Fellow Executives and Staff Members of the Lopez Group of Companies, Good afternoon to all of you.
We gather together every year, as we have done so for the past eight years, to honor those among us, individuals, teams and companies alike, who are able to demonstrate excellence, above and beyond what could normally be expected, in the performance of their businesses or assigned tasks. I enjoy these occasions and I never tire of them, because it is our way, however modest and humble, of personally thanking you for your effort and dedication.
Sometimes, I think about why we started these awards and why we have constantly demanded a commitment to excellence from our companies and from our people. In that connection, I’d like to share a little story with those of you whom I have not had a chance to share it with in the past.
More than ten years ago, I was told that I needed to have a heart by-pass and that I would unnecessarily risk heart failure and an early death if I did not submit myself to this procedure. Mind you, there is never such a thing as a late death; death always comes early to those who love life. Once I got over the shock of hearing this prognosis, I sat down, as I always do, and carefully thought out my options. I decided that I did not want to subject myself to major heart surgery, because often, major surgeries weaken you and start you down the slippery slope to chronic poor health. On the other hand, I could not not do anything, because in my situation then, I was already on the slippery slope to poor health. So I decided that I would take the only other option open to me, and that was, to make myself well and strong so that a bypass, or any other major invasive procedure, would not be considered necessary.
In the aftermath of this very deliberate decision, I stopped smoking. I started a very active and vigorous exercise regime, something that I maintain even today. I got myself on a healthy diet, not necessarily denying myself anything, but I did impose healthy eating habits on myself. I also started taking vitamin supplements to augment whatever natural vitamins and minerals I was taking in with my food. Gradually, I did strengthen myself and I have now reached the ripe age of 81 without need of a cardiac bypass. And it is well that I did so, because I did not expect to have to take over headship of the entire Lopez Group of Companies when my brother Geny so unexpectedly passed away at such a premature stage of his vigorous life. And I did not expect the stresses of having to navigate our businesses through such troubled waters, first the Asian financial crisis and the collapse of the dot.com bubble, then a period of global recession, the unwanted attention of a hostile administration, the hostile takeover bid for Meralco, and the resultant liquidity squeeze that we had to weather for a couple of years. In my condition before I consciously decided to strengthen myself, there is no way I would have survived the stresses and strains of the past ten years. I would have been dead by now, of that, I have no doubt.
But I did get healthy, and having done so, I was able to prepare myself to take on the challenges of leading our businesses. Even better, I was able to indulge in another passion of mine, that of climbing mountains. I have climbed every major peak in the Philippines that there is to climb, and most recently, I succeeded in climbing to the summit of Mt. Kinabalu in Sabah, the tallest mountain peak in Southeast Asia. Now, I can even entertain dreams of climbing to the Mt. Everest base camp at an altitude of 18,000 feet. Impossible, some might comment. Improbable, others might contend. I don’t have to listen to them because I know I can.
When we pursue excellence in the way that we manage and conduct our businesses, we often do not know how our efforts will be rewarded. Even the very act of measuring excellence and on improving what we have constantly endeavored to improve on for years and years feels like an impossible and thankless task sometimes. What is important to understand, however, is that excellence is not an end in itself and, therefore, excellence can neither be defined nor contained in a finite, numerical, target. Rather, excellence is preparation. It is the act of getting healthy and physically strong as a business organization and as individuals within the organization, so that we are ready to compete for any opportunities that may arise and against any opposition, however strong, that may stand in our way. It is the act of gaining the strength and resilience to enable us to weather any adversity and to surmount any obstacles that we might have to face. But most of all, excellence is the act of building confidence in ourselves, that we can aspire for heights that others around us would not even consider possible, knowing deep down that we do so because we can. That, my fellow employees, is why we demand excellence from all of you.
I extend my personal congratulations to all those whom we honor with awards this afternoon, with my hopes that you will continue your excellent work.
Thank you, and enjoy the rest of the afternoon.