Bernardo M. Villegas
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Reinvent Yourself

          "Reinvent Yourself!"  That's the title of one issue of the Alumni Magazine of one of the best business schools in the world, the IESE Business School in Barcelona, Spain.  I was fortunate to have been closely associated with the professors of this business school, which year in and year out appears among the top five to ten business schools in the world in listings of the The Economist, the Financial  Times, Bloomberg and other business publications.  The good news is that many of the top professors of IESE will be teaching in an Advanced Management Program (AMP) that is specifically tailored to the needs of top executives who will be at the forefront of the ASEAN Economic Community that will come to its own in the next twenty years.  The message that the IESE professors are sending about reinventing oneself is especially relevant to Filipino entrepreneurs and corporate executives who will still be actively involved in business in the next ten to twenty years during which the Philippines will finally be one of the fastest growing economies in the Asia Pacific region, thanks to its educated, young and growing population.

          If you are a businessman in your forties and have been operating in the Philippine business environment over the last ten to fifteen years, during which our country still had the reputation of being the "sick man of Asia," you could have developed a mindset and business practices that will be most probably unsuited to the "breakout nation" or "tiger economy" that the Philippines is expected to be in the next decade or so.  One of the professors of IESE with whom I worked, Mike Rosenberg, said something especially relevant to the circumstances that Filipino businessmen are facing today:  "Too many companies pretend that tomorrow is going to be the same as today.  But we know that tomorrow will be different."  For example, it would be unwise for business people in their forties to assume that the trend towards the demise of most manufacturing activities that resulted from failed industrialization polices of  the last century and the increasing service-orientation of the Philippine economy are a foregone conclusion.  On the contrary, manufacturing is making a strong comeback in the Philippines because of the acute labor shortages being experienced by Northeast Asian countries like Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and even China, thanks to its one-child policy.  Ask PEZA Director Lilia de Lima, the longest staying and most valuable government official in the field of industrialization.  After literally dozens of trips to Japan, she has been receiving scores of requests for more space in our export processing and other industrial zones.  That is why she is asking developers of industrial zones to expand their operations and to be much more active in helping TESDA and other private technical schools to increase significantly the pool of electro-mechanical workers and other skilled technicians that will be in great demand.

          IESE professors like Mike Rosenberg, Carlos Cavalle, Bruno Cassiman, and Pankaj Ghemawat are experts in helping experienced business people to reinvent themselves.  They are constantly issuing the following reminder:  "Necessity is the mother of invention and reinvention, and it was necessity that drove Apple to reinvent itself from a struggling computer concern to become the world's coolest brand.  The companies that have successfully reinvented themselves--Dell, Apple, Cisco, IBM, 3M, Philips--have done so because they haven't let the grass grow beneath their feet, whereas the tens of thousands of businesses that failed to read the writing on the wall are both gone and forgotten. Revolutions tend to be led by visionary individuals, and the same is true  when it comes to innovative companies, witness Steve Jobs at Apple and John Chambers at Cisco, for example."

          Reinvention applies both to the company and to the individual.  I would like to see many Filipino professionals in such traditional fields as law, medicine, engineering, accounting and architecture, for example, venturing into the sunrise industries of agribusiness, tourism, knowledge process outsourcing, fashion and furniture, entertainment and health care.  As the IESE professors advised their students and alumni:  "The pace of change means that individuals, too, have to be prepared to make a radical shift at least once  in their career.  Career makeovers are commonplace among politicians.  Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger both started out as actors; Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, trained as a physicist while Margaret Thatcher was a chemist.  Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, studied architecture before going on to a course in political science  It is hardly surprising that the United States, where individualism and the idea of starting anew is built into the national DNA, is the cradle of reinvention.  The lawyer John Grisham became a best-selling novelist, disgraced junk-bond dealer Michael Milken remade himself as a respected philanthropist, and when HIV forced Magic Johnson to quit basketball he went on to become an even more successful entrepreneur.  F. Scott Fitzgerald said there is no second act in American lives--but he couldn't have been more wrong."

          An outstanding example of reinvention is Evgeny Kaganer, a Russian professor who teaches technology to MBA students at IESE.  According to him, he has changed his career path several times:  "The question is, did I do it because I'm that kind of person or because of the circumstances I found myself in? . . . I finished medical school but I started working in financial services in my third year.  I knew that I would not become a practising physician.  A large number of people in the Soviet Union suddenly found they could no longer do what they'd been doing, and a lot were unable to make the transition."  He does not claim that it is easy to prepare individuals for change.  It is a matter of opening the eyes of people to the vast opportunities they can find in the business environment:  "Our approach at IESE is to point out different options.  We try to make people understand that uncertainty exists.  When you come to a business school where there are people from many different cultures and no single culture dominates, that forces you to reassess the norms you carry with you from home.  We can't teach this but we can create an environment where people learn that diversity and uncertainty exist and about the different ways in which they can handle issues.  I think business schools are doing a better job on this front than medical or law schools, maybe because we don't have such specialized content to teach, so we focus more on soft skills."

          Owners of business (especially family enterprises), CEOs and senior executives of large and medium-scale corporations and budding entrepreneurs are invited to seriously consider taking the Advanced Management Program (AMP) being offered by the University of Asia and the Pacific in tandem with IESE professors   The first offering is already ongoing with some twenty top executives coming from the Philippines and Indonesia.  Coming from diverse sectors like construction and real estate, investment banking, infrastructures, agribusiness, garments, entertainment, insurance, executive search, management consulting,  retailing, tourism and energy, the participants for the next six months will be taking a close look at themselves and their organizations as well as the business environment in the whole Southeast Asian region with the objective of reinventing themselves and their organizations to take full advantage of the transformation of the Philippine economy from the "sick man of Asia" to the new Asian tiger. The next offering will be in September 2013.  Those interested may get in touch with email address amp@uap.asia or 63 2 637 0912, loc. 207.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.