passion and good execution to turn those seemingly insoluble problems into great opportunities of their own. I do hope that listening to their stories moves and inspires all of us on our shared journey to excellence.