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The Billionaires Series: Manny Pangilinan

The Billionaires Series: Manny Pangilinan

For our first post on the The Billionaire Series, I bring you one of the most highly regarded businessmen today, Manny Pangilinan.

Let’s get to know how he reached the top and stayed there.


PLDT. Meralco. Metro Pacific. Sun Cellular. Smart. TV5. Cignal. Philex. First Pacific Tollways. Burger King.

Anything common? One name. Oh I mean 3 big letters in the business industry. MVP.

Born July 14, 1946, Manny Pangilinan also known as MVP spent elementary and high school days in San Beda, took a Bachelor degree in Economics in Ateneo de Manila University. He earned his MBA at Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, which according to his speech is sponsored by a scholarship from P&G. (Sources: Wikipedia, Millionaire Acts).

Among those playing the stock market, MVP is known to have a hand over the fate of stock prices. Remember how MER (Meralco) stock price took off preempting MVP’s ownership of the company. Remember how PX (Philex) performed that way, too. Indeed, any stock that is attached to MVP’s name (whether by means or rumor or news) defies price trends possibilities. So we now remember GMA7 (GMA7 broadcasting network).

He is confident that highways over EDSA can be constructed, and that responsible mining can be achieved.

Lover of sports, Gawad Kalinga supporter and a responsible mining advocate.

I would bet it won’t bore you to read the following: One, is his speech to the graduating Ateneans. Second, is an interview with none other than MVP.

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Credits to Millionaire Acts and PLDT SME Nation.

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Speech to the 2006 Graduating Class

(Excerpts only)

First part of the journey: A Student

The first part of my journey begins with my family. My lolo (grandfather) started as a public school teacher in Pampanga and Tarlac, rising through the ranks to become superintendent of public schools and, eventually, secretary of education. My dad began his career as a messenger at Philippine National Bank, and retired as president of Traders Royal Bank, one of the larger banks in the ’80s. During my elementary years, I had ten centavos to buy a bottle of Coke, five centavos for crackers, another ten centavos to take the bus home from San Beda in Mendiola, which I made sure I wouldn’t lose, otherwise I would have walked home. In college, my weekly allowance at the Ateneo was P10, and that included my jeepney fares. I have a lot of classmates who have cars and others even have their own drivers. They were lucky. Someday, I said to myself, I will reach all those. My scholarships in both San Beda and Ateneo were only my lucky charms.

In late 1965, as my own graduation was approaching, I had come home from the Ateneo one Saturday afternoon, and spoke with my dad about taking an MBA in the States. I was met with silence, which meant there wasn’t enough money for an education abroad, that if I really wanted it, I had find a way myself. Fortunately, Procter & Gamble was offering a rare scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. It was a national competition. I entered-and won. For three generations of my family, life meant coping with challenges despite modest means, relying on God-given talent, hard work and a passionate determination to succeed.

Second part of the journey: A professional manager

Let me now turn to the second part of this journey. After two years in Philadelphia, I returned home, hopeful about landing a managerial position in a large company. I struck out at first bat. My benefactor, Procter & Gamble, turned down my application. So I ended up taking the first job I was offered, as executive assistant to the president at Phinma for P1,000 a month. Without any job experience, we can’t be choosers, right? Grab the first decent job that comes your way, immerse yourself in work, and soon, you’ll find the right job, or it will find you.

After six years with Phinma, I decided to work abroad. There were the usual reasons: the glamor of being an expat in Hong Kong, the stifling staleness of my local career but, more importantly, I needed to find myself, to prove that I can stand on my own and succeed. The warmth of family ties, the comfort of an extended family system so embedded in our society were indeed beguiling, but I wanted to assert my independence.


I was recruited by Bancom International, a Philippine investment bank based in Hong Kong. It was a stimulating experience. I learned the dynamics of international finance from my Chinese colleagues, not from the Filipino executives. Thereafter, I was seconded to a joint venture investment bank with American Express. I had expected to be appointed CEO of that new bank, but wasn’t. While disappointed and even depressed, I soldiered on and, sure enough, this venture failed inside of two years. A huge dilemma confronted a young man of 30 years: return to Manila or stay with AMEX? I decided to remain a soldier of fortune in Hong Kong. Why? Because after this setback, I wanted to prove something to myself. I felt I had to prove to AMEX the Filipino can. Indeed, after four years with AMEX, I received a phone call from my boss in London. He said, “You’ve outgrown Hong Kong and are now ready for London, and to fast track your career.” After reflection, I politely said, no. I’ve proven the point to myself and to AMEX, and that had been enough. Besides, I felt Asia is my home — and so it shall be.

Third part: An entrepreneur and corporate activist

The third, and final part, starts with First Pacific. Whilst working in the region, I met some clients – foremost being Anthoni Salim – who were willing to support my idea of a regional banking and trading business. With their help, I founded First Pacific in Hong Kong in 1981. I started out with only six people, on 50 square meters of office space, and little capital. Now, the companies that constitute First Pacific have sales of $5 billion, with more than 60,000 employees across the region. But I won’t tell you about our successes at First Pacific. Instead, I’ll describe our failures – some of which indeed became total failures, but some of which we turned around and made a success.

In 1998, I came home, after 22 years abroad – after what father (Roque) Ferriols often calls “the days of wasted youth.” When we invested in PLDT seven years ago, we faced the massive task of repair and renewal. Critics told us that we couldn’t change the culture of monopoly, that misdemeanors in PLDT couldn’t be eradicated, that our fixed line business had no future. But we made the tough and unpopular decisions at PLDT. Like reducing the number of employees from 14,000 to 9,000. Like changing dubious practices and encouraging honesty and transparency. Like converting the mindset of bureaucrats to that of innovators and entrepreneurs. Decisions about people are always difficult for us because First Pacific is an Asian company with Asian values. But head count reduction was critical for PLDT to survive.

Now that PLDT has recovered, and is now the most profitable company in the country, my confidence in the Filipino’s ability to succeed has been absolutely affirmed. In fact, despite the downsizing I mentioned earlier, we now have more people under our wings – about 19,000 – simply because PLDT is now a different company. And to most of you who might be familiar with Piltel or Talk N’ Text – it was a company in extremis. I’ve had to tell creditor banks that Piltel could not pay its debts – the first time I’ve done that in my life. My officemates told me to close Piltel. I didn’t agree. I believed that the cellular frequency it owns, as well as its brand, are potentially valuable, as they have become today. Also, I did not want to imperil the financial health of local banks to which Piltel owed much.

After five years of rehab, Piltel’s return to profitability has been close to supernatural. It is now the country’s most profitable company – after PLDT and Smart. Finally, some of you have raised with me the question – is business bad? Let me respond by saying, business is not all bad. It is people – some people at least – that may make business bad. No business can prosper in the long term without the right values. The best performing companies are those that manage their businesses which meet ethical standards. Transparency, accountability, integrity, discipline – all these good governance principles – must permeate every policy, every process, of the company, as they do at First Pacific and PLDT.


Thefore I close, I’d like to make a personal request. I’d like to ask each of you a favor. Give me bragging rights. Do something great. Sometime in the future, I want to hear some incredible thing you’ve done. And I’d like to brag that I spoke at your graduation. In return, I offer you a few more pieces of advice. Keep it real. Stay true to what’s best in yourself, to the best of your experience here at the Ateneo. Trust your instincts. Believe in yourself. Engage in sports, you’ll need it as you age. Make art, or at least, value it. Be brave. Be bold. Find something that moves you or pisses you off, but do something about it. You have a voice, speak up.

Take a stand for what’s right. Make a change. You may not always be popular, but you’ll be part of something larger and greater than yourself. Besides, making history is cool, isn’t it? But I also want to offer a warning: you will meet people who’ll entice you to compromise your principles. They’ll try to seduce you and distract you with money, power, security and perhaps, most dangerously, a sense of belonging. Don’t let them; it’s not worth it.
You can have genuine values and still get that job. You can have a conscience and still make money.Let me send you off with one final thought. I was born poor, but poor was not born in me. And it shouldn’t be born in you either. You can make it. Whatever you may wish to do with your future, you can make it. It gets dark sometimes, but morning comes always. Suffering breeds character. Character breeds faith. In the end, faith will not disappoint. You must not disappoint.


Manny Pangilinan on life, love and business

(Excerpts only. Please read full article here)

The best icons are those who achieve fame by reaching a high level of excellence in their field, whether it is in business, sports, arts, music, etc. Naturally we wonder how these icons achieved their success. Is it an innate talent or a sheer determination to succeed? What are their secrets and what sets them apart from the norm? These questions were at the top of my mind when I went to the MGO Building in Makati City to interview Manny V. Pangilinan. In case you’ve been living under a rock, MVP (as he is known in the business circles) is not only one of the richest people in the Philippines (he is ranked by Forbes at number 39, though he disputes this ranking) and president of the most profitable company in the Philippines, Smart Communications, but he is also one of the region’s most highly regarded business leaders as evidenced by the numerous distinguished awards bestowed upon him. Knowing how incredibly busy MVP was, I felt honored — and perhaps even a little nervous — to be interviewing him. However, once he entered the conference room, shook my hand, and sat down for the interview, I felt immediately at ease. MVP had no airs, was simple, polite, candid, and was — for the lack of a better term — very professional. Personally, I appreciated the fact that, unlike other very busy and “important” Filipinos, he was on time for the interview and he gave full attention to it — he wasn’t constantly checking his phone or reading documents or rushing the process.

From a middle-class background MVP catapulted to taipan status within a few decades: as amazing as that sounds, few people know that his father made a similar — perhaps even more difficult — journey to success. MVP’s father, Dominador, was a simple messenger of the Philippine National Bank. Through dint of hard work he rose from the ranks to become manager of PNB’s Cubao branch. The senior Pangilinan would eventually retire from PNB as a senior vice president. Afterwards, he became the president of Trader’s Royal Bank. Superficially at least, upward mobility was a family trait. Fortuitously, MVP inherited other qualities that would prove instrumental in his climbing the ladder of success.

Observing his meteoric rise in the corporate structure, I asked MVP about what personal characteristic he possessed that allowed him to quickly gain the trust of his bosses — and later when he was already the boss — the trust of his stakeholders. His straightforward answer was his honesty, which he described as both “mental honesty” and “financial honesty.” By financial honesty, he meant that “you don’t steal money from the company and you don’t do any self-dealings.” By mental honesty, he meant that “We (should) tell it like it is; what’s good and what’s bad about the situation.” In the cutthroat environment of business, where the allure of bending or hiding the truth to suit one’s financial objectives may be overwhelming, such a level of honesty is indeed precious and certainly would be valued by executives and stakeholders alike.

MVP’s focus on honesty was ingrained by a father who was a stickler for that virtue. He described his father — with obvious pride in his voice and demeanor — as “very straight” and “very upright.” He spoke fondly about how his father took stands even against President Marcos and the so-called “crony” loans and the fact that he never took advantage of his position in government. His father also had delicadeza. MVP relates how in the ‘80s, when the younger Pangilinan started amassing his personal fortune, he offered to buy a house for his parents in the posh subdivisions of Forbes Park or Dasmarinas Village. His father, who was then living in Quezon City, turned down his son’s offer. The senior Pangilinan felt that moving to Forbes might give people the perception that he used his government position to get rich.

While his pride and love for his father was clear, it was also evident that he felt that his father favored the eldest son. (MVP is the second child in a brood of three). “He was the favorite,” according to MVP, because “he was the ‘playboy’… panganay pa (the first-born child)… at mas guwapo (and more handsome).” MVP seemed to be the classic middle child who studied and worked harder in order to obtain his parents’ attention. In fact, during the interview, it was suggested that his aggressiveness in deal-making and acquisition is but a continuation or mutation of his middle-child syndrome; in a way he is still trying to impress his father; according to MVP, “(My father) might not have said it openly but I thought he was reasonably happy… and proud” of his achievements. Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote about the difference between the concept of “father” love and “mother” love. According to Rabbi Kushner, “Mother love says: Nothing you ever do or fail to do will make me stop loving you. Father love says: I will love you if you earn my love and respect, if you get good grades, if you make the team. (The psychoanalyst and author Erich) Fromm insists that every one of us needs to experience both kinds of loving.” Thus, although it may have been painful during MVP’s youth to see his father give special treatment to his elder sibling, this “harsh” love motivated MVP to succeed in order to get his father’s admiration and respect.

MVP’s life story emphasizes the vital role that fathers play in shaping their children. While there may be a myriad of contributing factors, certainly, parents make icons. As MVP’s father has shown, we can provide our children the tools to achieve excellence and success — simple values of hard work, honesty and delicadeza. Instill in your child the proper values and not only will you raise someone you will be proud of, perhaps a future icon, but also — who knows? — when you retire, he may just offer you a house in Forbes.

For all the students, dreamers, professionals and workers in and out of the Philippines, let MVP be an inspiration.


Every Filipino deserves to be financially free.


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