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.