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.