Perpetuo De Claro, MBM 1973

On March 3, a minute and 50 seconds into his acceptance speech as a Triple A awardee of the Asian Institute of Management (AIM), Perpetuo “Boy” de Claro did the unexpected. Announcing that he still had 10 seconds left in his two-minute speech, he decided right then and there to pledge a million pesos to the alumni’s scholarship fund. Not surprisingly, this brought the house down.

When later asked why he did it, the president and general manager of Wyeth Philippines (MBA 1973) had a simple answer: “It was a knee-jerk reaction, but I was moved by the events that evening. As AIM alumni, we need to have a heart for this institution. I believe AIM has a lot to contribute to the country. It was my little way of helping the institution, of giving back.”

It’s easy to see why Mr. de Claro was chosen as one of three winners of the alumni achievement award for 2006. Recognized as one of the country’s best marketing executives today, he led three multi-national companies to their golden ages—Colgate-Palmolive Philippines from 1976 to 1982, Johnson & Johnson Philippines from 1989 to 1998, and Wyeth Philippines from 2001 up to the present.

He is also a model of corporate social responsibility. Along with other members of Couples for Christ, he initiated a pilot project for the poor in Bagong Silang, which eventually led to the church group’s Gawad Kalinga mission. Mr. de Claro also led some friends in forming Operation Big Brother, which continues to provide quality education to deserving public high school students. Teaming up with La Salle Greenhills, the program now covers six schools and has 500 scholars.

On March 22, I spoke with Mr. de Claro in his spacious Makati office and asked about the miniature boat models displayed there. “I actually get seasick,” he laughed, adding that the appeal for him comes from what a boat or ship represents: working with a team to reach a far-off destination amidst the changing conditions of the sea.

Congratulations for winning AIM’s alumni achievement award. What are your thoughts after this win? Were you surprised that you won, or did you feel that this was bound to happen?

Winning the Triple A award elicits several emotions simultaneously. Of course, you feel proud of this affirmation, especially of those major activities by which you decide to define your life and persona. Then there’s the pride of being recognized by an institution you respect and love.

You also feel humbled by the fact that your accomplishments are mostly done with the help and guidance of many others. Finally, you recall, in appreciation and gratitude, the love and encouragement of your loved ones who continue to inspire you to be the best you can be.

What qualities and achievements of yours do you suppose made AIM choose you as an awardee?

I’d like to believe that our work in providing the best of our poor students with the best high school education was a tipping point. Perhaps we do best when we do as much as we can for our poor brethren. I believe other considerations helped, like always seeking and eliciting excellence and passion in people and organizations, and not settling for good but going for the dream, always going for number one.

I also go for results and performance. In the end, we’re measured not only by how we have moved organizations and people, but also by how these have resulted in excellent business performance.

How did you start out in this field? Was there a specific person or incident that made you decide early on to choose business management as your path?

In terms of our work in education, I truly believe it’s a great leveler. We can’t waste a great mind. Providing our talented but poor students with the best possible education, if done on a more comprehensive and widespread basis, will be instrumental in lifting our country from the morass it is in. It might take a couple of generations, but we have to start now.

In terms of my career, what started me off was a determination in my college life that I can be among the best, and that to be so, I must badly dream and strive hard to be the best. That has been my orientation in my work life: to strive for number one for our company, our brands, and our people. My father often said you should be number one in a Roman village rather than number two in Rome.

Aside from leading three multi-national companies to their golden ages, you’re known for your commitment to corporate social responsibility. What is the role of the business sector in uplifting the lives of their fellow Filipinos in need?

I believe that people, not only the business sector, have the obligation to be as good as they can be; to help others, like your associates, be as good as they can be; and to create a world within your ambit of influence to be the best it can be—whether it’s your family, friends, or company.

I don’t dabble too much in political affairs for there is little, if any, I can do there. But I try to be the best father, husband, Wyeth president, best whatever I can be. I try to positively affect what’s within my ambit of influence.

What makes a good business manager? How do you work with your colleagues and employees to get the best results from them and to form a strong organization?
I passionately believe that a good business manager must fully and acutely realize that people are the most important assets of any organization. They—with the efficient and productive use of all company resources and assets—are responsible for creating and enhancing a company’s health and wealth.

This realization, that people are the best resources, has profound implications. We have to nurture and reward this resource, as well as train and develop it. We have to make sure this resource is happy where he or she is, and that they’re not costs to lop off at the first sign of a crunch. Also, the training and development funds for them are not the second item to get rid off at the first sign of a crunch. I would rather cut down on marketing. Finally, as we all do, they like to be treated well—not spoiled, not tortured.

What principles do you live by that you think have contributed to your success?

My first and foremost principle is to always live and act on the basis of principles. Doing so will ensure that you are not whimsical or arbitrary. The second is the golden rule, how you serve others well, like your family, friends, and company. The third is to enjoy what you’re doing and to make sure that it’s worthwhile. And finally, my fourth principle is not losing track of the big picture. You have to first imagine that big picture, and then craft the way you would create it.

Edgardo  Limon, MBA 1974

every Filipino who has ever sent a text message should raise his mobile phone in salute to this man – Edgardo “Ed” Limon.

Ed Limon (MBA ’74) is the founder and president of the Intex Group, the leading services and solutions provider in the Philippine telecommunications industry. Mr. Limon is the person responsible for introducing Nokia to the country. He has created strong partnerships with PLDT/Smart and Globe/Innove, the top two telecommunication companies in the country.

Despite being instrumental in the Philippine technological revolution, Mr. Limon remains down to earth, sharing openly his humble beginnings and punctuating stories with light, spontaneous laughter. He looks younger than his age, but the patina of wisdom is there, left by an arduous but fulfilling journey. A Business Administration graduate of Ateneo de Manila University, he made bold decisions before entering AIM. “I got married in June 1972, and I resigned from Citibank, where I was a manager,” he enumerates. His parents and his wife Sylvia supported his study. “I was their scholar. That’s why I was a serious student.”

Upon obtaining his MBA, he got 50 job offers, but he chose the lowest-paying one – Prof. Gabino Mendoza’s invitation to teach at AIM. He taught banking and finance and became marketing director. The half-day schedule gave him freedom to manage his time. In 1976, he and Sylvia, a former teacher at International School, embarked on their first venture, Child Learning Center in Makati. Its initial come-on – free bus ride. The driver – no less than AIM professor Ed Limon. Early every morning, he would fetch the pupils. “After dropping them off, I’d proceed to AIM,” he relates with humor. “Once their classes were over, I had to drive them back to their houses. After one year, the school grew and I had to hire a driver. With my wife and two older children, I’d give away flyers in the neighborhood. We even got chased by dogs! But it was fun… The school became successful. It has expanded to grade school and high school (called Marymount School).”

His entrepreneurial fervor was stirred further in 1980, when his friend – an MM graduate and son of Indonesia’s richest man – sought his help in actualizing his thesis, that of setting up a banking network in Southeast Asia. Mr. Limon left AIM to establish the Hong Kong-based Summa Bank, where he became vice president for marketing. But it folded up after four years due to the Asian financial crisis.

 

Undaunted, the self-confessed “frustrated engineer” trod down a path that captured his interest the most – he opened the computer company Intex in 1985 and hired three of his former staff. He imported Apple computers and distributed 3M diskettes. “To make sure they worked, we would disassemble and reassemble them. So I would have cuts in my hands,” he recounts.

On his own, Mr. Limon studied IT and managed the company’s marketing. “I had to be realistic. My accountant was not even an accountant!” he exclaims. Once he had to sell his only property – a house and lot in a posh village – because he needed money for the payroll. But the sacrifices paid off. In its first year, Intex was already making profit. After clinching its first international partnership – with an American company whose product connects PC to mainframe – Intex provided data communication services in 1988-92 to numerous banks and introduced modems to the Philippine market.

Then, in 1988, Mr. Limon attended a large trade show in Geneva where he first saw the then-unknown Nokia and accepted its offer to be the exclusive Philippine partner. Intex initially imported modems and provided marketing and administrative services. “Nokia modems were huge and expensive,” describes Mr. Limon. “Sadly, they were not working, and I had a lot of stock… We were losing money. I told my staff, ‘I believe in Nokia. Somehow, somewhere, they will reinvent themselves.’”

Nokia did reinvent itself when it focused on telecoms. It started to rise, and along with it was Intex. In 1993, they set up the first optical network of Smart in Metro Manila, making the Philippines a global top five client of Nokia that year. Intex introduced Nokia’s GSM to Smart and Globe, giving birth to a strong cellular phone industry. In 1996, Intex built PLDT-Diginet, one of the world’s largest digital data networks. It also installed and commissioned the first and largest DSL network in the country for PLDT. Nonetheless, Nokia wanted more from Mr. Limon’s team – to install and maintain cell sites. “So we also became a construction company!” he laughs. Intex trained retired PLDT engineers and transformed them into subcontractor entrepreneurs who help build and maintain cell sites. Its engineers also repair PLDT lines.

“Intex has created a track record of innovative solutions, quality service, and reliability,” affirms Napoleon Nazareno (MBA ’73), president and CEO of Smart. To date, Intex has installed and commissioned over 80% of the switches and more than 60% of all cell sites in the country. It has created around 700 jobs through 24 trained sub-contractors. Intex itself has more than 300 employees. “Until now we’re building cell sites. Sun is expanding; they’re also our client. With 3G, we have to upgrade all our cell sites by changing the antenna,” adds Mr. Limon.

But Intex’s biggest shareholder has done more than develop communication infrastructure; he also pioneered in value-added services by founding in 1999 Wireless Services Asia (WSA), the first mobile content provider. WSA is the trailblazer in cell phone icons, ring tones, screensavers, and Java games not only in the Philippines but also in Indonesia, Italy, Malaysia, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, and even Finland.

On top of all the cutting-edge products he has made popular, Mr. Limon has another surprise up his sleeve – New Generation Network (NGN), the network “brain” that blends fixed line telephone, data, and mobile networks into one converged network using Internet Protocol. Intex is replacing all the brains or switches of PLDT and Smart. NGN is less costly to maintain, so subscribers will enjoy lower costs, higher connectivity speeds, and quality bundled services. By enabling PLDT to offer cable on demand and TV on the Internet, Intex will once more transform the Filipino lifestyle.

With its vision to be the top solutions provider in ICT, Intex plans to go regional and be ISO 9001 certified. With these in mind, its founder is humbly aware of the changes needed. “Before 2004, our board didn’t meet regularly. In 2004, I decided with top management that the only way for us to grow is to really professionalize the company, formalize the board, hire independent directors, and hire all the support staff. You know, we were able to expand without any formal HR or IT department!” he confesses, laughing. “We decided to be an international, multi-billion-peso company, so we created the formal board with 11 directors.” The board’s six independent directors are experts in IT, governance, finance, organization, and marketing. “We’re very strong at instilling professionalism and corporate governance. The family owns this company, but I want to make our staff part owners. I started doing that this year by giving shares of stock… We will do it on a selective basis to employees who have performed.”

In his view, however, a company must do more than give back to employees. “Successful businesses must give back to the community,” he states. For this reason, Intex has a scholarship program that has produced engineers without requiring them to serve Intex. Mr. Limon himself assists seminarians. In 2005, he and Intex donated one million pesos to the AIM Alumni Fund for Scholarship as part of the company’s 20th anniversary celebration. “Scholarship has been my personal advocacy. I believe education is the key to economic development. My own father was a scholar of a relative. Without the generous people who helped him, where would I be?” he reasons. “AIM has given me so much; I somehow have to return it.” When AIM co-chairman Washington SyCip expressed his appreciation, Mr. Limon replied, “Sir, I just helped ignite the light.”

Mr. Limon has been keeping the light ablaze through civic engagements as well. As Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines president in 2003, he directed three flagship projects: promotion of SMEs, strengthening of local government units, and advocacy of good governance. He created an environment committee and, with AIM professor Federico Macaranas, was the first to promote the servant leadership concept.

He is a very active Rotarian, having been Rotary Club president in 1998-99 and chairman of the organization of past Rotary presidents in 2004-05. He linked entrepreneurs with Land Bank for loans and with other agencies for opportunity identification. His term was full of achievements, such that he was named Most Outstanding Club President and his club received 12 awards.

For all his accomplishments, Mr. Limon’s peers from AIM bestowed on him the Alumni Achievement Award (Triple A) in March 2006, plus the unexpected appointment of scholarship committee chairman. Despite this added role, he is unfazed.

“I believe in hard work,” he declares. “When my younger brother and I were in high school, our dad, a fish pen owner, set up a poultry farm for us to manage… When it grew to 10,000 hens, he fired all the boys who were helping keep the farm. So there was nobody else to do it except my brother and me. My dad did it to push us to work.”

Two boys and 10,000 hens. Until college, young Ed would routinely feed hens, clean cages, slaughter chickens, and deliver eggs and meat to restaurants. While at Ateneo, he even worked part-time as a Philam insurance salesman and made it to their millionaires club. “I bought my first car in college, my own Mercedes Benz,” he narrates with pride. “I used my own money to pay for my schooling. Hard work is nothing to us.”

Mr. Limon’s personal values sustain to this day at Intex, which is proud of its culture of integrity, excellence, creativity, and entrepreneurship. If the net income target is reached, all share in the windfall. To sustain its high standard for its engineers, Intex will open a telecoms training college. “If we need to meet a deadline, we don’t mind removing our barong to finish the project with our technicians and engineers,” he notes. “We are servants and leaders; that is our culture. A few years back, we had no driver here, but we had to deliver a very important system to a client. I delivered the equipment myself. It’s really managing by example – servant leadership.”

His challenge is passing on the reins: only one son out of four children is with Intex. “This company will continue to be run by professionals. It’s only when my children deserve to be in it, to be promoted, that they can be part of it vis-à-vis the other managers. We’re sending a lot of people overseas for training. We have a big budget for training and R&D. We need to invest in our future.”

But with Mr. Limon at the helm, Intex’s future can only be as sunshine-bright as that of the telecoms industry. As his friend Mr. Nazareno put it: “Only an effective leader can achieve what Intex has done” for the Filipino people, and soon, the rest of Asia.