Lopez Holdings

 

To bring this ceremony to a close, I’d like to congratulate all the winners of this year’s Lopez Achievement Awards. You may not be aware of it, but I thought you should know that the enthusiasm and passion that many of you have for your work inspires many of us at the top to take our companies to even greater heights.

Of course it’s gratifying to see many of our listed companies doubling their value in the last four years. This most especially after more than a decade of being handicapped by near crushing debt burdens at our various holding companies Lopez Holdings, FPH and First Gen. Today, we smile a bit more and enjoy a less nerve-­‐racking pace amidst both growth and a measure of stability.

Sometimes, right in the middle of one of my tranquil moments, the words of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche float by where he reminds me that: “Everyone who enjoys thinks the principal thing to a tree is the fruit, but in point of fact the principal thing to it is the seed. – Herein lies the difference between those that create and those that enjoy.” And then I remember the words of our Chairman Emeritus who admonishes us to create a company that will be built to last more than 400 years into the future.

Seven years ago while I was on a trip in Spain, I visited the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. This architecturally impressive church building began construction in 1882, primarily the brainchild of the brilliant Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi. Until his death on the construction site in 1926, Gaudi spent 43 years of his life working on this single project. The Basilica was envisioned to have three grand facades with sculptures respectively representing the human life of Christ namely the Nativity, Passion and Glory. The main feature of the structure is its eighteen massive spires representing the twelve apostles, four evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), the Virgin Mary and the tallest spire representing Jesus Christ. The latter, planned to be 170 meters high, would make it the tallest church structure in the world when erected.

What’s amazing about the Sagrada Familia, however, is that it’s been under construction for the last 130 years. At the time of his death Gaudi had seen his masterpiece only 15-­‐25% completed. Since then a succession of more than 5 lead architects have taken over the work, with an army of dozens of other designers and sculptors attempting to interpret and be true to his original vision. To date only 8 of the 18 massive spires and just 2 of the 3 facades have been erected. The Glory facade was just begun in 2002 and has yet to be completed. It’s also quite known that construction of the church was never funded by government or official church sources but mostly by private patrons and tourist donations. Although the church was originally thought by Gaudi to be accomplished over several hundred years, with the advent of computer aided design and modern engineering methods, they now expect completion by 2026. When asked why construction would take so long, Gaudi quipped that being the house of God, “I know my client is not in a hurry.”

It’s fascinating how a single vision can energize someone to work on one project all his life despite knowing he will never see it fully completed. Yet in doing so, he leaves behind a legacy that empowers generations to continue building the dream with the same relentless intensity. So, in much the same way, if we want to build a company that will last the next 400 years, what do we need to do?

Whenever I look for the answers to this question, my thoughts go back to a movie I saw maybe thirty or forty years back. I’m not sure if any of you still remember the film Viva Zapata, the story of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata portrayed by Marlon Brando in 1952. The movie was fictional-­‐biographical and based on a book by John Steinbeck which romanticized Zapata somewhat. In real life he fought for the idea of giving land to the landless peasant Indians of Mexico. In the scene where a group of peasant farmers ask for his help restraining his brother who had turned abusive and corrupt, he utters some lines that I still remember today: “You always look for leaders, strong men without faults. There aren’t any. There are only men like yourselves. They change. They desert. They die. There are no leaders but yourselves. A strong people is the only lasting strength.”… Shortly thereafter, gunshots ring out, his brother is killed and he says “I’ll take him home now.” In yet another unguarded moment, he utters the famous line: “A strong leader makes a weak people. A strong people don’t need a leader.”

I recall this story not because I espouse dealing with your corrupt relatives in this way, but for the insights Zapata’s character brings towards creating a world-­‐class company that will be relevant for centuries to come. Much the same conclusions are reached by landmark studies articulated by Jim Collins in his books Built to Last and Good To Great when he discusses Level 5 leaders who create long-­‐lasting great companies. In his words, Level 5 leaders “build enduring greatness with a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will. They channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company.” In a nutshell, companies with Level 5 leadership ENABLE and EMPOWER their people to do great things such that when all is said and done they say, “we did it ourselves.”

Proud as we are of our heritage and legacy, the future of our companies cannot be solely dependent on the ability of the Lopez family to produce bright and capable offspring. That’s too dicey a proposition over the next 400 years. As Gabby mentions in his closing remarks at our last budget planning conference, we do not want to see a glass ceiling for non-­‐Lopezes in any of our companies and most especially do not wish to create an atmosphere of entitlement among future generations of family members. Nothing could be more toxic for our future than that. We must have the capacity to nurture and harness the best talent for our companies, whether they be family or professionals. Even more importantly, they must have the capacity to collaborate and work together. There will be no room for silos and fiefdoms where we are going.

Today at FPH, everything we’ve been doing for the last two years has centered around three themes: Strategic Clarity, Synergy and Talent-­‐ Centricity. We’ve got to be decisive about how we’re each positioned strategically, and where we’re going, we must work together, and we must always be conscious of attracting the best who are in sync with our values, as well as nurturing and empowering talent across all our organizations to make that future happen.

But just as a car runs faster, smoother and on less energy when its wheels are in perfect alignment, organizations and people also perform seamlessly when their feelings, thoughts, goals and values are aligned. Our Chairman Emeritus this past year launched the Lopez Credo and Values that emphasize tenets such as Pioneering Entrepreneurial Spirit, Business Excellence, Nationalism, Social Justice, Unity, Integrity and Employee Welfare and Wellness -­‐-­‐-­‐ not just because they sound nice, but because these are the same values that saw us through our turbulent history, and will also likely be the same ones that will guide us into our next 400 years. Without them an organization can easily lose its way with the passage of time.

For newcomers to our group of companies these may look like mere decorative, feel-­‐good type of words. But I can say that whether we’re conscious of them or not, the power these words have on us can never be underestimated.

Let me tell you a story about something that happened a few years ago. We never really talked about it much after it happened but it illustrates how those seven values influence decisions that shape our companies.

Sometime in 2008-­‐2009, our group’s financial problems were at its height, crippling debt was everywhere and we were simultaneously dealing with restructuring Lopez Holdings debt, as well as refinancing First Gas Sta. Rita to fund our acquisition of EDC. It was also about that time when the US0 Million loan FPH incurred to bring us up to a defensible veto power stake in Meralco was heading for default without any visible means to service it. The global financial crisis was already in full swing and a hostile Arroyo administration was taking full advantage of our weakness -­‐-­‐-­‐ using every instrument it had at its disposal to harass us, keep us off-­‐balance, and come in for the kill when the time was right. I still remember Boo Chanco and Danny Gozo commenting at our meetings that they had never seen such a relentless onslaught before; clearly the marks of a head-­‐on clash with city hall. For many of us looking back at those days, we know the feeling of a wounded animal fighting off vultures and predators that smell death. It’s not something you easily forget.

It also became clear to us at that aside from the spoils, what the administration wanted most, heading into the very crucial 2010 election, was the ability to neutralize and even control media, in particular ABS-­CBN.

After the meeting was over, I remember Gabby and I just looking at each other for a few seconds and I sort of knew we were thinking the same thoughts. Till finally he blurted out “Lolo would never approve,my dad would never do this. I would never be able to face them and live with myself if I did it.” In just that few seconds it took to make that decision, I could see all those seven values coming into play whether we were conscious of them or not. At that point it was absolutely clear to both of us where true north was. We didn’t even have to think hard about it. Of course, it resulted in us having to fight many hard battles as a consequence of not taking the easy road, but sometimes that’s what those values mean.

In more ways than one I see Gabby and even Gina, through all her tireless advocacies, both holding themselves responsible and accountable to those they respect, even way after they have gone. To understand why this happens, I always think back of the words of former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli where he reminds us that: “The legacy of heroes is the memory of a great name and the inheritance of a great example.”

For all of us here today, our work is to set the stage for an FPH, ABS and Lopez group that can become like Emiliano Zapata’s “strong people” and will last the next 400 years through a legacy so powerful that, just like Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia and many of the great cathedrals of Europe, it compels those that come after us to continue building on that dream.

Thank you very much and a pleasant evening to all of you.

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CONTACT US

Lopez Holdings Corporation (formerly Benpres Holdings Corporation)
4/F Benpres Building, Exchange Road, 1605 Pasig City, Philippines

  • Trunkline: (632) 449-2345
  • Fax: (632) 634-3009