Bernardo M. Villegas
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How To Be A CEO (Part 1)

             I belong to the generation of the baby boomers who started our professional careers in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  At that time, those who aspired to go up the ladder of management in the business world had a common approach.  After graduating from college, usually from the University of the Philippines, private non-profit schools like Ateneo, La Salle, San Beda, UST, etc. or for-profit schools like the University of the East and Far Eastern University, they sought employment in some selected employers.  For those interested in a career in marketing or sales, the favorite “school of hard knocks” were Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Colgate Palmolive, Caltex or Shell, among others.    Although I was always focused on pursuing an academic career in some university or another, just for kicks, I decided to work for a few months at Procter & Gamble to get some exposure to the corporate world.  Thus, after finishing the LIA-COM (Liberal Arts-Commerce) program at was still De la Salle College at that time in 1958, I spent about five months as a brand management trainee at P&G.  There I met an Ateneo graduate who was to become one of my closest friends for life, the late Jaime (Jimmy) V. Ongpin.  We had fun successfully launching a detergent   product called Tide but was not very successful in introducing a new brand of toothpaste called Gleem.  I was fortunate to have worked under marketing gurus like Mon Ylanan and Alex Lacson who trained a whole generation of top executives in marketing and sales in the 1960s and 1970s.

            Among my contemporaries, those who were eyeing a career in Finance flocked to Citibank, the school of hard knocks in banking and finance.  Later on, in my work as a university professor and economics consultant, I met literally countless “graduates” of Citibank among whom were Placido Mapa Jr., Antonio Ozaeta, Manolo Agustines, Javier Loinaz, Rafael Buenaventura, Flor Tarriela, Do Ejercito and Gil Genio.  Another route to a top finance position, the epitome of a school of hard knocks (to be taken literally because of the physically demanding number of hours of work), was the top accounting firm, SGV.  Later in the 1970s, already a professor at the Center for Research and Communication (now the University of Asia and the Pacific), I found myself helping to hone the soft skills of some of these number crunchers so that they could  rise to top management positions when the late Roberto V. Ongpin—who was then Head of Management Services at SGV--asked me and a group of professors from different disciplines to offer a mini liberal arts program for some of the top accountants of SGV to improve their skills in critical thinking, effective communications and the ability to relate one field of knowledge to another.  We taught these overworked bookkeepers such subjects as literature, music and arts appreciation, economics, history, philosophy and the others that comprise the liberal arts.   I was elated to meet many of them later in life as top executives in large corporations or owners of businesses.

            After a few months working for Procter & Gamble in the summer of 1958, I started to pursue my long-term plan of joining the academic world.  I was fortunate to obtain a Fulbright travel grant from the U.S. embassy and a tuition scholarship from the S.C. Johnson Foundation which enabled me to enroll in the School of Economics of Harvard University.  A year after I started my Ph.D. program at Harvard, my friend Jimmy Ongpin was admitted to the Harvard Business School.  Jimmy’s case typified the path taken by those who during those years were aspiring for high positions in management.  They would work for two to four years in some prestigious business enterprise, then apply to a graduate school of business in the United States (usually Harvard, M.I.T., Wharton, Chicago, Stanford, Columbia, Virginia, etc.)  and then return to the Philippines or look for a job in the U.S. to occupy a mid-level or top-level management position in either a Filipino business enterprise or a multinational corporation. In my four years at the School of Economics at Harvard University, I coincided with several batches of Filipinos who, following the example of Jimmy Ongpin, obtained their MBA from the Harvard Business School and returned to the Philippines to start their slow or rapid rise to top management. Lest I give the impression that this process of rising to the top of management was generally limited to males, let me point out that a good number of Filipino women who became CEOs of large conglomerates followed more or less similar routes to the top.  Among them were Corazon de la Paz Bernardo, Marife Zamora, Marivic Espano, Darlene Berberabe, and Nina Aguas.

            In my case, I did not return immediately to the Philippines after I graduated with the degree of Ph. in Economics in April of 1963.  During my last years in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I met some business professors from Barcelona who were pioneering to put up a business school patterned after the Harvard Business School.  Their project was hardly five years old, founded in 1958.  They were able to interest the authorities of the HBS to help them in their efforts to start the first business school along the American model in the whole of Europe.  They adopted a rather longish-sounding name in Spanish: “Instituto de Estudios Superiores de la Empresa” or I.E.S.E.  Today it is one of the best business schools not only in Europe (together with IMD, INSEAD, London Business School, HEC Paris, SDA Bocconi School of Management) but in the whole world.  We will have occasion to talk about IESE in greater detail later in this series of articles.

            These professors from IESE Business School whom I met at the HBS invited me to spend a sabbatical year in Barcelona to work as a teaching and research fellow helping to write business cases and research notes for the MBA program they were planning to start in the school year of 1964.  There I learned that they had signed an MOU with Harvard Business School to help them establish a business school using the famous case method in which HBS was the pioneer.  Today, IESE Business School is the only one in Europe in which teaching is completely based on the case method. I am proud of the fact that in a small way I helped them during their foundational stages.  In fact, there were two Filipinos—both alumni of De La Salle University—who were in the inaugural MBA batch of 1964, i.e. the late Cecilio Reyes, a top real estate entrepreneur and Joseph Delano Bernardo, former Philippine Ambassador to Spain during the presidency of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Today, there are more than 40 IESE alumni and alumnae of IESE in the Philippines, a good number of them top executives in the Aboitiz group of companies.

            When I returned to Manila after the Barcelona stint with my Ph. D. in economics degree in 1964, I was offered by the management of De La Salle University two concurrent positions, Department Chairman of the Economics Department and Dean of the fledgling Graduate School of Business. In the latter post, I was privy to the establishment of the Asian Institute of Management in 1967.  Ford Foundation was giving a grant to a consortium made up of Harvard Business School, Ateneo University and De La Salle University to establish a business school patterned after the HBS.  In the negotiations to put up the AIM, I represented DLSU.  The idea was to join the forces of these two leading universities who pledged not to put up their own business schools.  Somewhere along the way, however, this agreement was dissolved and each of the two parties eventually put up its own business school.  It was providential, however, that the HBS went out of its way (very similar to the IESE case) to help put up a quality graduate school of business in which many more young Filipino professionals (whatever their undergraduate specializations) could acquire an MBA with much less cost so that they could aspire to reach top management level in some business enterprise or another.

  Not only Filipinos were benefited. In those years of the 1960s and 1970s, AIM attracted young professionals from all over Asia (especially Indians) who had the same aspiration of using an MBA degree as a stepping stone to rise to the top of the management ladder.  In this regard, I would like to especially acknowledge the great service that the late HBS professor, Dr. Stephen Fuller, rendered to the establishment of AIM.  Professor Fuller was the first President of AIM and cultivated numerous Filipino friends, including myself.  To be continued.